Exploring educators’ understandings of infants’ and toddlers’ agency

Tanya Burr, Macquarie University, Australia (
Sheila Degotardi, Macquarie University, Australia (

Background: The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) promotes the need to recognise children’s participation rights and for educators to be responsive to opportunities and demonstrations of agency. However recent research documents concern that this rights-based discourse has not yet penetrated infant caregiving contexts.

Aim: To explore how educators working with infants and toddlers understand agency, and what role they ascribe to themselves in infants’ and toddlers’ realisation of agency.

Method: Research was undertaken in ECEC settings across Brisbane in late 2019/early 2020. Interviews and reflection activities were conducted with 15 educators working with children under three years, and responses coded through thematic analysis.

Results: Participants provided some working definitions of agency and made some connection to supporting children’s agency in their everyday practices. However participant responses largely revealed confusion and limited understanding of agency. This was exacerbated in instances where educators reported nil or irregular access to professional learning opportunities.

Conclusions: A connection between the status provided to educators who work with babies and toddlers, and the impact upon their knowledge and practice is proposed, and recommendations put forward for increased opportunities for professional learning relating  to birth to three pedagogy.

Implications for children: This research will help educators understand an important part of babies’ and toddlers’ learning, and as they grow this will support children to know that what you think and what you say is important, and that you can make a difference in the world. 

Implications for families and practitioners: Children’s agency is a key element to recognise and foster within early childhood pedagogy and practice, though it is not as well understood by educators working with babies and toddlers. We need to better support and equip these educators with further knowledge and skills to ensure quality experiences and outcomes for our children.

Key words: infant and toddler, agency, educator voices, workforce issues, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: