• Kate Hodgekiss

What's Theory Got To Do With It? EYLF Principle 5 - Ongoing Learning and Reflective Practice.

reflective practice

The Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR, 2009, p. 13) sets out five principles of early education and the fifth and final one is “Ongoing learning and reflective practice”. 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 fifth and very important principle of the EYLF, in addition to how this theory has now been reinforced with current research in to best practice.

Ongoing learning and reflective practice is not as easily linked to theories of early childhood education as the other four principles may be. That is not to say, however that this concept didn’t arise in theory, because it did. Particularly when we look at the work of John Dewey whose theories of education placed great emphasis on the role of the educator, and were perhaps the first to also place importance on reflective practice. Dewey believed reflective thinking was fundamental to teaching. He defined the educational process (Dewey, 1916, p. 50) as “continual reorganisation, reconstruction and transformation of experience”, believing it was through the process of reflecting on experience that we learn and develop. Dewey maintained that teachers were obligated to constantly study their work and methods in order to reach their full potential and provide quality pedagogy.

When we talk about reflective practice, we do not just refer to self reflection as an individual, but reflection as a sociocultural process as per the theories of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky believed in learning through interaction with a more knowledgeable other and this theory emphasises the importance of reflective practice through collaboration, mentorship and ongoing professional development. Vygotsky’s theories demonstrate the learning that occurs when we work with, discuss and take instruction from a person more experienced or knowledgeable than ourselves, and this is exactly what we are doing when we engage in ongoing learning in the form of professional development, or reflective practice in the form of mentorship.

The Reggio Emilia Approach, founded by Loris Malaguzzi, holds in high regard the principle of teacher as a researcher. The teacher as a researcher principle assumes the teacher will continue their own professional growth and development through ongoing learning and reflective practice. Throughout the readings, research and literature from the Reggio Emilia approach there is a recurring theme of reflection embedded within. They place great emphasis on documentation in the Reggio approach, with Carla Rinaldi believing it is through the process of documentation and reflection that we learn to teach children effectively.

Reflective practice has been further developed by more recent theorists and researchers. Graham Gibbs developed his ‘reflective cycle’ in his 1988 book “Learning by doing”. He divided reflection in to 5 cyclical steps - description, feelings, evaluation, analysis (sometimes included in evaluation), conclusions, and actions. In her 2003 book “Shaping Early Childhood”, Glenda MacNaughton suggests educators should embed critical reflection across all aspects of their work, including the learner, the curriculum and relationships. MacNaughton is a big proponent of ongoing learning and reflective practice as research has demonstrated the importance of a commitment to this principle, to ensuring quality early childhood outcomes.

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.

NB: I hope you have enjoyed our series on theory and the principles of the EYLF - if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out the other four!


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

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. Macmillan: New York

MacNaughton, G. (2003) Shaping Early Childhood: Learners, Curriculum and Contexts. Open University Press: Maidenhead, England.

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