30 SES 01 A, Outdoor education and learning
The European Commission underlines the importance of early childhood education for education attainment, and to reduce social inequalities. The Proposal on early childhood education has now been adopted (EC, 2018). But early childhood education also plays a role in achieving Agenda 2030 sustainability goals and honouring European commitments for the environment. Research suggests that early childhood experiences of nature shape emotional relations to the natural environment, supporting agency and environmental awareness (Hammarsten et al, 2018). Outdoor education thus lays a foundation for future engagement and education for sustainability.
The present study concerns an outdoor education project at a Swedish urban pre-school for 3-5 year olds that receives a large proportion of newly arrived children, with a focus on a section with about 20 children between three and five years who do not speak any or very little Swedish. It is part of a larger study financed by the Swedish School Research Institute concerning the conditions for learning and teaching in a world characterised by diversity and migration. The researchers support and follow staff, management, parents and children in jointly developing educational environments where different languages, identities, pedagogical relations and organisation work together to support children's learning and development.
Outdoor education in this context involves three main dimensions: (1) Children's relation to place and their immediate environment. (2) The curriculum's goals for natural science in preschool. (3) Pedagogical didactic strategies.
In Sweden, preschool is an integrated part of the education system, and the preschool curriculum currently stresses a mission of teaching. Policy ambitions in this respect are rising, and from July 2019, the preschool has the task of striving for every child ... "... to develop their ability to distinguish, explore, document, ask questions and discuss natural science ..." The Swedish preschool education curriculum thereby creates challenges for preschool teachers, especially in pre-schools that have not previously focused on nature or science phenomena. The increased demands entail a risk that sustainability will become something that is placed on top of existing activities, and which is difficult to integrate.
There are not necessarily relevant given activities or traditional forms of teaching to fall back on, when preschool teachers are to interpret the curriculum's intentions in their practice. Should the children develop a relationship with the place they live in, or should focus rather lie on learning limited abstract elements about different phenomena? Is the subject-specific language important, or the phenomenon itself? Is the child assumed capable of thinking independently, and find his or her own explanations, or is it instead important to teach the difference between facts and imagination? In practice, there is not much room to go into depth about such issues in planning. There is therefore a risk of working with fragmented and decontexualised activities that are easy to implement in practice.
The study consequently examines reflection-in-action processes of the preschool staff, in connection with the group of staff, management and children in their collaborative work to improve the preschool playground. Focus lies on the one hand on the preschool teachers’ thoughts on how different changes can offer opportunities for learning, and on the other, on the children’s participation and children's own thoughts in these processes.
The research approach draws on Participatory Action Research (PAR) focusing learning through action and with reflection in focus. The approach used in the study aims to change practitioners' understanding of their practice and under what conditions they practice. PAR is understood as a practice-changing practice with the aim of developing the practice by creating a critical approach to what one does, how to think and how to relate to the contexts in which it operates (Kemmis 2009). The analysis tool consists of the concept of Practice Architecture (PA), which helps us explore and understand what enables and limits teaching practices and learning opportunities.The starting point for the PA is that people meet in intersubjective spaces that are arranged in specific ways. These spaces mediate the conditions for practitioners: Cultural-discursive arrangements (1); Material-economic arrangements (2); Social policy arrangements (3) (Kemmis 2009; Kemmis et al 2014; Rönnerman, 2017). Changing the PA involves changing the overall framework for what is said, done and how to relate to each other and to what you do - thereby opening new spaces for their teaching, development and learning practice. In the period 2017-2018 the children have taken pictures of their environment and talked about it; conversations with children; a children’s council has been formed. The outdoor group meetings take place regularly, involving children and staff. Conversations took place in groups with staff or with staff together with managers, as well as individual interviews with parents. Pre-school teachers (n = 5) were interviewed, examining their and the children's perspectives on what are important activities in science/environmental and sustainability education. The study also involved informal participant observation and conversations with children. Cooperation between the three sections of the preschool has been initiated through a "child council" (n = 4 children) and teacher´s "outdoor group" (n= 6: staff + researcher), focusing ways to change the preschool’s playground, and create an outdoor environment offering rich opportunities for play and learning.
Initial findings involve spatial perspectives of children's places: (1) Adults organise spaces for children at preschool.The physical space and design, including vegetation, water and surfaces affect how the space creates - or does not create - opportunities for action and interactions for the children. (2) The children take their place in these spaces, create their own places and invest them their own meanings. Children attribute meaning and emotions in ways that may differ from adult practices and intentions for the same places. Material-economic arrangements: Physical time-space enables and sets limits to how we can do things in the (outdoor) classroom, shapes and gives content to the "doing" of practice: (1). Educational Development Limitations: (1.1) fragmentation of the educational content; (1.2) family's living conditions; (1.3) the way activities are organised in time and space; (1.4) the allocation of human resources and staff schedule. (2). Opening up the physical space (changing the action): (2.1) Create spaces for shared reflection between and within the different organisational levels, and between children, educators and researchers. (2.2) The researchers actively participate in the development of the learning space. The role of the preschool teachers and educators is multifaceted and complex: to provide care, security, learning, entry into society, and entail transparency in difficult living conditions. What the staff express is in line with findings from the report by Zetterqvist, Nelson and Hagström (2017) on newly arrived children in Sweden. It appeared that administrative and other factors placed considerable constraints on the staff’s and children’s agency in creating a greener outdoor environment, which would greater opportunities for activities and experience. Nevertheless, the processes encouraged action, reflection and collaboration. Engagement in the process of changing their immediate environment appeared particularly important for the newly arrived children, as a way of making their own place in Sweden.
Clark, A. (2010). Transforming Children’s Spaces: Children's and Adults' Participation in Designing Learning Environments. London: Routledge. Dalgren, S. (2017). Att göra pedagogisk praktik tillsammans. Socialt samspel i förskolans vardag (Making pedagogical practice together: social interaction in the daily work of preschools). PhD diss. Gothenburg university. European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice (2015). Early Childhood Education and Care Systems in Europe. Luxembourg. EC (2018). Proposal for a Council Recommendation on High Quality Early Childhood Education and Care Systems Fägerstam, E. (2012). Space and Place: Perspectives on outdoor teaching and learning. PhD diss. Linköping university. Hammarsten, M., Askerlund, P., Almers, E., Avery, H., & Samuelsson, T. (2018). Developing ecological literacy in a forest garden: children’s perspectives. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 1-15. Hedges, H., Cullen, J. & Jordan, B. (2011). Early year’s curriculum: funds of knowledge as a conceptual framework for children’s interest. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(2), 185-205. Jordt Jörgensen, N. & Bregnbæk, S. (2017). Educational Provision for Refugee Children and Families Across Europe: Fostering dialogue across education, health, and protection services. ECER2017. Visited 2019-01-31 at https://www.eera-ecer.de/ecer-programmes/conference/22/contribution/42482/ Jordt Jörgensen, N. & Martiny-Bruun, A. (forthcoming, 2019). Painting trees in the wind: Socio-material ambiguity and sustainability politics in early childhood pedagogies with refugee children in Denmark. Environmental Education Research. Kemmis, Wilkinson, Edwards-Groves, Hardy, Grootenboer & Bristol (2014). Changing Practices, Changing Education. Springer: London. Kemmis, S. (2009). Action research as a practice-based practice. Educational Action Research, 17(3), 463-474. Kidd, S. A., & Kral, M. J. (2005). Practicing participatory action research. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 187-195. Maynard, T. & Waters, J. (2010). What’s so interesting outside? A study of child-initiated interaction with teachers in the natural outdoor environment. EECERJ, 18(4), 473-483. Nordén, B. & Avery, H. (2017). Sustainability Dilemmas in Preschool Teacher Training: Engaging Students' Experience in the Local Place. ECER, 2017, Copenhagen. Norton, L. S. (2009). Action research in teaching and learning: A practical guide to conducting pedagogical research in universities. Abingdon: Routledge. Rönnerman, K. (2017). The practice architectures of middle leading in ECE. ICEP 11(8). Rönnerman, K., Edwards-Groves, C. & Grootenboer, P. (2015). Opening up communicative spaces for discussion ‘quality practices’ in early childhood education through middle leadership. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, 3(3009). Zetterqvist Nelson, K. & Hagström, M. (2016). Nyanlända barn och den svenska mottagningsstrukturen (Newly arrived children and Swedish reception structures). Stockholm: Forte
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