How did I get interested in the topic of working theories? (1)

As I noted in my first post, Guy Claxton and Carl Bereiter have written that developing work-in-progress ideas about knowledge and inquiry are lifelong endeavours. I suspect that developing ideas about working theories and the use of various social media for academic purposes are going to be amongst my lifelong endeavours!

I’ve also referred to my own hunches and intuition that I was missing something about children’s thinking. I make a link here to Jerome Bruner’s (1960) ideas that intuition is:

“the intellectual technique of arriving at plausible but tentative formulations without going through the analytic steps by which such formulations would be found to be valid or invalid conclusions. Intuitive thinking, the training of hunches, is a much-neglected and essential feature of productive thinking not only in formal academic disciplines but also in everyday life. A shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion – these are the most valuable coin of the thinker at work, whatever his line of work” (pp. 3-4).

Perhaps children are much better at drawing on their intuition and life experience to explore meaning making and knowledge building? However, intuition can also play a useful part in research—digging deeply into data, querying interpretations, critiquing literature…

My PhD project explored my long-held fascination in the topic of children’s interests. Intuitively, I felt there was more to it than the surface level interpretations I had observed—and been complicit with—as a practitioner and visiting lecturer of students on practicum. Defining the notion of interests led me to theories of curiosity and inquiry and, subsequently, working theories. The vagaries of academic publishing mean that the working theories material was published in two articles in 2008 and 2014 (a reminder never to use chronology as a proxy for assessing the development of a person’s ideas…).

With regard to working theories, particularly considering children’s common/shared interest in looking after small animals and insects, I got caught up then in the “naïve” interpretation I raised in an earlier post through the personification of this interest (see Inagaki & Hatano, 2002; Hedges, 2008). This is still an interesting and relevant theoretical explanation for children’s lack of life experience but, as I’ve explained in several previous posts, it’s not a fair or full picture of how earnestly children are making meaning from their experience of their worlds. However, I am still inspired by their bigger idea that children are constantly engaged in inquiry and efforts to become “life theorizers” (Inagaki & Hatano, 2002, p. 126).

The exploration goal of Te Whāriki includes two goals as follows:

Children “learn strategies for active exploration, thinking, and reasoning”; and children “develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds. The following example from the 2008 article illustrated working theories in relation to a common interest: friendships—developing and maintaining these through life.

Caitlin had a close friendship with Gina and Harry. This had begun through their older brothers attending the same school and playing soccer together, and the families becoming friends. This provided opportunities to develop working theories about the nature, importance, and purposes of friendships as a source of special connection with people, and to develop ideas about expectations for lifelong friendships in human social functioning. In short, they shared a working theory that they would have an enduring friendship because their families were already close.

Harry, Caitlin and Gina … tell me they are all going to the same school as well and will be friends there too. Gina: “Even when we’re big we’ll still be friends.” Caitlin: “Even when we’re adults.” Gina: “Even when we’re dead.” Caitlin: “Well, maybe not then.” (TK/77)

As an indication that thinking about children’s thinking is an international issue – see Helen Lewis’ interesting video about her work in Wales:

As for my 23things for research, well I’ve almost given up on Twitter apart from the useful knowledge of special deals on flights from Air NZ. We were also encouraged to explore and LinkedIn as networking tools. I chose to sign up for as I found I could locate some of my research “heroes” and collaborators that way rather than through Twitter, and find out about some of their recent work and publications. This was also partly borne from the frustration of not being able to load Word documents or pdfs on our university profile pages and that I haven’t taken note of the more complicated way to upload final draft papers through the university library repository. I am also now behind on the programme following a period of annual leave but will catch up soon as I learn how to put pictures, links and videos on my blog posts to “zhoozh” them up a bit for you. Wish me luck!


Hedges, H. (2007). Funds of knowledge in early childhood communities of inquiry. Unpublished PhD thesis, Massey University, Palmerston North.

Hedges, H. (2008). “Even when we’re big we’ll still be friends”: Working theories in children’s learning. Early Childhood Folio, 12, 2-6.

Hedges, H. (2014). Young children’s “working theories”: Building and connecting understandings. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 12(1), 35-49. DOI: 10.1177/1476718X13515417 The online version of this article, with free full text, can be found at:

Inagaki, K., & Hatano, G. (2002). Young children’s naive thinking about the biological world. New York & Brighton: Psychology Press.


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