Grant holder
Liz Chesworth, The University of Sheffield
Project status

A research project which aimed to develop inclusive and responsive approaches to curriculum planning, pedagogy and provision. The final report was published in January 2022.

A short film which introduces Dr Liz Chesworth's Froebel Trust funded research about curriculum making and funds of knowledge in early childhood education. It was created by Dr Liz Chesworth (University of Sheffield). Animation by Alex Francis.

Project summary

This collaborative research aimed to investigate how practitioners understood complexity in play to inform their curriculum decision-making and pedagogical approaches in a multi-diverse pre-school setting. This focus aligns with the theoretical underpinning of Froebel's principles: play is a coherent system leading to diverse and complex manifestations, and is the free, creative expression of human development.

The research drew upon the concepts of funds of knowledge, children's interests and working theories to identify and explore the characteristics of this complexity. Combining Froebel's theories with funds of knowledge theories can potentially counterbalance the instrumental framing of play in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in England (DfE, 2017).

Download a free copy of the research summary

This summary combines Froebelian principles with insights from contemporary research to explore how early years educators can build a curriculum in partnership with children.

Project objectives

1. To understand practitioners' current funds of knowledge and how these inform their approaches to curriculum planning and decision-making

2. To show how practitioners identify children's funds of knowledge, working theories and interests in their freely-chosen play activities

3. To describe how practitioners use this knowledge in their curriculum decision-making and planning

4. To conceptualise how complexity and diversities intersect in play in a multi-diverse setting, via multi-vocal and multi-modal forms of communication and interactions

5. To propose new ideas and approaches that can inform policy and practice with regard to diverse and complex manifestations of play in multi-cultural communities

6. To disseminate the outcomes of this research for developing inclusive and responsive approaches to curriculum planning, pedagogy and provision

Key findings

1. Recognising and valuing complexity in play.

Sensitive observation of play required adults to become attuned to children’s multiple forms of expression. Children expressed their interests and ideas through engagement with materials, gestures, movement, talk, mime, markmaking, rhythm, music and digital technologies.

2. Reflecting on complexity in play.

Reflection and dialogue between practitioners and families were key to understanding how the interests and ideas that children explored in their play connected with their everyday lives at home. We found that children’s interests were frequently generated from an interweaving of children’s participation in:

• Multi-generational family practices, including food preparation, caring for siblings, hobbies, and religious practices.

• Multilingual communicative practices in home, community and religious contexts.

• Popular culture, including television, film and related digital media.

3. Responding to complexity in play within curriculum decision-making.

The findings indicate that practitioners were committed to recognising and valuing children’s interests to enable them to co-construct a dynamic and responsive curriculum. However, curriculum decisionmaking was informed by a linear model of learning that required practitioners to foreground children’s progress towards the statutory Early Learning Goals (DfE, 2017) within the English Early Years Foundation Stage framework. This posed challenges for practitioners’ capacity to recognise and respond to the complex ideas, inquiries and interests that children explored in their play. Given the global emphasis upon predetermined learning outcomes and linear notions of progress, these findings have relevance for curriculum policy and practice in England and beyond.

Research highlights

Curriculum making with young children

An introduction to the latest research about curriculum making - created to support educators in their work with babies and young children.
Written by Dr Liz Chesworth. Free to download.

Learn more

Research documents

Final Report Froebel Trust Chesworth et al 2022 Practitioners Curriculum Decision Making Final Report
Creating a curriculum with young children - FT Research Summary