Agency in the Early Years: A Discussion with Nova Scotia Early Childhood Educators

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Brown, Sarah
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Children’s agency is the ability to move through and influence physical spaces, routines, and social spaces while being mindful of others sharing the space with them. It is important for children in early childcare settings to establish their agency, as it is one of the few places outside of the child’s home where they can interact with other people. Critically, developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) has been considered the standard practice of early childcare, where children’s bodies are managed in order to comply with adult standards. An over reliance on DAP standards can limit the possibilities for children to express themselves and curtails their ability to be agentic. The aim of this research is to learn from early childhood educators (ECEs) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, if and how they are able to prioritize children’s voices within their practice in order to support children’s agency. Using a qualitative case-study with a focus group methodology, this researcher found participants who prioritized freedoms within their classroom settings to allow children to express themselves. Four themes emerged from these discussions surrounding agency; practitioner’s philosophies inform children’s agency, institutional structures can impact children’s agency, settings and routine informs children’s agency, and supporting young children’s voices. Two recommendations arose from this study found that professional development needs to explicitly discuss children’s agency and child rights in order to bring these understandings to the foreground of ECEs’ practice. The second recommendation is that professional development for ECEs should shift towards a more decolonialized approach, where the emphasis is on facilitating discussions regarding critical issues to challenge the assumptions held by ECEs.