Contemporary understandings of childhood construct the child as an active agent in matters that affect their lives. Underpinned by the sociological understanding of childhood, this approach portrays the young child as an active and confident agent, and as a catalyst for their own learning and development. We have shifted from a priority on developmental theories to understand children, to a ‘post-developmental’ period where we consider socio-cultural theories, among others, to critically analyse our knowledges, practices, skills and values in terms of practice in early years settings.

Participants in this module will draw on these concepts in their consideration of children’s early learning and their own pedagogical approach within Early Childhood Education and Care settings. Learners will explore methods of planning for children’s early learning, implementing those plans, and capturing the children’s learning. The module focuses on the Irish context, though this is situated within and influenced by broader international developments. The module explores the role of the ECEC practitioner as a co-constructor of knowledge in collaboration with the child, groups of children, staff teams, families and other stakeholders. Developing an ethical and rights-based approach to practice will support the privileging of co-constructed knowledges. Reflection on practice, peer and group reflection should underpin this collaborative approach, and will be examined within the module.

The place of assessment of and for learning and related terminology will be examined from both theoretical and applied perspectives. Learners will be challenged to consider new ways of knowing, and new forms of knowledge, with respect to children’s and families’ lived experiences, varied cultures and changing family patterns. The module explores the impact of these varied influences on inclusive pedagogical development, curriculum planning and assessment, as these inform daily lived activities in ECEC.

Module Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, and the associated activities and readings, you be able to demonstrate an ability to:

  • Discuss the sociology of childhood as it relates to children’s early learning, constructing the child as an agent and catalyst in their own learning
  • Outline the emerging Irish approach to pedagogy and curriculum development, situating this within a contemporary international context
  • Discuss the concept of co-constructed knowledge, the role of collaboration with stakeholders and the place and various modes of reflection within this approach
  • Apply this concept to recognise new ways of knowing and doing in ECEC as it concerns planning, implementing, assessing and extending the curriculum
  • Outline the place of assessment of and for learning in Early Years contexts, and the related terminology, from theoretical and applied perspectives
  • Assess and demonstrate how to appropriately structure the learning environment to challenge and enhance/enrich children’s thinking
  • Examine the emerging approaches to and purposes of documenting children’s learning for various audiences, including colleagues, families, relevant agencies and children themselves.

Brief Overview of the Units

This module will support practitioners in a range of early years settings to reflect on their understanding of the ways in which young children learn, and their own role in supporting that learning. Previous approaches and theories will be challenged and critically analysed from sociological, constructivist and social-constructivist, sociocultural and children’s rights-based perspectives. The module will refer to the current practice frameworks as they support our work in the Irish context:

  • Síolta: The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education (CECDE, 2006; DES, 2010)
  • Aistear: The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework (NCCA, 2009)
  • Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines for Early Childhood Education and Care (DCYA, 2016)

This module has six units:

Unit 1: Setting the Scene – Evolving and Underpinning Theoretical Perspectives

This unit critically analyses developmental theories which we relied on previously as the foundation to practice in Early Childhood Education settings. From a postdevelopmental position, the unit explores the new sociology of childhood, which situates the young child as an active experiential learner and rights bearer. The module goes on to consider constructivist and social-constructivist perspectives, and a variety of theories and theorists that resonate with these positions.

Unit 2: Understanding How Children Learn

Building on the theoretical and conceptual perspectives in Unit 1, this second unit examines the knowledges, practices, skills and values that we bring to our practice to support early learning. Through this unit learners will question how knowledge is valued, what knowledge is valued, and consider the notion of co-construction of knowledges, amongst key stakeholders – practitioners, parents and children.

Unit 3: Curriculum Planning: An Integrated Approach

Building on the conceptual knowledge developed through Units 1 and 2, in Unit 3 learners will move from the abstract to the concrete as they explore the importance of developing a vision for early learning, as the foundation of their approach to pedagogy. Unit 3 examines the curriculum development process, considering pedagogical documentation, and making clear links to our practice frameworks and guides.

Unit 4: Building a Rich Picture of Children’s Learning

Unit 4 continues the examination of pedagogical documentation, constructing this practice as an ongoing, dynamic and participatory process rather than an output or a concrete document alone. In Unit 4 the notion of ‘sustained shared thinking’ is introduced, as is an emergent, inquiry – based approach to curriculum development.

Unit 5: Interpreting, Reflecting and Designing the Curriculum

The focus of Unit 5 is to continue your development in the area of pedagogical documentation, by exploring pedagogical narration and your awareness of the multiple perspectives that may be involved in the interpretation of documentation.

Learners will consider daily routines and rituals and their place within the setting’s curriculum. The concepts of assessment of, assessment for and assessment as learning will be explored.

Unit 6: Extending How We Understand and Support Children’s Early Learning

This concluding unit has three main focus areas. The first encourages you to extend your emerging approach to curriculum development to particular topic areas and themes. The second encourages you to reflect on the learning environment and to consider this environment in its broadest sense. Finally, the unit will briefly explore other international contexts in regards to approaches to children’s early learning – to consider other ways of knowing, other ways of doing. You will be encouraged to use this awareness to support critical reflection on your own approach to supporting and understanding children’s early learning.

Module Assessment

In order to successfully complete this module, learners should demonstrate that they have achieved the overall module learning outcomes and the underpinning unit learning outcomes. Assessment of learner performance will be carried out through a range of methods, including, but not limited to, written assignments, reports, presentations and written exams. Details of the assessment methods will be posted to Blackboard.

Required Reading for this module

Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education (2006) Síolta: The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education. Dublin: Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education. Available at:

Davis, K. & Peter, S. (2010) ‘Moments of wonder, everyday events: how are young children theorising and making sense of their world?’ Playcentre journal, 137, pp. 2629.

Department for Children and Youth Affairs (2016) Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines for Early Childhood Education and Care. Dublin: Government Publications. Available at:

Department of Education and Skills (2011) Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life: The National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011- 2020. Dublin: Department of Education and Skills. Available at:

Dunphy, E. (2010) ‘Assessing early learning through formative assessment: key issues and considerations’, Irish educational studies, 29(1), pp. 41-56.

Dunphy, E. (2008) ‘Assessing early learning and development through formative assessment: A research paper’. Dublin: National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Available at:

McMonagle, A. (2012) ‘Professional pedagogy for early childhood education’. Pobal Donegal Childcare Committee. Available at:

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (2009) Aistear, The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. Dublin: NCCA. Available at:

Touhill, L. (2012) ‘Sustained, shared thinking’, National quality standard professional program newsletter, 43, pp. 1-4. Available at: 2012/09/NQS_PLP_E-Newsletter_No43.pdf

Wien, C.A., Guyevskey, V. & Berdoussis, N. (2011) ‘Learning to document in Reggioinspired education’, Early childhood research and practice, 13(2). Available at:

Additional Recommended Reading for this Module

If you would like to expand your understanding of the topics explored in this module, you may wish to access these publications. Unfortunately these are not available online, and therefore, are not required reading.

Barnardos (2014) Quality adult-child interactions in early years services. Dublin: Barnardos.

Edwards, C. & Rinaldi, C. (2012) The diary of Laura: perspectives on a Reggio Emilia diary. Saint Paul MN: Redleaf Press.

Fleet, A., Patterson, C. & Robertson, J. (eds.) (2017) Pedagogical documentation in early years practice: seeing through multiple perspectives. SAGE.

Malaguzzi, L. (1995). The fountains: from a project for the construction of an amusement park for birds. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children.

Millikan, Jan, (2014) Documentation and the early years learning framework: researching in Reggio Emilia and Australia. New South Wales Pademelon Press.

Paley, V.G. (1997) The girl with the brown crayon. Harvard: Harvard University Press.


Understanding Children’s Early Learning Copyright © 2019 by National University of Ireland, Galway. All Rights Reserved.

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