The Competent Child: valuing all young children as knowledgeable commentators on their own lives



In this paper, we discuss the concept of ‘competency’ and ‘the competent child’ in relation to young children, particularly those who may be considered ‘less competent’ than others, whether through disability, ethnicity or socio-economic background. We critique normative discourses of ‘competency’ and consider how assumptions about competency in early childhood education can support or hinder young children’s learning. We ask how competent are we, as researchers and educators, in recognising and valuing young children’s perspectives? We ground our argument in brief accounts of findings from two UK-based early childhood research studies which were both founded on the principle that all young children are knowledgeable commentators on their own lives. The first example is taken from a small-scale study exploring the learning experiences of four-year-old children with special educational needs who attended both ‘special’ and ‘mainstream’ early education settings. The second example draws on a longitudinal study with young children aged three to eight years in the re-design of their early childhood education environment. We critique normative conceptualisations of competency and the competent child, and we adopt a socio-material perspective to disentangle how perceptions of competence configure the relationship between competency, participation and pedagogy.


Visual methods, participation, early childhood, competency, Mosaic approach

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