Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education

Contact: Dr Liz Chesworth

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Our research

The Early Childhood Research Cluster incorporates researchers whose work crosses, and intersects with a range of disciplines, methodologies and theoretical frameworks. These intersections are evident across the Faculty of Social Sciences (English, Sociology, Architecture and Landscape, Politics), as well as linking with other Faculties – e.g. Medical Humanities, Psychology. Our research also intersects with the two Faculty research centres – the iHuman and Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth. Our work both contributes to and shapes the University’s inter-disciplinary agenda.

Our research draws on a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives, with no particular orthodoxy, but with common concerns regarding education and social justice, a commitment to criticality and a desire to drive methodological innovation, particularly engaging children and young people in and with research. This is evident in our shared commitment to research that embraces innovative approaches to co-production visual and arts-based methods, and ethically responsive research.

Our research includes children, parents, families, carers, teachers and the wide range of professionals who work with children in the spaces identified above. We have an interest in their perspectives, beliefs,values and ways of knowing. Professional development, both initial and continuing, and professional knowledge across communities of practice is an ongoing research interest.

Our Practice

Early childhood is defined as birth to eight, and early childhood education is defined as happening in and across many spaces – preschools, schools, homes, communities, clubs, hospitals, on- and off- line, forest schools, playgrounds and the outdoor spaces.

Key themes that are explored in our work include:

  • Learning, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment
  • Play – traditional and digital: blending on-line and off-lineplay
  • Children’s lives, perspectives and experiences
  • Professionalism and professional knowledge

In each of these themes, our research creates pathways for impact and engagement where we work with many different groups, communities and organisations.

You find out more about our key themes here.


Current Projects

Childrens hand grasping

Understanding practitioners' decision-making to support complexity in children's play in a multi-diverse pre-school setting

This research aims to understand young children’s emergent funds of knowledge, interests and working theories in a multi-diverse early years setting.

Learn more about this project

Photograph of girl writing

Learning-rich leadership for quality improvement in early childhood education

We are interested in the complex ways in which multiple forms of leadership are enacted, what understandings are constructed by leaders in the contexts of practice, how they navigate discordant discourses within policy and practice, and what alternative discourses are available.

Learn more about this project

Photograph of child using circuitry

Makerspaces in the early years: Enhancing digital literacy and creativity (MakEY)

Makerspaces in the early years: Enhancing digital literacy and creativity (MakEY) is a research project funded by the EU Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) scheme. The project aims to further research and innovation in the area of young children’s digital literacy and creative design skills in order to contribute to Europe’s future competitiveness and growth.

More information on MakEY

Photograph of woman with girl using ipad

The Internet of Toys: Benefits and risks of connected toys for children

This project aims to investigate the emerging world of the Internet of Toys (IoToys) where toys relate one-on-one to children and also connect to other toys, other children and/or database data.

More information on IoToys

Recent Research Achievements

Shared Reading

Understanding the motivations and barriers to shared reading with young children

This project explores how parents feel about reading with young children at home. We know from existing research that reading with children before they start school can help their language development. A number of other associations – from learning to read to the development of a positive emotional relationship between parents and children – have also been highlighted.

Learn more about the Shared Reading project


Making in the Community

The School of Education is involved in a new project exploring the value of a makerspace in a community setting. Makerspaces are spaces in which users can tinker, hack and make using a variety of tools, including new technologies such as 3D printers. The project is funded by the University of Sheffield as part of its public engagement agenda.

Learn more about the Making in the Community Project

The Sheffield REAL Project (Raising Early Achievement in Literacy)

More information