Hearing infant voices within patterns of infant-practitioner interactions in nursery provision in England

Caroline Guard, PhD Candidate, University of Roehampton, London, England. (

Background:  The active contributions that infants make to early childhood education and care (ECEC) provision are seldom documented in research internationally.  The infant makes considerable effort to be ‘heard’, engaging a myriad of movements, facial expressions, and early vocalisations which can be characterised as ‘voice’. Grounded in historicity, the patterns of communicative cues infants’ display seek to elicit reactions from adults and have the potential to lead into moments of closeness and intersubjective exchange.  Examining infant voice as a stimulus for child-adult interactions, whilst acknowledging how the broader constructs of ECEC provision shape these moments, can strengthen educator understanding of infant development and amplify the visibility of infant participation in ECEC contexts. 

Aim: To document how infants actively use their voice to draw early childhood educators into their world to elicit child-adult interactions in ECEC contexts. 

Method: Case studies emerging from an interpretivist paradigm of ethnographic origin present data from six children attending two different early childhood centres in England.  Data generated via a multimodal methodology including digital video observations, sought to discover what patterns of communication infants engage to convey their voice in nursery provision, and how voice is used to initiate and sustain interactions with adults.  The study takes inspiration from cultural historical theory framing the child as an active participant who contributes uniquely within constructs of a broader, complex social institution.  Cultural historical theory was combined with grounded theory to analyse data with the aim to expand knowledge and construct greater understanding of how infant voice can be conceptualised in ECEC provision.  

Results: This is an ongoing study; the final phase of field work is paused in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic.  However tentative impressions indicate infant voices are characterised by unique patterns of initiation which are used to draw adults into social encounters.  Infants are resolute and increase their participation in setting by engaging their voice innovatively. Yet, the visibility of their voice is dependent on attuned and responsive educators as well as wider characteristics of the ECEC environment.

Conclusions: This is an ongoing study due for completion in 2021.  Final conclusions are incomplete, but the presentation seeks to contribute to, and increase discourse surrounding infant voice and grow infant contributions in ECEC contexts by offering insight into this ongoing project.

Implications for children: You work hard to participate within a busy landscape and moments of closeness and responsivity are especially important to you.  You are unique, and educators recognise the creative initiations you employ to attract their attention and enjoy these special moments with you.  Educators may appear busy, but they care for you very much.

Implications for families: The interactions you share with your baby at home play an important role in growing their confidence to initiate social encounters with educators. Be sure to tell the staff of the little idiosyncratic things your child does to attract your attention in the home.  They are significant and will help your child to feel familiar in unfamiliar surroundings.

Implications for practitioners: Babies love your attention and need your affection.  They adore watching you through your busy day and the smallest moments of interaction appears to relax the child and have a significant impact on their wellbeing.  Slow down and take time to pause and recognise the impact you have and how important you are to each child.

Funding: This PhD study is generously funded by The Froebel Trust, London, England.

Key words: children’s voices, wellbeing, communication, international communities, qualitative methods, practitioner professional development.

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