11 SES 11 B, Students Development and Challenges
A large number of pedagogical concepts and approaches characterize the field of early childhood education in day care centers such as preschools and crèches. One of these pedagogical approaches, which has gained increasingly in importance, refers to forest day centers. Forest day care centers have been initially established in Denmark in the 1950s (Gorges, 2000) and since the 1990s, those institutions have been also founded and increasingly recognized in German-speaking countries such as Austria, especially in the federal state of Tyrol. There are several differences between forest day care centers and traditional day care centers. The probably most obvious characteristic of forest day care centers refers to their specific space concept, which emphasize the usage of forests and other natural surroundings for children’s daily educational experiences in order to foster their development in a broad variety of domains (e.g., social skills, language- and math-related competencies, motor skills). Indeed, it has been claimed, that being outdoors daily and being involved within a wide range of natural materials may be particularly suitable to foster children’s competencies (Röhner, 2014). However, despite these high expectations with regard to forest day care centers, the research base is extraordinary small and limited in several respects (Kiener, 2004; Röhner, 2014).
For instance, some studies targeting on relations between the attendance of forest day centers and children’s educational success (e.g., grades, physical performance) and indicating some positive effects on children’s learning outcomes are often limited due to methodological restrictions such as a lack of control groups and baseline testing (Röhner, 2014; Schwarz, 2017b, for overviews). Another important research gap, which is in the focus of the present contribution, refers to the educational quality of forest day care centers (Schwarz, 2017a). Educational quality has been considered as a complex construct, which may vary not only depending on multiple perspectives held by different stakeholders (e.g. educational staff, children, parents), but rather on different definition processes such as discursive negotiation processes of stakeholders or the specification and application of empirically well-founded components (Tietze et al., 1998). The present research refers to the latter understanding by relying on the ecological systems theory developed by Bronfenbrenner (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006), theoretically based concepts such as “scaffolding” (Bodrova & Leong, 2012) and “sustained shared thinking” (Siraj-Blatchford, 2009), theories on the domain-specificity of children’s knowledge acquisition (e.g., Wellman & Gelman, 1998), and theoretical frameworks of pedagogues’ educational beliefs (e.g., Fives & Buehl, 2012). Picking up these theoretical approaches, educational quality can be defined as process quality (e.g., developmental appropriate teacher–child interactions, child–child interactions, and task orientation), structural quality (e.g. child–staff ratio, group size, and teacher experience) and the quality of the educational beliefs of caregivers (Tietze et al., 1998). Regarding this evidence-based and well-accepted definition of educational quality, there is a basic lack of research on forest day centers. This is particularly true with regard to the situation in Austria and the federal state of Tyrol, where no study exists to date. The present study aims to reduce this lack of research by (1) examining the educational quality in Tyrolian forest day care centers and (2) discussing possible benefits and challenges of this pedagogical concept for the education of young children.
The study design has been planned as a complete survey and comprises a total sample of 17 forest day care centers (13 forest preschools and 4 forest crèches). All forest day care centers are located in Tyrol, which is one of the federal states of Austria. The field investigations will take place in January and February 2018. Educational quality will be captured with observational approaches, questionnaires, and activity logs. In detail, process quality will be examined via observations and ratings with the well-established German versions of the Early Child Environment Rating Scale ECERS-R (Tietze et al., 2005a, applied to preschools) and Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised ITERS-R (Tietze et al., 2005b, applied to crèches). These instruments, which comprises 43 items (ECERS-R) and 41 items ITERS-R), respectively, have been slightly adapted and modified due to the specific conditions the forest day care centers (e.g., specific space concept, varying materials to foster children). In addition, process quality will be investigated with activity logs filled in by the educational staff. Concretely, the leading pedagogues of a day care center group were asked to indicate in what main activity the preschool group (or crèche group) has been engaged at every quarter of an hour over of the day. For this, the pedagogues could choose from 22 educational activities, (e.g. transition period, use of printed material, role-playing, singing or playing music). Additionally, the pedagogues has been asked to code developmental areas, which each activity was designed to support. Structural quality aspects of the day care centers (e.g., group size, pedagogue/child-ratio, material resources, educational background of the pedagogue) as well as educational beliefs (e.g., educational goals, beliefs about the importance of educational domains, beliefs about the own role in interaction processes with children) will be examined with questionnaires, which will be distributed to the pedagogues and the facility management.
Due to the widespread absence of international study findings and research from Austria on this pedagogical approach, the present study is rather explorative in nature. However, bearing in mind the obvious characteristics of forest day care centers (e.g., space concept and the preference of natural materials), it might be assumed, that the educational quality in these educational institutions will be particularly characterized by strengths in terms of encouraging children’s motor skills, physical abilities, and naturals science competencies. With regard to findings on other educational domains, however, it is difficult to express concrete expectations. The combination of the observed process quality examined by the ECERS-R/ITERS-R and the activity logs filled in by the educational staff may provide in-depth information about the core areas as well as blind patch of the daily educational work. The same is true with regard to structural aspects of quality: Against the background of the absence of previous findings, the study has the potential to gain new insights about the specific framework conditions of Tyrolian forest day centers, which may even facilitate or hinder the implementation of high-quality developmental appropriate practices. Finally, almost nothing is known about the educational beliefs of the educational staff working in Austrian day care centers in general. This has become even more true with regard to the educational beliefs of pedagogues working in forest day care centers. Bearing this in mind, the study will be able to provide valuable information about the characteristic of educational beliefs held by pedagogues working in Tyrolian forest day care centers for the first time.
Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2012). Scaffolding self-regulated learning in young children: Lessons from tools of the mind. In S. Sheridan, R. Pianta, L. Justice, & W. Barnett (Eds.), Handbook of early education (pp. 352–369). New York, NY: Guilford Press. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (2006). The biological model of human development. In R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology. Theoretical models of human development (pp. 793–828). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. Fives, H., & Buehl, M. M. (2012). Spring cleaning for the “messy” construct of teachers’ beliefs:What are they? Which have been examined? What can they tell us? In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook. Vol. 2. Individual differences and cultural and contextual factors (pp. 471–499). Washington: American Psychological Association. Gorges, R. (2000). Der Waldkindergarten – ein aktuelles Konzept kompensatorischer Erziehung. Unsere Jugend, 52(6), 257-281. Kiener, S. (2004). Zum Forschungsstand über Waldkindergärten. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen, 155(3-4), 71-76. Röhner, Ch. (2014). Natur- und Waldkindergärten. In R. Braches-Chyrek, Ch. Röhner, H. Sünker & M. Hopf (Eds.), Handbuch Frühe Kindheit (pp. 251-260). Opladen: Barbara Budrich. Schwarz, R. (2017a). Bewegung & Bildung in der frühen Kindheit Die BeBi-Studie. Qualitätseffekte von Bewegungskindergärten im empirischen Vergleich. Schorndorf: Hofmann. Schwarz, R. (2017b). Pädagogische Ansätze für die Kita Waldkindergarten. Berlin: Cornelsen Scriptor. Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2009). Conceptualising progression in the pedagogy of play and sustained shared thinking in early childhood education: A Vygotskian perspective. Educational and Child Psychology, 26(2), 77–89. Tietze, W., Bolz, M., Grenner, K., Schlecht, D., Wellner, B. (2005b). Krippen-Skala Revidierte Fassung (KRIPS-R). Deutsche Fassung der Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale - Revised Edition von Thelma Harms, Richard M. Clifford, Debby Cryer. Weinheim: Beltz. Tietze, W., Meischner, T., Gänsfuss, R., Grenner, K., Schuster, K-M., Völkel, P., & Rossbach, H-G. (1998). Wie gut sind unsere Kindergärten? Eine Untersuchung zur pädagogischen Qualität in Kindergärten. Neuwied: Luchterhand. Tietze, W., Schuster, K.-M., Grenner, K. & Roßbach, H.-G. (2005a). Kindergarten-Skala Revidierte Fassung (KES-R). Deutsche Fassung der Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale - Revised Edition von Thelma Harms, Richard M. Clifford, Debby Cryer. Weinheim: Beltz. Wellman, H. M., & Gelman, S. A. (1998). Knowledge acquisition in foundational domains. In D. Kuhn & R. S. Siegler (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Cognition perception and language (pp. 523–573). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
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