Moments of wonder, everyday events: Children’s working theories in action

Funding year: 
2 years
Core Education
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2009
Project end date: 
January 2011
Principal investigator(s): 
Keryn Davis
Research team members: 
Sally Peters, University of Waikato; Dalene Mactier, Nikki Wellby, Kristina Hamilton, Eleanor White, Aletta Duff, Pip Stephenson
Research partners: 
Core Education and the University of Waikato, with the Canterbury Playcentre Association

Project Description

This two-year research project explored children’s working theories in action. We looked at the ways young children expressed their working theories and how these were understood and fostered in Playcentre environments. The findings show ways that children express and develop working theories, how practitioners understand these, and how best to respond to this learning. The key findings were:

  • working theories are rich sites for deep and complex learning.
  • fostering working theories presents a number of dilemmas for adults working with young children.
  • there are particular ways adults can “be”, and interact with children, that can nurture children’s working theories

Project Outputs



Davis, K. & Peters, S. (2012) Exploring learning in the early years: Working theories, learning dispositions and key competencies. In B. Kaur (Ed.) Understanding teaching and learning: Classroom research revisited (pp.171-182). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Peters, S. & Davis, K. (2012). Working theories and learning dispositions in early childhood education: Perspectives from New Zealand. In T. Papatheodorou (Ed.) International debates on early childhood practices and policies (pp. 148-158). London: Routledge.


Peters, S. & Davis, K. (2011). Fostering children's working theories: pedagogic issues and dilemmas in New Zealand, Early Years: International Journal of Research and Development, 31, 1, 5 -17.

White, E., Davis, K., & Peters, S. (2011). Growing an Island of Interest: growing a community of learner. Playcentre Journal, 141, Winter, 20-23.

White, E., Davis, K., & Peters, S. (2011). Tim and the water: Growing an ‘island of interest’. Playcentre Journal, 140, Autumn, 20-23.


Davis, K., Peters, S. & Duff, A. (2010). Working theories in action: Building and sharing islands of interest and expertise, Playcentre Journal, 139, Spring, pp. 20-23.

Davis, K. & Peters, S. (2010). From fact to fiction, from animal expert to storyteller: A journey in striving to understand a child’s working theories and putting the understanding to good use. Playcentre Journal, 138, 20-23.

Davis, K. & Peters, S. (2010). Moments of wonder, everyday events. How are young children theorising and making sense of their world? Playcentre Journal, 137, 25-29.