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Lack of combined approach to play, childcare and learning in early childhood education

When preschool children ask questions about science they risk being left in the lurch by their teachers. Learning seems to have less of a focus among preschool teachers, despite what is laid down in the preschool’s curriculum. These are the findings of a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

In her thesis, Susanne Thulin examines the way in which teachers and children communicate around science questions in early childhood education. Her study includes video observations of children and teachers at preschools working with a scientific subject within two themed areas, “Life in the tree stump”, and “How soil is formed”.

Her results indicate that children risk missing the scientific content. Children’s questions are often met with questions from the teachers. It is quite rare for the children to get answers or learn from the teacher’s knowledge and experience within the field in question. It is also the teacher who introduces the use of language, for example the anthropomorphic language in which animals are humanised.

Random explanations

“Children want to make sense of the world but they risk being left to come up with their own random explanations,” says Susanne Thulin. She has identified several possible reasons for the results.“Firstly it may be that the teachers are actually unable to answer the children’s questions. Secondly it could be down to the traditional, overriding view of the role of preschool in Sweden. This view places a heavier emphasis on childcare and play, as opposed to learning. According to this approach, teachers should not be prescriptive and tell children everything. Children are supposed to think for themselves and find things out on their own,” says Susanne Thulin.

Enhanced knowledge role

The role of preschools has changed. The first preschool curriculum appeared in 1998, giving preschools a more prominent role in the education system. The enhanced knowledge role of preschools has been further emphasised in the revised curriculum, which comes into effect on 1 July 2011. In the science subjects, specific content such as chemistry, physical phenomena and technology are now to be dealt with in the early childhood education environment, in addition to biology, ecology and the environment.

“But if we are to encourage children’s appetite for learning then teachers need to have the ability to create links between children’s everyday experiences, their everyday language on the one hand and scientific language and a scientific approach on the other. The content must stand out and be visible to the child. This means that the children ask questions, investigate to find out the answers and have the chance to discuss the results. This requires an inclination, courage and skill on the part of preschool teachers,” says Susanne Thulin.

The thesis has been developed within the framework of the National Research School of Childhood, Learning and Didactics (RSCLD).

Helena Aaberg | idw
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Further reports about: Collaborative Learning early childhood education

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