Chapter 2: Early years curriculum: past, present and future – trajectories

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Chapter authors

  • Verity Campbell- Barr
  • Sasha Tregenza May

Chapter overview

In this chapter, we explore and analyse developments in the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) curriculum, tracing philosophical concepts and policy influences, to identify what has shaped current understandings of an ECEC curriculum. This journey of evolving ECEC examines the influence of early years pioneers, such as Fredrich Froebel (1826), Maria Montessori (1912), Margaret McMillan (1919), Rachael McMillan and Susan Isaacs (1929), identifying how the roles of adults, children and environments within ECEC have developed over time to promote high-quality pedagogy. We critically consider the interplay of policy initiatives in the evolution of the ECEC curriculum in England, highlighting where policy has both drawn on and contradicted the philosophical origins of ECEC. International research illustrates different philosophical conceptions of child-centredness within ECEC and how children can be made “present” and actively central within early learning (Campbell-Barr and Georgeson, 2021). We conclude with insights and recommendations for a future early years curriculum centred around the child.

Chapter objectives

  • To trace philosophical and policy influences in ECEC curriculum
  • To examine the influences of ECEC pioneers in developing high quality pedagogy
  • To consider the concept of child-centredness
  • To offer recommendations for a future, sustainable, child-centred, early years curriculum.

Further reading

Giardiello, P. (2014) Pioneers in Early Childhood Education. London: Routledge. 

This book traces influences of ECEC from Rousseau to present day.

Nutbrown, C. and Clough, P. (2014) Early Childhood Education: History, Philosophy and Experience (2/e) London: Sage.

This book on the work of ECE pioneers, includes fictional conversations with many of them, to highlight their contributions.

Wood, E. (2020) Learning, development, and the early childhood curriculum: a critical discourse analysis of the early years foundation stage, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 18(3), 321–336.

This article questions the selective use of child development theories as the underpinning knowledge base for practice EYFS.


Supplementary material

The Child-Centred Competence for Early Childhood Education and Care was an Erasmus+ project that looked to explore the meaning of child-centredness and what it looks like in practice. At the below website you can find a range of resources to support you explorations of child-centredness and understand more about the origins of the term.

Child-Centred Competences for Early Childhood Education and Care (Early Education)

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