Penny Lawrence

Research activity per year

Personal profile



Please see some of my thinking on hearing and acting with the voices of young children cited in the ‘Reframing Childhood’ Final report of the Childhood Policy Programme (British Academy, July 2022:33-34). This relates to law, medicine, sociology and education. In terms of impact the British Academy have taken this report of children’s agency and voice to the four nation’s governments in the UK and will evaluate the policy impact. 

I am interested in dialogical processes in early childhood, particularly in children’s relationships with the immediate built environment of urban childhoods. I am a BBC-trained documentary maker with expertise in multimodal relational approaches to observation, particularly involving video. My Dialogical Approach to Observation engages with the current and challenging more-than-human perspectives of new materialism. My participatory research, consulting and teaching experience is with young children, families, and multi-disciplinary teams in World-leading centres of Pen Green, UK and Reggio Emilia, Italy. 

I have investigated and consulted on a number of research projects funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the English Department for Education with Pen Green Research and led the Video Documentation in Reggio Emilia Municipal pre-schools and Reggio Children projects. 

I recently led ’The Participation Party’ project in collaboration with The Participation People about how young children’s experiences and voices can inform decision-making about the local built environment in the London Borough of Wandsworth. This contributed to Housing and Environment Committee decisions on improvements to entrance spaces for their tower blocks, and the management of rubbish and smells. The video is here and the draft website is here 

I am now leading the 'City Shapes' project about young children’s awareness of shapes in urban environments in collaboration with Community Playthings and city galleries.   

I am currently accepting PhD students in the following areas: 

  1. Dialogue and dialogical approaches: non-verbal and verbal dialogues of children; professional and family dialogues. 
  1. Play: creativity; children's drawings and model-making; thinking; collaboration in friendships. 
  1. Voice: children's voices and the enactment of their right to have views heard and acted on. 
  1. Visual and particularly video research methods.  
  1. Child-friendly cities and urban childhoods. 
  1. Children's media and the representation of children and childhoods. 


Ed D Education 


B.Soc. Sci. International Studies 


Research Interests 

  • Dialogical interactions, particularly of children under 3 years of age; 
  • Relational Observation; 
  • Young children’s involvement in the local environment, particularly the built environment. 

Research Projects 

Principal Investigator ‘City Shapes’ (w/t) current project with Co-investigator Charis Voutsina, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, Southampton University. The focus is on children’s knowledge of shape in their local environment and in their block building activities.  

2023 Principal Investigator ‘The Participation Party’ Urban experiences of children under 5’.   How do young children (under age 5) pay detailed attention to material and spaces in their immediate built environment? How do they affect, and how are they affected by, these? How would these enrich educators’ and policymakers’ practices? 

2012 - 2016 Principle Investigator Pedagogic Strategies project for Pen Green Research - publication of DVD and continuing professional development training materials.  

2015 Researcher on Dinosaur Study (University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Winchester Funding (not- disclosed) from NIHR HTA Programme and co-ordinated by the Medicines for Children Research Network Clinical Trials Unit.  

2014 – Video lead on two national U.K. projects in early childhood education:   

  1. 2014 - 'Being Two’ looking at observations as part of wise practice with two years olds in nine outstanding settings in the UK. £300,000 project funded by The Department for Education and the project and led by the Pen Green Research and Development Base.   
  1. 2014 Video evaluations of the Early Years Teaching Centres. £300,000 project funded by The Department for Education. The project was led by the Pen Green Research and Development Base.  

2013-15 Principal InvestigatorBeing in Relation Case Study of interactions from 14 to 34 months for Pen Green Research.  

2011-2012 Co-investigatorTracer Study for Pen Green Research with 10 to 21 year olds evaluating their own nursery experience.   

Professional Affiliations 

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy 

Common Worlds Research Collective 

European Network for Child Friendly Cities 



Current - CBEEBIES consultant on new series 'We Can Show You How' broadcast 2024 and now in production with Series 2.  

2020–2030 Invited panel member for the Lifetimes Working Group for ‘One Great WinWinchester Vision Winchester City Council & Winchester Town Forum. Available at    

Ongoing member of Steering Group for Pen Green Research Centre and Centre of Children and their Families, Corby, UK.  Times Education Supplement Overall School of the Year 2018.   

Nationally I am in the English Government Department for Education Analytic Pool of researchers for qualitative research.   


Penny Lawrence is a Senior Lecturer in early childhood studies in the School of Education where she leads the MA in Early Childhood Studies and leads modules on play, thinking, representation (children’s and of children), and relational observation on the BA and MA programmes. 


External positions

Consultant, Early Childhood Education Research, Analytic Pool, Department for Education

Steering Committee, Pen Green Research