Contemporary childhoods

A good awareness of current contemporary issues is vital when working in Early Education. There is a need to raise this cognisance amongst all who work with young children, emphasising the complexities of childhood in the twenty-first century and to understand further childhood in context, in all of its diversities and realities (McBlain, 2014).

Importances of understanding childhood

Children are our future, responsible for future society and the countries future wealth. Essentially they are the very fabric of our society. In recent years it has become increasingly obvious that we need good informed knowledge of childhoods, children in context. All too often we find that different, sometimes difficult situations are ignored. Indeed a popular understanding that many of us hold is that childhood is a time of innocence, a time to play, no worries or responsibilities (Woodhead, 2005).

Importantly as early years practitioners we need to remember that not all children enjoy these experiences. Their lives are influenced by societal factors, time and space, habitus (Bourdieu); culture, surroundings and family in which they grow up and are nurtured. As such consideration needs to be given to children in different context, the child in danger living in abusive situations, refugee children who have travelled from countries to escape dangers, which they shouldn’t have to experience. Children in need of protection, being exposed to things a young child shouldn’t see. Safeguarding of children has changed, and we see wider spread incidents of children who have been let down by society and agencies who are supposed to be protecting the most vulnerable. For example cases like Victoria Climbie 2001; and the Baby P case, 2008, both children suffered horrifically at the hands of family, and family services were criticised heavily for the part in these cases.

The changing nature of families, diversities in family structure, parenting styles, children’s abilities, languages and needs. Children as carers, supporting a parent with addiction or depression. Todays children appear to face stresses which we adults didn’t necessarily experience years ago, shifting landscapes such as children’s security; children running away from home, and living rough on the streets with the dangers which this brings with it. There is such a wide variation of child in our midst it is sometimes difficult to make sure we meet the needs of every child. So innocence isn’t necessarily the experience every child lives and often children encounter responsibilities way beyond their young age.

Contemporary factors

Other contemporary factors worth considering are that of changing technologies, raising questions as to whether children should be exposed to screen time; how much is to much and if we don’t support our children to become the digital adults of the future are we disadvantaging them. On one had we see an increased interest in STEM education and rather than the criticisms from years gone by, there is evidence suggesting that technologies in early education can be and are beneficial when introduced in the correct way to support learning and development. On the other hand we have critiques highlighting areas of concern when children are exposed to excessive screen time, internet and other such technologies, which result in children not being able to socially interact, not getting sufficient fresh air and exercise, the Ipad becoming the babysitter while a parent can have a quiet coffee with friends in a cafe.

Outdoor spaces another current contemporary issue, are our children given ample opportunity to explore environments ripe with risk and adventure. Should they be? Or have we become a society where we overprotect children, wrap them in cotton wool, has claim culture made us afraid to allow exploration, risk management and outdoor adventure for children in our settings. These questions and more remain unanswered, and as a result we need to consider what the impact of this is on our children?

Other interesting and current contemporary issues, homelessness and children living in poverty situations. Some years ago Cullis and Hansen (2009) highlighted concerns in respect of children living in low income families in the UK; suggesting that some families cannot afford books, computers, with some children suffering from poor nutrition, over crowding in houses. In Ireland we have a housing crisis which results in some children living with families in hotel rooms rather than having suitable housing, which in this era is quite shocking. As educators it is important to give consideration to these contemporary factors when taking into account what children need.

Other factors such as school Readiness what age is the right age to introduce children to more formal education, should early education be play based, child-led, and should young children undergo formal assessment before transitioning into Primary Education? Reflections on the professionalism of the Early Years Sector and quality provision in early education; Digitalised childhoods, social fears, mental health, obesity and many more. It is our role as Practitioners and early educators to investigate and be aware of these contemporary issues in childhood, consider the child, and how we can help make changes and understand the impact on the children.

The Pace of Change

The pace of change in Childhood can be some what overwhelming, but it is vital to keep abreast of what is happening in our world, nationally, internationally and globally, and to work with every child, every family, taking account of their diverse circumstances, cultures, home environments and working towards providing inclusion and equality. We can do this by reading widely, opening our eyes to the diversities and experiences of children, and not accepting that childhood is a time of innocence, but remember every child’s experience is different and is determined by time and space.


Cowie, H. (2012) From Birth to sixteen: Children’s Health, Social, Emotional and linguistic Development, London: Routledge.

Cullis, A. and Hansen, K. (2009) Child Development in the First Three Sweeps of the Millennium Cohort Study, DCFS Research Report RW-007. London: DCSF.

Elkind, D. (1981) The Hurried Child: Growing up Too Fast Too Soon, Reading, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Formby, S. (2014) Practitioners Perspectives: Children’s use of Technology in the Early Years. London: National Literacy Trust.

MacBlain, S. F. (2014) How children Learn, London: SAGE.

Pugh, G., and Duffy, B. (2014) Contemporary Issues in the Early Years, London: SAGE.

Woodhead, M. (2005) ‘Children and development’, in J. Oates, C. Wood and A. Grayson (eds), Psychological Development and Early Childhood. Oxford: Open University Press.

Published by Dr M

An Early Years Specialist in the areas of Education, Psychology, and Research, I am passionate about curriculum development and the benefits of IT in Early years for promoting creative thought, autonomy, and innovative teaching and learning. Throughout my career I have also been involved in raising awareness of the importance of outdoor play, the provision of training and development in Adult Education; improved Parental involvement, and also Psychological development and behavioural analysis particularly in children under 6yrs. As a Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I work with parents, schools, and preschools as consultant and mentor offering support and advice, training, and quality assurance with the aim of encouraging standardisation and recognition amongst the Early Years profession.

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