Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Don Cooney

Second Advisor

Dr. Zoann Snyder

Third Advisor

Dr. Subhash Sonnad

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Paula Brush


Childcare is traditionally defined as care for children while their parents/guardians are in the workforce or attending school. While technically accurate, it is argued that traditional definitions of childcare are partial and consequently do not fully describe childcare based on an experiential dimension. Thus, this research project sought to augment normative definitions of childcare by including the voices of children in childcare, parents using childcare and those caregivers providing childcare.

Several theoretical frameworks were used for this research. First, standpoint theory (Harding, 1987) was presented in order to inform an alternative perspective of childcare based on “experiential” rather than “expert” knowledge. Moreover, role theory (Goffinan, 1961) was used to direct this research through an examination of the situated activity of childcare and the role set members connected to that activity. Finally, the acquisition of roles using Chodorow’s (1978) work on the reproduction of motherhood was also used to guide this research. These theoretical postulations were examined through a historical analysis of the construction of childcare and those meanings and definitions attached to childcare.

This qualitative study was designed as a case study of childcare using participant observation, intensive interviewing and an analysis of secondary, openended, childcare survey data. The research was structured so that children, their parents/guardians and their childcare providers all articulated their own perspective of Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. The main foci included the daily routines and activities of a typical childcare experience, definitions of childcare from each of the three perspectives and how children, caregivers and parents envisioned a utopian childcare experience. An analysis of the data revealed the following.

Childcare tended to be more than a place to “put” a child. Experiential knowledge articulated by children, parents/guardians and childcare providers suggested that the daily doing and receiving of childcare was imbued with myriad activities and feelings. These stakeholders defined childcare as including three dominant dimensions—routinous, emotional and discursive. While childcare was steeped in routine such as naptime and lunchtime, it also involved intensive emotional work for all stakeholders while they transitioned from one routine to the next. A still emerging dimension, the discursive dimension was also evident as children, childcare providers and parents formulated reframed versions of childcare possibilities.

The purpose of this research was to expose definitions o f childcare based on experiential knowledge. As such, while not comprehensive in scope, this research is a starting point around which childcare can be examined based on alternative definitions. These differing perspectives present the possibility of childcare policy and programs based on all knowledge surrounding childcare rather than only a single “expert” perspective.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access