In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Childhood

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • History

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Childhood Studies Early Childhood
Glenda MacNaughton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0008


Early childhood is the period of childhood between birth and eight years of age. While the provision of targeted educational and care programs to meet the specific and particular needs of children in their early childhood years has a long history in many countries, there is considerable contemporary debate about what the nature of those programs should be and how they are best funded and evaluated. In this bibliography there is a brief overview of the history of early childhood education and care internationally, pointing to the differences in philosophies and practices that have grown over time in different parts of the world. However, the prime focus is on contemporary influences and debates in policies and their intents, and curriculum philosophies and practices in the provision of education and care for children in their early childhood years. With increasing investment in such education and care, there is increasing debate in several disciplines about how best to conceptualize and build practices that address children’s developing capacities at this age, to ensure that their rights are acknowledged and enacted, and to take account of issues of equity and fairness that shape the lives of young children. These concerns are linked with an increasing interest in the relationships between parents and early childhood institutions and spaces, how early childhood institutions and informal settings connect with the formal years of schooling, and how specific policies that address the needs and capacities of children in their early childhood years are produced that are relevant in diverse contexts, especially in non-Western contexts.

Introductory Works

Early childhood is the period of childhood between birth and eight years of age. The study of early childhood is multidisciplinary; Waller 2009 and Penn 2005 focus effectively on the complex array of micro and macro factors that directly and indirectly shape a child’s life chances and experiences. There are several texts that show how early childhood research ranges from the study of the broad socioeconomic policies (e.g., social welfare systems, parental leave, and workforce planning); service delivery systems (Penn 2005); the philosophy, politics, practice, and ethics of education; early childhood curriculum; teaching and learning; and care for the young child (Waller 2009; Jones, et al. 2005; Cryer and Clifford 2003) through to the study of the biological, psychological, spiritual, linguistic, aesthetic, historical, social, and cultural dynamics of young children’s well-being, growth, learning, and development (Fleer, et al. 2008; Brooker and Woodhead 2010). General introductory texts on early childhood tend to introduce a specific disciplinary approach (e.g., early childhood education or child development). A small but growing number of texts attempt to provide a holistic overview of the disciplinary breadth of the contemporary study of early childhood globally (Penn 2005, Waller 2009), or to highlight key contemporary controversies in the field of early childhood studies (Fleer, et al. 2008; Yelland 2010).

  • Brooker, Liz, and Martin Woodhead, eds. Culture and Learning: Early Childhood. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press, 2010.

    NNNHighly accessible, research-based analysis of how learning is culturally as well as developmentally mediated and constructed in the early years of life; offers an excellent introduction to current theories about children and learning for policy makers and practitioners. Also available free online.

  • Cryer, Debby, and Richard Clifford, eds. Early Childhood Education and Care in the USA. Baltimore: P. H. Brookes, 2003.

    NNNThorough introduction to mainstream developmental approaches to early childhood education by highly respected US authors; includes historical and contemporary perspectives on what constitutes quality early childhood education and how policy settings are intimately connected with practice in the field.

  • Fleer, Marilyn, Mariane Hedegaard, and Jonathan Tudge. “Constructing Childhood: Global-Local Policies and Practices.” In Childhood Studies and the Impact of Globalization. Edited by Marilyn Fleer, Marian Hedegaard, and Jonathon Tudge, 1–20. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    NNNGood introduction to the argument that dominant global early childhood discourses can silence and disrupt the good early childhood practices and policies that develop in local contexts in different parts of the world; offers insight on current controversies in the early childhood field about how to evaluate what is best for young children.

  • Jones, Liz, Rachel Holmes, and John Powell. Early Childhood Studies: A Multiprofessional Perspective. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2005.

    NNNA very helpful introductory text geared primarily to early childhood practitioners working in multiprofessional teams and contexts, this book asks the reader to engage critically with the different ways in which children and work with children can be understood and practiced. It is primarily UK-based but includes a chapter on international perspectives.

  • Penn, Helen. Understanding Early Childhood: Issues and Controversies. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2005.

    NNNAn excellent introduction to the complex and competing ways in which early childhood has been understood within and across different disciplines historically and in current times, with a welcome global perspective on contemporary issues and controversies in early childhood, from a senior author in the field with extensive, diverse international experience.

  • Waller, Tim. An Introduction to Early Childhood: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2d ed. London: SAGE, 2009.

    NNNClearly written for and suitable for undergraduates, it examines diverse dimensions of early childhood from diverse disciplinary perspectives and offers a very accessible and succinct introduction to theories of childhood, early childhood educational practice, the early childhood professional as a worker, and values and principles in early childhood work; though UK-focused, it does include international perspectives.

  • Yelland, Nicola, ed. Contemporary Perspectives on Early Childhood Education. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2010.

    NNNA good contemporary introduction to the diverse theoretical, conceptual, and substantive issues that are increasingly constructing discourses about early childhood globally. Uses international research to challenge universal and standardized notions of what early childhood policy and practice should look like in different contexts.

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