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What's Theory Got To Do With It? EYLF principle 4 - Respect for Diversity.

Montessori Dewey Vygotsky

The Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR, 2009, p. 13) sets out five principles of early education and the fourth is “Respect for diversity”. 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 fourth and very important principle of the EYLF, in addition to how this theory has now been reinforced with current research in to child development and early childhood education.

Perhaps one of the most important references to diversity came from Lev Vygotsky whose theories of learning took in to account the cultural and social world the child lives in. Vygotsky believed that learning happens through social interactions within a cultural context. While Piaget’s theories didn’t account for cultural differences and diversity, Vygotsky understood the impact of culture and society on the way we learn and a sociocultural theory of development was born. Understanding that children will learn differently in varying cultures is an important part of respect for diversity in education.

Urie Bronfenbrenner developed the ecological systems theory which places great emphasis on the influencing systems within a child’s world. Bronfenbrenner determined the not only did these social and cultural systems effect a child’s learning, but that the interrelationship between each system was also of great significance. Bronfenbrenner believed that culture, and a child’s understanding of culture, was an influencing factor on their ability to learn, displaying a natural respect for diversity.

The most direct link between the fourth principle of the EYLF and theory can be found in the work of Maria Montessori. Montessori was an important proponent for peace education, and there even exists a book which is a collection of lectures from Montessori called “Education and Peace” (Montessori, 1949). In her own words “Averting war is the work of politicians, establishing peace is the work of educators”. For this approach Maria is known as major figure in peace education. Culture is an important component in the curriculum and respect for diversity is consistently fostered in a Montessori environment.

Like Montessori, John Dewey believed education was a tool to for social change and reform. This was, in fact, a repetitive theme in his work. Dewey proposed that people have a responsibility to make the world a better place through education and social reform (Williams, 2017). This is an idea we see recurring throughout early childhood education and care services' philosophies and mottos. The idea that we can shape a better future for our children through our approach to their education is one that takes in to account the need for respect for diversity. Without respect for each others differences how can we change attitudes for the better?

So how does this link to current trends and research in the sector? Diversity is becoming an increasingly recognised issue of today’s society. We have realised that diversity comes in many forms, it isn’t always cultural but also takes into accounts the many different lifestyle choices we as human beings, can make for ourselves. The current literature on the subject is vast with contributions from highly respected early childhood organisations and advocates such as Kids Matter and Early Childhood Australia. We have also seen an increased focus on the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in early childhood programs with the increasing recognition of the original land owners’ rights. With this we have seen the emergence of support and assistance such as that of the Koori Curriculum. As we have begun to realise how early attitudes and beliefs are shaped in children we have increased our focus on creating positive attitudes from early childhood through cultivating a respect for diversity and there is much research pertaining to this.

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

Montessori, M. (1949). Education and Peace. Henry Regerny: Chicago

Williams, K. (2017). John Dewey in the 21st Century. Journal of Inquiry & Action, 9(1).pp. 91-102

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