Nurturing and encouraging young children’s identity, language and culture in the early years

Funding year: 
2 years
Core Education
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2015
Project end date: 
March 2017
Principal investigator(s): 
Keryn Davis and Ruta McKenzie
Research team members: 
Core Education
Research partners: 
Mapusaga Aoga Amata; North Beach Community Childcare Centre

Intro / Project description

This project focuses on understanding how young children express their working theories about identity, language and culture. It will explore how adults nurture and encourage this learning, and how this in turn impacts on participation in early childhood education (ECE) communities. It also seeks to find out more about how teachers can support diversity (and participation), through pedagogy and curriculum design that is highly responsive to all learners.


The project seeks to support the identity, language and culture of all learners in the research sites, while emphasising improvement for Pasifika and Māori learners and those from low socio-economic communities. The project utilises an innovative, collaborative ‘sister centre’ research partnership to do this and is sited in two early childhood centres in east Christchurch: one Samoan Immersion and one English-medium.
The project and its design reflect broader goals of social justice and equality. The project team believes that by nurturing children's identity, language and culture through a working theories lens they will provide new perspectives of how teachers can work with young children to influence their thinking, actions and attitudes. The project will investigate ways that teachers can help children to make sense of ‘self’ and the social world, and of difference and similarities, issues which are frequently silenced in young children and in learning communities (Brooker & Woodhead, 2008; Copenhaver-Johnson, 2006). The project seeks to enable learners to embrace cultures and languages other than their own, with the desire to ensure ECE settings are more able to support learners’ of diverse identities.

Why is this research important?

There is a great deal to learn about how teachers might contribute to realising the vision of Te Whāriki for all learners. Both the Pasifika Education Plan and Ka Hikitia place significant importance on the ways teachers respond to and support children’s identity, language and culture, through culturally responsive pedagogy and developing their own cultural intelligence.  The findings from this project will contribute to understandings of how to strengthening children’s working theories, by focusing on what children are learning as a result of shifts in teacher thinking and pedagogy.

What we plan to do

• Data
The study employs an action research approach. All members of the research team are involved in data collection and analysis. Data will take the form of: centre documentation; recordings of discussions, coversations and interviews; children’s work; correspondence; observations; photos; video; researcher notes, comments and reflections; and comments and reflections of members of the project’s extended community of inquiry.
• Analysis
The bulk of the project data will be analysed in an on-going way, as well as at the end of each phase of the study, by using a coding system to expose themes. Although we have specific plans for detailed analysis, as this is an interpretive action research study early analysis will determine future data collection and analysis decisions. Our overriding goal for data collection is to ensure that data is collected in ways that acknowledge the challenges of bias. By collecting data across the ‘sister’ sites, and in different ways, together with team involvement in the analysis, we avoid exclusive reliance on one method.

Our partners

This collaborative practitioner research project is led by Keryn Davis and supported by Ruta McKenzie as co-researcher, and Dalene Mactier as research assistant (CORE Education). Mapusaga Aoga Amata and North Beach Community Childcare in east Christchurch are the research sites. These early childhood centres have five and ten teachers respectively. All of the teachers will participate as teacher-researchers, however at different stages of the project some may take lead roles. Associate Professor Sally Peters and Vanessa Paki (University of Waikato) are research associates.

The project team will also be supported by an extended community of inquiry, that is, people outside of the two research sites who are interested in contributing to or learning from the project as it develops.