Children’s power and a ‘community centered’, rather than ‘child-centered’, curriculum

I am still going through a pile of interesting articles I printed out ages ago. In that pile, was an article by Yoon-Joo Lee and Susan L Recchia on power in an early childhood classroom.

I confess to being on a very different wavelength to the practice described in each of the observations/examples drawn on for discussion (though perhaps this is why those moments were chosen?), but I did really enjoy Lee and Recchia’s discussion. It’s a thought-provoking article (and available to all, because the journal is online:  A couple of quotes from their work:

“It is important for early childhood teachers to think about the role of power because early childhood classrooms, like other communities, are social environments where relationships are complicated by the power dynamics at play between different individuals. Power relationships in early childhood classrooms are usually discussed within the context of teacher-child relationships, especially as they relate a teacher’s loss of control when managing children’s behaviors. The role of power dynamics is rarely connected to building a social community within the early childhood classroom, where all the participants share power beyond teacher-child relationships.”

“In a sense, children gain power in relation to the extent to which the teacher yields her own power.”

“In some situations, teachers may find themselves in power struggles with children. We call these situations “dilemmas,” a term that emphasizes a state of uncertainty or perplexity that requires a choice between equally unfavorable options.”

The questions Lee and Recchia asked of their research were:

  1. “How do the behaviors and interactions of particular children, identified as young leaders, affect other children’s experiences in the preschool classroom?
  2. In what ways do these children’s behaviors create dilemmas for teachers as their social interactions are colored by power dynamics that challenge teachers’ ideas about creating classroom community?”

They explain that “Each case study attempted to describe not only how teachers conceptualized classroom leadership but also how teachers responded to the children’s presence and behavior in the classroom.”

“For teachers who aspire to create a democratic community where all the children are respected and included, children like Calvin, Louis, and Jackie can create challenges. Because these young leaders hold great social power within the classroom, teachers’ ways of responding to them can set a powerful agenda for all of the classroom children to follow. Our findings raise interesting, yet difficult questions:

  • To what extent, or under what circumstances, can or should teachers allow young children to exclude certain peers?
  • Must early childhood teachers insist that children be nice to or include everybody for the purpose of fairness?
  • When young leaders strongly push their own ideas forward, sometimes in ways that can disadvantage others, how can teachers foster a community where all the children’s voices are heard?

Our findings indicate that teachers’ responses in situations that raised these questions were frequently inconsistent or indirect in addressing issues of power.”

“Best practices in early childhood teaching exemplify the teacher’s role as an empowering agent in her work with young children. Because of the dynamic and fluid nature of power, however, no one person can always be empowered, and both teachers and children are able to disempower each other in everyday classroom situations. The nature of these disempowering interactions can easily lead to a sense of discomfort in teachers, as they reported in our study.

Our observations demonstrated ways that teachers often ignore this aspect of power dynamics, missing opportunities to raise critical questions about their own and children’s behaviors. We believe these feelings of discomfort experienced by teachers must be recognized and validated before they can become opportunities for learning how to share power. These uncomfortable moments can be used as a catalyst for reflection and transformation. Teachers can actively reflect on their beliefs and practices in relation to children’s choices, which can emerge in unexpected ways.”

“…this study deconstructs some taken-for-granted early childhood practices. For example, recommended practices in early childhood (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997) emphasize the value in creating curriculum that supports children’s initiations, but these recommended practices do not fully consider the role of power dynamics in the early childhood classroom. While early childhood educators emphasize “child-centered” and “emergent” curriculum, we often fail to fully recognize the ways in which different children’s voices contribute to determining the curriculum within a dynamic, play-based classroom environment. If individual children are perceived as having diverse minds, bodies, strengths, and needs, can there be a single or simple understanding of “child-centered” practice? The use of this term seems to operate under the assumption that it is all about the children. But in the day-to-day world of an early childhood classroom, teachers ultimately have to make decisions and be responsible for outcomes. Furthermore, within a dynamic classroom, the child is not always at the center; rather, power shifts back and forth between teachers and children. Our findings encourage a rethinking of the term “child-centered” and a move toward a “community-centered” classroom that emphasizes the importance of shared power. When creating “community-centered” curriculum, it is important to include a place for teachers’ power and to reflect deeply on how power is shared among and shifted between teachers and children.”

“…when children who take on powerful leadership roles in the classroom use their status to create uncomfortable situations for their peers and their teachers, what are the implications for building a social classroom community?

As Goodman (2002) reminds us, if our goal is to raise children as critical thinkers rather than obedient listeners, we must give them opportunities to be actively involved in experiencing moral dilemmas and making moral decisions. However, if teachers honor children’s choices without providing opportunities to critically analyze their consequences for others, or fail to raise children’s consciousness about the impact of their choices, are they truly supporting opportunities for all of the children to share power in the classroom?

Ref: Yoon-Joo Lee and Susan L. Recchia (2008) ‘Who’s the Boss?’ Young Children’s Power and Influence in an Early Childhood Classroom. ECRP: Early Childhood Research & Practice 10(1)Spring: online version. (originally accessed, 20/12/2008)

Reference is made to: Bredekamp, Sue, & Copple, Carol (Eds.). (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8 (Rev. ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Goodman, Joan F. (2002 , March 20). Teacher authority and moral education. Education Week. Retrieved June 15, 2005, from’s note: This url has changed:


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in early years education, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, social and political contexts, Teaching excellence and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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