Interview - Dr Jane Murray, Senior lecturer in early years, School of Education, University of Northampton

Dr Murray has devised a pocket guide, Young Children Explore: critical thinking for the early years.

Where did the idea for the guide come from?

The original idea came from my PhD research, the Young Children as Researchers Project. I moved into higher education after working in early childhood settings for many years and was shocked by how little respect was accorded to children's views.

Recently, there's been an explosion of interest in seeing children as participants in research, once they have been trained in adult research methods. Children are sometimes 'allowed' to be involved in research, but it is often academics trying to make children conform to an adult agenda. I looked at what children do naturally - their different research behaviours.

The Young Children as Reseachers Project found that children's own natural everyday behaviours often have much in common with behaviours presented by professional adult researchers. It shows how young children's behaviours can reveal highly sophisticated critical thinking processes.

How does it work?

The new tool is an easy-to-use pocket guide to help practitioners evaluate children's explorations and critical thinking. It looks at how young children engage in social encounters and show interest in different materials, as well as the ways in which they develop their own agenda and experiment. The guide uses ten categories of exploration with pictures of children engaged in a variety of everyday activities, which practitioners can draw on for evidence and then record their own snapshot observations of young children exploring.

How does the tool aim to support practitioners?

What I'm hearing from practitioners is that the characteristics of effective learning in the EYFS are difficult for practitioners to get their head round. Exploration and critical thinking are two of the characteristics of effective learning.

The resource enables practitioners to identify some of the complexities children are engaging in to identify their behaviours.

What do you hope the research achieves?

I hope it's a valuable tool for practitioners and teachers working with young children and makes them feel empowered. What I really want them to do is to develop it themselves and interpret it and apply it in their own way for the children in their settings.

  • The pocket guide is currently only available to members of the university's early years network. For more information, visit

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