Professor Helen Hedges

PhD, MEd, BA (Hons), DipTchg


Helen Hedges is Professor of Early Childhood Education in the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Helen's research programme examines children’s and teachers’ interests, knowledge (both formal and intuitive) and learning in the contexts of early childhood education and teacher education. Driving this is intellectual curiosity about the nature of a co-constructed interests-based curriculum in early childhood education, particularly the decisions that teachers make about which of children’s interests are chosen to create curriculum with.

In various projects, Helen has explored and theorised the nature of children’s interests, inquiries and working theories, and teachers’ interpretations and understandings of these key curricular concepts. Working theories are a parallel outcome to learning dispositions in the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017). She has also researched the place of subject content knowledge in an early childhood curriculum. Her research and teaching are located primarily in sociocultural theories and methodologies.

Helen has contributed to theorising about children’s and teachers’ knowledge and interests through frameworks such as funds of knowledge (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005) and communities of inquiry (Wells, 1999).  She has also published about teacher research and inquiry, and research ethics. 

Helen was appointed in 2016 as one of seven members of a Ministry of Education writing team led by the Director of Early Learning, Nancy Bell, to revise and update the early childhood curriculum document, Te Whāriki. She regarded it as an immense privilege to become a kaitiaki of this precious taonga, a curriculum that has been highly regarded internationally.

Previous professional experience

  • secondary teaching: English, Geography, History and Social Studies
  • early childhood teaching, parent involvement in Playcentre 
  • early childhood professional learning and development/

Helen's secondary teaching experience occurred in both face-to-face and distance contexts. The challenges of building relationships with "distance" students originated there and continue to be actively developed and built on during teaching in online and blended modes in the Faculty currently. Helen has worked in four very different contexts of early childhood teacher education in Auckland from private provider to university-based settings. She has been at the University of Auckland since 2003.

Research | Current

Research Projects

Helen was the principal investigator of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project "Inquiring minds, meaningful responses" in partnership with Maria Cooper, Daniel Lovatt, Trish Murphy, Niky Spanhake, Lindy Ashurst and Bianca Harper at Small Kauri Early Childhood Education Centre and Myers Park KiNZ Early Learning Centre. This project continues to be presented and published from widely.

Helen was also a co-investigator of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project exploring ways children learn in more than one language in the early years, a project led by Assoc. Prof Val Podmore that partnered with four centres in Auckland. Read more about this project here.

Through her involvement in these two Teaching and Learning Research Initiatives Helen has come to greatly appreciate the partnerships with teacher-researchers that result in rich data generation and analysis, and appreciation of each other's strengths and expertise.

Helen is also involved in two international collaborations using her expertise on play and funds of knowledge:

1. Evaluating quality early childhood education initiatives to improve education and wellbeing outcomes for children in rural communes in Vietnam (project leader Professor Marilyn Fleer, Monash University, Melbourne);

2. NOW Play project - including play in primary curriculum in northern, rural and indigenous communities in Canada to improve oral language and literacy outcomes (project leader Professor Shelley Stagg Peterson, OISE/University of Toronto, Toronto).


Teaching | Current

Helen's teaching is largely on courses related to early childhood curriculum and pedagogy, children’s learning, and teachers’ professional knowledge, learning and inquiry related to this.


  • BEd (Tchg) ECE – EDCURRIC 118 Young Children and Learning Environments; EDCURRIC 207 Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • GradDipTchg (ECE) – EDCURRIC 624 Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Postgraduate – EDPROFST 751 ECE Curriculum Issues and EDPROFST 765 Early Years Development

Postgraduate supervision

Helen welcomes enquiries about PhD and MEd thesis supervision.

  • Previous supervision topics have included:
    • Parents' aspirations for children in ECE
    • The concept of intentional teaching in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand
    • Conceptualising "everyday collective teacher leadership" 
    • Application of Gardner's multiple intelligences theory in ECE in China
    • Effective mentoring of provisionally registered teachers in early education and care settings
    • Teachers’ involvement of families in assessment of infants and toddlers
    • Supporting and challenging children's working theories
    • Teacher beliefs about popular culture as a source of children's learning
    • Participation and agency in the curricular experiences of under three year olds in NZ and Iran
    • Working theories and STEM education in ECE
  • Current PhD supervisions:
    • Joanna Williamson - Conceptually-orientated teacher-child conversations in the context of story book reading in centre contexts
    • Hailey Chan - Inter-professional collaboration between teachers and other professionals in ECE in Hong Kong
    • Amanda White - Adult-infant interactions during story telling at homes and centres
    • Ye Zhang - Mathematics and block play in ECE in Hong Kong
    • Mengran Liu - Professional learning models in Chinese ECE
    • Qun Ma - a comparative study of ECTE in China and NZ


Life member Barnardos New Zealand


former Head of School - Curriculum and Pedagogy / Te Kura o te Marautanga me te Ako 2015-2019

Professorial representative on Faculty Staffing Committee 2021-2024

Areas of expertise

  • Early childhood curriculum and pedagogy, including designing a local curriculum
  • Children’s and teachers’ interests, knowledge and learning in the contexts of early childhood education and teacher education
  • Te Whāriki and its learning outcomes, particulalry children's working theories
  • Play-based pedagogies across sectors and subjects
  • Narrative inquiry - life experiences and interests that influence identity development
  • Participatory learning theories, funds of knowledge,funds of identity
  • Partnerships between teachers and families; family funds of knowledge and other cultural considerations in curriculum
  • Sociocultural theories and methodologies
  • Qualitative case studies, with fieldwork undertaken in early childhood and home settings, and including children aged less than five years


Committees/Professional groups/Services

  • Editorial board member Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice
  • Editorial board member International Journal of Early Years Education 
  • Associate editor Journal of Early Childhood Research 


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Hedges, H. (2019). The "fullness of life": Learner interests and educational experiences. LEARNING CULTURE AND SOCIAL INTERACTION, 2310.1016/j.lcsi.2018.11.005
  • Cooper, M., Hedges, H., & Williamson, J. (2019). Reconceptualising professional learning as knotworking: Actualising the transformative potential of Te Whāriki. In A. C. Gunn, J. Nuttall (Eds.) Weaving Te Whāriki: Aotearoa New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum document in theory and practice (pp. 57-70). Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER. Related URL.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Maria Cooper
  • Hedges, H. (2019). Respecting and re-thinking children’s interests: Insights into children’s identity formation. The First Years: New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education = Ngā Tau Tuatahi/, 21 (1), 14-22. Related URL.
  • Hedges, H., Cooper, M. R., & Weisz-Koves, T. (2019). Recognising and responding to family funds of knowledge. In S. Alcock, N. Stobbs (Eds.) Rethinking play as pedagogy (pp. 107-120). London: Routledge.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Tamar Weisz-Koves
  • Hedges, H., & Cooper, M. (2018). Relational play-based pedagogy: theorising a core practice in early childhood education. Teachers and Teaching, 24 (4), 369-383. 10.1080/13540602.2018.1430564
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Maria Cooper
  • Hedges, H., Peterson, S. S., & Wajskop, G. (2018). Modes of play in early childhood curricular documents in Brazil, New Zealand and Ontario. International Journal of Play, 7 (1), 11-26. 10.1080/21594937.2018.1437379
  • Hedges, H., & Cooper, M. (2017). Collaborative meaning-making using video footage: Teachers and researchers analyse children’s working theories about friendship. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 25 (3), 398-411. 10.1080/1350293X.2016.1252153
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Maria Cooper
  • Harvey, N., Hedges, H., Keegan, P. J., & Podmore, V. (Eds.) (2016). Teachers voyaging in plurilingual seas: Young children who learn through more than one language. Wellington: NZCER.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Peter Keegan, Nola Harvey


Contact details

Alternative contact

Office: A232

Primary office location

Level 2, Room 232
New Zealand

Web links