String figuring young children’s perspectives of quality in English Early Childhood Education and Care

Nicola Fairchild*, Eva Mikuska

*Corresponding author for this work

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Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is a contested concept and has generally been conceptualised by inter-related indicators such as staff qualifications, educational environment, policy, or child: staff ratios. There has been a more limited emphasis on how young children might perceive and experience quality. This empirical article employs a research-creation methodology in combination with feminist materialist theory, notably Haraway’s String Figuring, to consider how quality manifests in young children’s lifeworlds. Data from non-participant observations in seventeen English ECEC settings were collected and analysed by focussing on child-led activities where agentic and autonomous engagement with objects, matter, resources, space, and places were observed. This resulted in the identification of a series of ‘knots’: security, space(s), material objects, autonomy, and other children. We present examples of these knots in six vignettes and propose that these are manifestations of young children’s experiences of their educational environments. The knots developed from our analysis recognise how quality was manifested where children felt secure by exploring their chosen spaces. This led to children having autonomy over their play, both alone and with other children. We demonstrate how String Figuring can provide an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the complex and nuanced nature of young children’s lifeworlds in various ECEC settings, and argue that the identified knots can provide situated and contextual ways to recognise young children’s experiences of quality. By doing so it is possible to develop new knowledge that advances theoretical and professional practice conceptualisations of quality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Early online date19 Feb 2024
Publication statusEarly online - 19 Feb 2024


  • ECEC
  • String figuring
  • situated knowledges
  • feminist materialism
  • knotting
  • quality

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