Monday, 18 September 2017

Play and the new proposed Swedish Preschool Curriculum...

Yesterday I wrote some reflections on the draft of the preschool curriculum that is being shared with those working in the field to reflect and respond to...
I quoted the section on play and on my facebook page received this feedback from Sue Martin in Canada... that got me thinking yet another rotation - and it really does rotate... making links to the school curriculum...

"Thank you for your reflections. I have only my small phone to read and comment as I'm in northern Ontario right now. However, my immediate thought was that, although the inclusion of play was a great step forwards, the description sounded rather adult led and directed. I might have picked up the wrong idea; i wish I could ponder in this properly. I'll have to wait. Thanks."
Here is the excerpt from the proposed curriculum again
Play as a basis for development, learning and well-being
Play has a central role in education and promotes children's development, learning and well-being. For children, play itself is important and it can provide joy and well-being. In play, the children are active participants, they mimic, creative and process their experiences. In this way the children can form an idea of ​​themselves and other people. Play stimulates imagination and empathy. Play challenges and stimulates children's communication as well as the ability to symbolize thinking, cooperation and problem solving.
A learning environment and an attitude that encourages play confirms the importance of play for the child's development, learning and well-being. The staff should ensure the conditions for play and lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play. The staff will also ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in communal play based on their conditions and ability.
Staff should notice factors that limit the play and develop working methods and learning environments that promote play. The physical and conscious presence of the staff leads to the support of communication between the children and the prevention of conflict situations. The play should be seen and heard. Playing children and adults should be given time, space and tranquility to find games, experiment and experience.
As you can see it states that staff should "lead the play appropriately, either outside the play or by participating in the play." For me as a person who is an advocate of free play and children's right to their own play it was clear to me that this implied that children have access to play that is inspired by themselves (with the adult on the outside) and also play that is inspired by and with adults... BUT it does leave room for other interpretations that adults should be leading all the play. And while I feel that play is the essence of learning in Swedish preschools, it might be worth ensuring that this is preserved and that the curriculum also supports the need for free-play within its learning frame.

I think preschools are very much an adult steered realm, no matter how much we strive for equality with the children that we work with, there will never be a true equality... Firstly the children have not chosen to go to preschool (there are of course those who love going to preschool) the decision has been made by parents who, in Sweden, have made this choice due to the need to return to work (by the age of three 90% of children attend some form of care, mostly preschools).
Children do not decide how long their day will be... preschools in Sweden are, by law, open between 6:30 and 18:30 (they can open later and close earlier of there is no parental need at their setting) - over the years I have encountered children who have 10plus hours in a preschool setting - much longer days than is legally allowed for adults to work (and this can be from the age on one).

I will say that preschools strive to make their settings the best place they can for the children... not just from an education point of view, but also from a care point of view... if a young child spends 30-60 hours a week in preschool there needs to be care (read more about Professional Love, Jools Page)
The word "omsorg" is used a few times in the text (means care) but maybe not as much as it should be... as if there is not this care, there is not the feeling of safety then there will not be any learning. A safe environment where each child feels cared for is essential for a child to develop, to learn and to evolve as the person they are.

In my quote about LOVE is the first word. Care is essential
I have now gone through the text and started to count certain words to se how often they are mentioned... with the idea that the more they are mentioned the more focus the curriculum has on them (or the bigger the impact they have on us - which made me sort of laugh afterwards as the word UNDERVISNING (teaching/Education in the sense of instruction) had had a massive impact on me and yet was only used twice... the word UTBILDNING (education) was used about 34 times (this was not an exact counting).
This is a preschool curriculum - a plan of learning - the Swedish word is "läroplan" (learning plan) so it is hardly surprising that this is a text that contains the words undervisning and utbildning so many times... the words "lära" and "lärande" (learn/learning) are used 19 times and develop/developing (utveckla/utveckling) are used about 23 times.
Play is used 19 times, the majority of those times within the paragraph above (13 times in the Swedish text, in one of its forms) so only 6 times in the rest of the text.
Care (omsorg) is used just five times as is "trygg" (safe/secure) - although there can be references to these states through other means... for example... it states that the preschool should together with the home create the possibility to develop based on their own needs/abilities... this could mean the need for security in order to be safe...

As for play being the children's and not adult steered... then there are sections of the text that refer to this... not as their play but in their right to learn through their interests... and since play has a "central role" in learning this must also imply the play is child lead and not just adult lead.
"The education should give space for the children's own intiatives, imagination and creativity in play and learning indoors and outdoors. (Utbildningen ska ge utrymme för barnens egna initiativ, fantasi och kreativitet i lek och lärande såväl inomhus som utomhus.)"
It also states that there is a need for educators working in preschools to explore the meaning of knowledge and learning as part of their ongoing work and that knowledge is not just facts but also comprehension, skills and familiarity...

The education should be based on the children's needs and interests, as well as the knowledge and experience that the children have previously been able to use, but also continually challenge the children by inspiring new discoveries and knowledge.
So even though it talks about the teacher leading the play and creating the learning environment it is something that needs to be rooted in the children - to create a space for individual and group learning.
While I personally like the curriculum as it is open to interpretation and I have a strong play-based/child-based approach to learning then it suits me well... the concern is, can it be interpreted to bring the rote, teacher-down learning that is found far too  much in schools, where children are sitting at desks... because the school curriculum has a similar text at the start of it's curriculum  (it mentions that joy is important for learning, but not play). I counted the same words and found the results a little surprising...

As you see above the word education (utbildning) is used in the preschool curriculum far more than the school curriculum in fact combining the words teach, learn and education then school has only 58% of the learning and education mentions compared with the school... somehow I thought it would be the opposite way around. That there would be more focus on learning, education and teaching in the school.

So basically I feel what we could say is let's revamp the school curriculum to look more like the preschool curriculum... I mean there is more learning going on, there is more safety/security, more development and more play... and as educators in early childhood we all know that joy is found through play, that self directed learning can be found through play...

I am not for taking away the learning from the preschool curriculum, as long as we ensure that this is done through play, through the children's choices, through equality with the educator as their pedagogical guide...
what I want is a bigger focus on security and care as being essential for learning... without out this there is no foundation for learning... and also my experience in the Palestinian refugee camp also shows that security and care are essential for being able to play and imagine too.

And my dream is that we take play up into the school, we take this form of learning higher up so that there is not this hierarchy of teacher down instruction (there ARE school forms and school teachers that are doing remarkable work with democratic classrooms - but I see these as more preschool inspired than traditional school)

So back to the original reflection about the teacher leading the play... 
I think we do need to always reflect on the power we have as adults... and how that impacts on us as educators. I know when I first started exploring listening I was fascinated (slightly horrified) by the way children would listen to my voice more than their peers... that already by the age of 2-3 years they were trained into giving the adult more value.
In a way it takes courage to empower children, to trust in them, to see them as competent and to be an equal with them, when at the same time you have to keep them safe and guide them pedagogically... as it is a fine balance and you have to be aware of it all the time. The great thing is that the more you work at it the easier and more natural it feels... but that you still always have to be aware of the power you possess as an adult...

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