Participatory work with young children: the trouble and transformation of age-based hierarchies

Caralyn Blaisdell

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This paper explores the ways that participatory work with young children was actually lived in practice, in one early childhood setting. Drawing on an ethnographic study, the paper argues that disruption of age-based hierarchy was key for making space and time for young children's meaningful participation. Practitioners held a strong, nuanced view of young children's 'richness', rather than defining young children in terms of what they lack. The finished state of adulthood was troubled, with adults seen as fellow 'emergent becomings', in the process of learning alongside children. However, despite conscious efforts to deconstruct age-based hierarchy, age and life experience remained troublesome concepts at the nursery. The paper examines tensions and limitations in how far adults were willing to cede control to young children, focusing on the example of care routines. The paper contends that participatory work with children must itself be maintained as a space for inquiry and reflection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-290
Number of pages13
JournalChildren's Geographies
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • children's participation
  • early childhood
  • child-adult relations
  • intergenerational relations
  • hierarchy
  • ethnography
  • age

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