Ethnographic approaches to child care research: A review of the literature

Mara Buchbinder, Jeffrey Longhofer, Thomas Barrett, Peter Lawson, Jerry Floersch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


This article presents the findings from a review of ethnographic approaches to child care research. Ethnographic research has enhanced researcher and practitioner understandings of the child care environment by providing entry into the child care center as an important site not only of development and education, but also of social reproduction and enculturation. The extant research is summarized by identifying four dominant perspectives for viewing non-parental child care: (1) caregiver-centered, (2) mother-centered, (3) child-centered, and (4) societal. This article argues that studying the perspectives of caregivers, mothers, and children in isolation limits understandings of child care experience, since experience is shaped by continuous interactions among participants. We suggest that a more holistic ethnographic approach could enhance child care practice by increasing understanding of the relationships among caregivers, mothers, and children, and how these relationships influence children's social and emotional development. The article concludes with a proposed agenda for ethnographic research on child care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-63
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Early Childhood Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • caregiving
  • child care
  • early childhood
  • ethnography
  • qualitative research methods
  • research with children


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