Personal profile


From playground to laboratory: helping turn pre-schoolers into scientists

Torn between studying psychology and education as an undergraduate, Professor Marilyn Fleer ended up choosing early childhood education, a nascent field that straddled both her areas of interest. She hasn't looked back since.

As soon as she got into early childhood education she enjoyed it, Marilyn says. andldquo;I found it intellectually stimulating, and there's plenty of scope for making a difference with my research.andrdquo;

She is now studying the early stages of concept formation - and how playtime can help promote children's imagination, and the more andlsquo;rational' thinking later on as adults.

andldquo;Imagination, creativity, and games are really important for development. Think of a child at home: they can take an ordinary stick, pretend that it's a horse, and andlsquo;ride' on it. What they've done is change the meaning of the stick - they've used their imagination to think abstractly. It's one step away from the same child turning the andlsquo;stick' into a ruler by measuring something with it at school. By using their imagination, they've learned to think more abstractly - and therefore become a more successful learner.andrdquo;

With the push for greater outcomes from very young children, particularly in literacy and numeracy, Marilyn's field of research is gaining public and international interest.

'We're looking at the concept formation of three to five year-old pre-school children and the kinds of concepts that children develop understandings for in their everyday lives. We're filming children at home, and tracking all the kinds of activities that they carry out that develop their abstract thinking.'

Dispelling some of the negative connotations related to the phenomenon known as 'Tiger Mothering', Marilyn's work (along with PhD student Pau Ling Wong) has helped reveal how Chinese immigrant families encourage positive learning outcomes for their children through a home environment that supports education.

'Because of family obligation, cultural values - such as having strong sense of persistence - and collective learning in the family, children actually develop a really strong motive for successful learning. They come to love the success that comes with being able to do something well, and that in itself generates a motive for wanting to work harder, and to learn more.'

This is but one of the research projects associated investigating family pedagogy that leads to greater outcomes for very young children.

One of the practical tools that Marilyn has helped develop is a series of postcard-size Clever Cards designed for day carers and parents. Each card displays a photo of an everyday practice on one side, and an explanation of what cognitive skills the practice relates to (and why that is important) on the other. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has placed these materials into all early childhood centres in Australia and has given permission for the cards to be translated into multiple languages, and produced an Indigenous Australian edition.

Marilyn credits Monash's Faculty of Education for having an encouraging environment, and a national and international reputation for being progressive.

'Monash has a real commitment to early childhood research, and in my view, greater support around early childhood education research than any other faculty of education. We've the infrastructure to do high quality research, as well as things like having a visiting scholars program. That means we can bring out the best people in the world in our area - the 'world gurus', so to speak - and host them for a few weeks. This lets us build strong relationships when them, which is especially great for early career people. I guess it's just an example why Monash is a good place from which to do your research.'

It is with one such 'world guru', Danish academic Professor Mariane Hedegaard, that Marilyn is co-authoring a soon-to-released book on new theories of child development - 'Family Pedagogy: children's learning and development in everyday family life'.


  • Cross-Cultural Research
  • Family studies
  • Early childhood science education
  • Technology education
  • Building of new theoretical tools to support early childhood development and education

Network Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.

Projects 2003 2020

Research Output 1987 2018

A Cultural-Historical Methodology for Researching Early Childhood Education

Fleer, M. & Veresov, N. 2018 International Handbook of Early Childhood Education. Fleer, M. & van Oers, B. (eds.). Springer, Vol. 1, p. 225-250 26 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)

Cultural-Historical and Activity Theories Informing Early Childhood Education

Fleer, M. & Veresov, N. 2018 International Handbook of Early Childhood Education. Fleer, M. & van Oers, B. (eds.). Springer, Vol. 1, p. 47-76 30 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)

A Cultural-Historical Study of the Development of Children’s Scientific Thinking about Clouds in Everyday Life

Fragkiadaki, G., Fleer, M. & Ravanis, K. 15 Sep 2017 (Accepted/In press) In : Research in Science Education. p. 1-23 23 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle