Infants' encounters with curriculum: Levinas, the 'benediction' and 'sayings' as catalysts for infants' say in matters that affect them.

Sandra Cheeseman

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    The increased participation of infants in non-familial childcare has been accompanied by an intensification of political and research interest in their childcare experience. Despite a marked increase in research activity about, on and with infants, along with an escalation in government initiatives to shape their childcare experiences, the perspectives of infants—what they think, feel and know about their childcare experiences—remains significantly overlooked. This thesis is about infants’ encounters with curriculum and an attempt to come closer to understanding what it is like for infants to experience curriculum in their childcare setting.
    Among a growing number of international initiatives aimed at enhancing children’s life outcomes has been the recent phenomenon of government-initiated curriculum or learning frameworks for ever younger children. These frameworks frequently call on educators to view infants as agentic and capable contributors to their own and others’ learning. There is as yet, however, little written about how infants’ contribution to curriculum can be fostered.
    This thesis reports on a study that aimed to better understand, as far as possible from the infants’ perspective, how they experienced curriculum. It sought to get close to the experience of three infants—Clare, William and Hugh (aged between 6 months and 28 months)—as they encountered curriculum in their childcare setting. Using a critical hermeneutics theoretical frame, this study sought to reveal the potential hidden, silenced or taken-for-granted aspects about curriculum for infants, alongside the use of narratives to reflect the infants’ lived experiences. Drawing on the work of Emmanuel Levinas and his ideas about the concept of ‘encounter’, the study offers a reconceptualisation of infants as curriculum consumers.
    The study followed the day-to-day experiences of these infants as they attended a Sydney childcare setting over a 9-month period in 2010. The single case study design used a ‘Mosaic’ methodological approach, including video footage, still photographs, field notes and reflective journal entries. Narratives, derived from these data sources, were developed and analysed using both inductive, thematic coding, and later, theory-driven analysis drawing on Levinas’ key ideas of ‘benediction’ and ‘sayings’.
    Benedictions (the infants’ invitations) were found in the gestures, suggestions and adaptations to the curriculum that these infants offered their educators. The sayings of curriculum were seen in the unexpected and surprising capacities of these infants, to encounter learning beyond normative developmental assumptions, which are prominent in the infant early childhood literature. Together, the theoretical frame of benedictions and sayings provided windows through which I was able to illuminate the capabilities of these infants to be active contributors to their curriculum encounters.
    This thesis contributes to a growing body of work that challenges normative assumptions about infants and educators’ practice. It illuminates the exceptional thinking and theorising of infants as they engage in everyday encounters with curriculum. It proposes that there may be alternative ways of observing, planning for and documenting infants’ learning than are currently practiced. This work promotes a re-imagining and new understandings of critical pedagogic practice with infants.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Sumsion, Jennifer, Principal Supervisor
    • Press, Frances, Principal Supervisor
    Award date01 Mar 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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