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What's Theory Got To Do With It? EYLF principle 2 - Partnerships.

early childhood theory

The Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR, 2009, p. 12) sets out five principles of early education and the second is “Partnerships”. These principles are founded on early childhood research and theory, as are the practices and outcomes. This blog is designed to help educators understand the links between early childhood theory and this second and very important principle of the EYLF, in addition to how this theory has now been reinforced with current research in to child development.

The clearest link between the principle of partnerships and theory is with the ecological systems theory from Urie Bronfenbrenner. Bronfenbrenner placed great emphasis on the systems within a child’s life. He believed that development occurs over time through interactions with the environments (split in to systems) within which we live, play etc. Bronfenbrenner defined the systems in a child’s life and the first, the microsystem, includes the child’s immediate environments such as the home and school setting. The second system which Bronfenbrenner placed emphasis on is the mesosystem, which involved the connections between the microsystems, in other words the partnerships between environments such as the school and home. He believed with strong partnerships between the environments and people of the microsystem a certain harmony is achieved and the child’s development would be positively effected (Psychology Notes HQ, 2013).

Lev Vygotsky was another theorist who emphasises the importance of social interactions to a child’s learning and development. Vygotsky believed children developed language and thought simultaneously as they interacted with peers and adults. Vygotsky developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), the difference between what a child can do alone and what they can do with assistance. He theorised that children’s learning occurred when they interacted with a more knowledgeable other (MKO) who would scaffold the child’s understanding of cognitive concepts. Vygotsky therefore believed the parent was the first teacher in the child’s life; thus the important of parent contribution to the learning and development of their child.

Loris Malaguzzi took from many different theorises, including Vygotsky, to develop the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. The Reggio Emilia approach places great value on the partnership between the school setting and the child’s family. Malaguzzi viewed parents as equal partners in curriculum decision making, policy building, environment design and so on. He believed in the importance of fluidity in the child’s life as emphasised in Bronfenbrenner’s Mesosystem. Malaguzzi viewed parents as the first teacher in the child’s life and thus their role in their own child’s education became integral across all platforms of curriculum in the Reggio Emilia approach.

It becomes clear that theory and approach in early childhood consistently reinforces the importance of partnerships between the significant adults in a child’s life, but how do current research and trends support this practice? Our research in to brain development has shown us the way in which children’s neural pathways are built and this is through repeated experiences. Children under two years of age are making approximately one million neural connections a second. They build these neural connections up until the brain begins the pruning process in which less used neural pathways are discarded to make room for stronger and more frequently used connections. A fluidity between the home and school setting will ensure that children’s neural pathways are being effectively developed and reinforced. Furthermore, our research in to the effects of adverse experiences in early childhood has emphasised the importance of creating environments for children which are welcoming and encourage a sense of belonging to assist in decreasing the potential for stressful situations for children which hinder their ability to learn. Creating a sense of belonging can not occur without a strong partnership between home and school.

There is an old African proverb which states “It takes a village to raise a child”. The theory and research in to partnerships between adults in the child’s life reinforces this idea. There is great emphasis in the revised National Quality Standard (2018) on educators understanding the theory which underpins the approved learning framework (most often EYLF) and this is because understanding this theory helps us to develop as educators. It helps us to fathom the importance of the decisions we make in regard to children, curriculum and self development. Theory, while sometimes viewed as outdated and unexciting, is actually the very opposite. More often than not these theories are backed up by current scientific and developmental research, and understanding the ideas behind them can be exciting and is most definitely relevant to creating quality early childhood environments.


DEEWR, (2009). Early Years Learning Framework: Belonging, Being and Becoming. Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra

Psychology Notes HQ, 2013. What is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory? Psychology Notes HQ. Retrieved 30th May, 2018 from https://www.psychologynoteshq.com/bronfenbrenner-ecological-theory/

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