Wednesday, 27 June 2007


There are certain phrases that resonate strongly throughout early childhood educational practice. 'Child-centred education’ is one of them, a concept that dates back to Rousseau, perhaps even earlier. However, what does it really mean? If we were really undertaking a child-centred approach, then why don’t childhood cultures, including popular cultures, have a central place in early years curricula? If we were being truly child-centred, would the discourse of ‘toxic childhoods’ have such a strong hold on the professional world of early childhood education and care? I objected, for example, to a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph in England, with over 100 signatories who are apparently concerned about childhood. I felt strongly that some of the sentiments in this letter were rather misguided. Take, for example, the suggestion that children:

“still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed “junk”), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.”

What is “real” play? Why is play that takes place via screens not “real” play? There is a false juxtaposition here that sets up engagement with technologies and “real” play as oppositional. In addition, screen-based entertainment is not exclusively sedentary (have these signatories seen children using dance mats?). For example, the Digital Beginnings study indicated that young children engage in a range of activities whilst watching television, including singing, dancing and talking to characters.

We are drowning at the moment in the current torrent of moral panics around children and new technologies, phrases such as ‘toxic childhoods’ and ‘lost childhoods’ flowing around us. Moral panics in relation to childhood are nothing new, as Springhall has demonstrated, but it seems to me that as technological developments progress at a rapid pace in these first years of the 21st century, retrogressive discourses around childhood and adolescence are becoming even more prevalent. Those of us working in this field need to shout loudly and clearly that child-centredness should not mean ripping the contemporary cultural and social centres out of childhood.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Parents as scaffolders

A couple of years ago now, I contacted this blogger, Beth, as I was very interested in what she had to say about scaffolding her child's understanding about blogs and wanted her permission to include her practice as an example in a chapter I was writing about young children and digital literacy. It seemed to me that Beth was supporting her child's understanding about blogging as a social practice in a similar manner to the way in which many other parents support their children's understanding of print-based literacy practices. Since then I have kept in touch with Beth's blog and noted that she has recorded other instances of family digital literacy practices. I do recommend a visit to Beth's blog for those of you interested in early childhood and technologies (click on the category 'Ed tech and early childhood' in the LH column). I am very interested in the phenomenon of 'tech-savvy' parents blogging about their technological practices with their children, as this, I think, gives us an insight into what other parents might be doing more generally with their children in five or six year's time, but I have not come across any other blogs like Beth's - let me know if you do!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Digitally gendered

Digital texts offer spaces in which children can perform both transgressive and conformist gendered acts. The interaction between structure/agency here is obviously key, and what concerns me at the moment is the way in which popular texts for young children are attempting to shape particular readings and performances. I have written about the sexism embedded in the ‘Bob the Builder’ site in a paper available here on gender and early digital literacy, but another pre-school animation that is irritating me greatly at the moment is ‘Underground Ernie’. Why, in a programme commissioned by the BBC in the 21st century, we have the two female trains described respectively as ‘a motherly figure‘ and ‘a hippy chick’ and the male trains described as being mathematical wizards and loving technology is beyond belief. Not only that, but the way in which technology is often shaped for young female interests (pink technologies) is also frustrating. Yes, a postmodernist take recognises that young girls can adopt an ironic and reflexive stance in relation to some of these items whilst still finding pleasure in them but the fact remains that often these replicas of adult technologies are reductive in nature in that the functionality of artefacts aimed at girls is of a lesser quality than similar items targeted at boys. So what’s new? This has always been the case with toys, but I do worry that the transition from home to nursery technologies then becomes that much more of a challenge for young girls. Julia's work with older girls certainly points to full engagement by many in digital lifeworlds, so maybe these early experiences are not as potentially limiting as I think...

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Children's virtual worlds

I have been observing my 5-, 8- and 9-year-old nieces as they navigate the virtual worlds 'Club Penguin' and 'Barbie Girls'. Interestingly, the social side of this 'social software' appears to take second-place to identity construction and shopping (and therefore needing to earn enough money to shop). Children's play has been embedded within commercialised practices for many years, but this engagement with a virtual labour market is novel. Some parents may no doubt quite like the idea of their children developing a work ethic, but it seems to me that this aspect of these worlds mitigates against more extensive social involvement and further entrenches children in the markets of globalised commodities. For example, the Barbie virtual shopping experience is linked to the 'real'-word purchase of a Barbie MP3 player - once you have purchased that (with 'real' $s, not 'Barbie bucks'), you can buy more, even cooler, things in the online world. I guess what is going on here is little different to some of the adult activity in virtual worlds - this is, as we know, a booming real-word economy. This analysis of virtual (or 'synthetic') world economies draws on Bourdieu's concepts of economic, social and cultural capital, concepts as relevant to these spaces as 'meat-space'. Certainly, an analysis of the interactions of these three forms of capital can help to illuminate much of the current activity in 'Club Penguin' and 'Barbie World' and is informing a current paper I am writing, which I will post here when I set up the appropriate feeder site. It will be interesting to hear about the project Guy is involved in, in which he is working with schools on constructing and using a virtual world - what form of capital becomes of most value in an educationally-orientated virtual world? Virtual cultural capital?

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Beginning digital beginnings

I have been meaning to develop this blog for a while now, having been a keen blog reader for a number of years and thus recognising their potential. I finally decided to take the time to set it up as I realised that I needed a space in which I can post reflections on and links to my area of research interest (young children's engagement with popular culture, media and new technologies in homes, communities and educational settings) - use it as an online notebook, in other words. I also want it to be a space where I can post links to my favourite sites and blogs; it will be great to have them all in one place. Finally, it will be handy to post my papers/ presentations here so that I can point people to the blog if/ when they ask me for these things - no doubt there are other sites that would be better for that, but this will do for now. So, a multi-purpose blog, let's see how it goes - if you happen to call in, you are most welcome! (And a note to all of my blogging friends - no need AT ALL to feel you have to post a comment, I have been reading your blogs for years without posting them!)