Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Skirmishes on the Border: How Children Experienced, Influenced and Enacted the Boundaries of Curriculum in an Early Childhood Education Centre Setting

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:26 authored by Stephenson, Alison Margaret

The notion of curriculum as contested was central to this thesis. In particular, the focus was on how children (aged from 8 months to 5 years) experienced and influenced the scope of curriculum and participated in the process in defining what constituted null curriculum in one New Zealand childcare centre. Qualitative methods were used to investigate this process of setting curriculum boundaries. Participant observations over five months yielded detailed observations, and these were supplemented by conversations with children which occurred in the context of a range of research strategies; children's perspectives have been foregrounded throughout. Data generation and analysis was guided by principles of the generic inductive qualitative model. Critical pedagogy and the sociology of childhood together provided the theoretical and methodological framework for the study, and 'strategies of dislocation' were devised to assist in seeing unfamiliar aspects in a familiar context. The central source of curriculum boundaries was found to be the assumed demarcation between adults and children; not only did this wider social norm influence the teachers, but it was also found to be embedded within the physical structure and organisation of the centre. It is argued this generational division conflicted with teachers' commitment to implementing sociocultural practices. The core of curriculum for children was found to be relationships with others. However, many relationships were characterised by a dialectic tension between a desire to establish relationships and be accepted within the community, and a desire to exercise control/power. It is argued that these two concerns were significant aspects of curriculum for children. Children's focus on gender and their individual interests also influenced the scope of curriculum, although children's ability to introduce interests depended upon how conducive the physical and social environment was to their expression. Teachers' and children's interpretation of what constituted null curriculum varied. Some aspects, and particularly the body, appeared to be null curriculum for all. Children used strategies of resistance to introduce new elements into the curriculum. Findings from the thesis are aligned with those of other recent qualitative studies in similar New Zealand settings and implications for the early childhood profession are discussed, particularly in relation to scrutinising the image of the child that is implied in practices, and challenging assumptions about the roles of adults and children, as a first step towards dismantling expectations that currently limit the potential scope of curriculum.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy


Podmore, Val; May, Helen