Young children as citizens: Learning from practice in the early childhood setting

Abstract views: 667 / PDF downloads: 444




Citizenship, Early childhood, Values, Child rights, Birth to three years old


This paper examines enactments of young children’s citizenship in early childhood settings in England, which is an under researched area, in this study young children are positioned as social actors, competent and capable of making decisions and enacting citizenship. Values, child rights and citizenship are interconnected and often inseparable in practice. A mixed methods multiple-case study was conducted in England across several early childhood settings in the private and independent sector. Our findings indicate that young children enact citizenship through micro acts embedded into their day-to-day activities; such acts are often spontaneous in response to events or interactions. These are often pro-social in nature comprised as behaviours such as helping or showing concern for others. Our findings give visibility to the distinctive ways in which young children may enact citizenship including, for example, physical expressions.


Bath, C. & Karlsson, R. (2016). The ignored citizen: Young children’s subjectivities in Swedish and English early childhood education settings. Childhood, 23(4), 554-565. DOI:

Clarke, A. (2023). Slow knowledge and the unhurried child: time for slow pedagogies in early childhood education. Routledge. DOI:

Dalhberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. (2013). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care. Routledge. DOI:

Darke, P., Shanks, G., & Broadbent, M. (1998). Successfully completing case study research: Combining rigour, relevance and pragmatism. Information Systems Journal, 8(4), 273-289. DOI:

Department for Education (2017). Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. Department for Education.

Eisenberg, N., Eggum-Wilkins, N.D., & Spinrad, T.L. (2015). The development of prosocial behaviour. In D.A. Schroeder & W.G. Graziano (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of prosocial behaviour (pp.114-136). Oxford University Press.

Farini, F. (2019). The paradox of citizenship education in early years (and beyond): The case of education to fundamental British values. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 17(4), 361-375. DOI:

Halstead, J.M., & Taylor, M.J. (2000). Learning and teaching about values: A review of recent research. Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(2), 169–202. DOI:

James, A. Jencks, C., & Prout, A. (1998). Theorising childhood. Polity Press.

James, A., & Prout, A. (1997). Constructing and reconstructing childhood (2nd Ed.). Routledge.

Jerome, L., & Starkey, H. (2022). Developing children's agency within a children's rights education framework: 10 propositions. Education 3-13, 50(4), 439-451. DOI:

Johansson, E. (2018). Values education in preschool. In E. Johansson, & J. Einarsdottir (Eds.), Values in early childhood education. Citizenship for tomorrow (pp.1-16). Routledge. DOI:

Kallio, K., Wood, B., & Häkli, J. (2020). Lived citizenship: Conceptualising an emerging field. Citizenship Studies, 24(6), 713-729. DOI:

Lansdown, G. (2005). Innocenti insight: The evolving capacities of the child. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

MacNaughton, G., Hughes, P. & Smith, K. (2007). Early childhood professions and children’s rights: Tensions and possibilities around the United Nations General Comment No 7 on Children’s Rights. International Journal of Early Years Education, 15(2), 161-170. DOI:

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A.M., & Saldana, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook ( 3rd Ed.). Sage.

Moxnes, A. R., & Aslanian, T. K. (2022). Thinking time: Producing time and toddler’s time to think in ECEC. Global Studies of Childhood, 12(3), 277–287. DOI:

Osgood, J., Kroeger, J., & Persky, J. (2022). Editorial: The spectacle of ‘tantruming toddler’: Reconfiguring child/hood(s) of the Capitalocene. Global Studies of Childhood, 12(3), 199–208. DOI:

Osler, A. (2015). Human rights education, postcolonial scholarship, and action for social justice. Theory & Research in Social Education, 43(2), 244-274. DOI:

Palmadottir, H. (2018). Values conflicts as important learning opportunities. In E. Johansson, & J. Einarsdottir (Eds.) Values in early childhood education. Citizenship for tomorrow (pp.118-131). Routledge. DOI:

Pascal, C., & Bertram, T. (2021). What do young children have to say? Recognising their voices, wisdom, agency and need for companionship during the COVID pandemic. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 29(1), 21-34. DOI:

Puroila, A.M., Estola, E., Juutinen, J. & Viljamaa, H. (2018). Armchair pedagogy: Embodying caring values in a preschool context. In E. Johansson & J. Einarsdottir (Eds.) Values in early childhood education. Citizenship for tomorrow (pp.17-36). Routledge. DOI:

Puroila, A.M., Johansson, E., Estola, E., Emilson, A., Einarsdottir, J., & Brostrom, S. (2016). Interpreting values in the daily practices of Nordic preschools: A cross-cultural analysis. International Journal of Early Childhood, 48, 141–159. DOI:

Quennerstedt, A. (2016). Young children's enactments of human rights in early childhood education. International Journal of Early Years Education, 24(1), 5-18. DOI:

Robson, J. (2022). Unsettling the Trump Baby: Learning from values and pedagogy in the early childhood nursery. Global Studies of Childhood, 12(3), 288–296. DOI:

Ryder, G. M. (2021). Nurturing prosocial development in very young children: A multiple case study in early childhood settings. [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. Anglia Ruskin University.

Schwartz, S.H. (2012). An overview of the Schwartz Theory of basic values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1), 1-20. DOI:

Stake, R.E. (2006). Multiple case study analysis. The Guilford Press.

United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2005). General comment No. 7 (2005): Implementing child rights in early childhood.

United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2018). Report of Day of General Discussion 2018. Protecting and empowering children as human rights defenders.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2015). Global Citizenship Education.




How to Cite

Ryder, G. M., & van Krieken Robson, J. (2023). Young children as citizens: Learning from practice in the early childhood setting. Journal of Childhood, Education & Society, 4(2), 114–123.