Living in this space: Case studies of children's lived experiences in four spatially diverse early childhood centres
Consistent with international trends, many children in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) spend the majority of their waking day in an early childhood centre [ECE]. Drawing on children’s and teachers’ perspectives in four spatially diverse, all-day ECE centres in NZ, this study investigated the relationship between ECE centre built environments and children’s lived experiences in light of characteristics of ‘child-friendly’ environments (Chatterjee 2005, Kennedy, 1991). Situated at the intersection of children’s geography and childhood sociology, this thesis used case-study methodology to foreground the experiential aspects of children’s spatial interactions, including their feelings of wellbeing and privacy, their mobility and social interactions. Conceptually, this study draws on a constructionist paradigm derived from Lefebvre’s (1991) theorisation of space as a product of the social-material relations, and from his notion of rhythmanalysis (2004); combining the two Lefebvrian concepts with Gibson’s (1979) theory of affordances provides a novel approach for understanding the agency of children and teachers in the process of the production of space. Research strategies were primarily ethnographic and included naturalistic observation, video records, child-led tours, photography, bookmaking, spatial mapping, focus groups, and measurement of noise levels. The findings revealed that space and its materiality matters for children’s lived experiences as well as for children’s and teachers’ agency. Opportunities for child-friendly lived experiences were influenced by the extent to which diverse rhythms and activities could coexist harmoniously in each physical space, with larger and more complex spaces offering greater affordances. The size of each centre’s activity space added a layer of dynamics to spatiality by narrowing or expanding these opportunities. Additionally, open-plan space afforded highly mobile younger children opportunities to exercise agency through collaboration. The rules and norms that governed children’s spatial practices were influenced by teachers' decisions and actions and these were enabled or constrained by spatial affordances. My findings suggest that, in addition to the ‘iron triangle’ of adult:child ratios, group size, and qualifications, space is an affordance that can create the conditions for quality practices, rich lived experiences, and teachers’ and children’s agency. A number of theoretical, conceptual and empirical contributions are made to our understandings of young children’s lives in group based ECE settings.