Froebelian Leadership – Leona Stewart

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Project summary:

Action research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelian perspective in an early learning and childcare community



The Inquiry I was posing to the practitioners in an early years setting was to look at their own practice in a reflective way, to decipher what makes them unique and individual from other settings.  What and how they make provision for children and to confidently explore this through the lens of the Froebelian principles. In essence to ensure the early years setting has a strong and positive curriculum rationale that is agreed by all practitioners and involves the children and families.  The intention was to ensure that the group of practitioners had a cohesive approach to learning in their setting and to develop a way to progress with a whole team approach and establish values for their practice. 


I have been involved with this setting for a few months now, hoping to guide and support the staff team who have been through numerous changes, particularly in terms of leadership.  The most recent change they have had is a positive start to the journey, a manager who is motivated to develop the team of practitioners through Froebelian principles; however, this will be an introduction of Froebel for the team.  Through the process of observing the team, I could see that they had not yet found their direction or foundation of what makes them unique, what they hope for children, how they will drive forward and progress and what values and beliefs they hold collectively. In essence until now they have been without consistent leadership to guide them and suggest autonomy in their workplace that would allow them to shape the way forward for children.  They have become more reliant on daily management issues, without looking outwards and forwards and I feel they have lost confidence and direction.  Therefore, I noted that they need reflection; some way to identify themselves as a collective and say what drives them. They needed an opportunity to discuss what they want to provide and move forward in a positive way. With a new manager to encourage a way forward in the way Froebel believed that the moral tone of a setting started at the top and focused on the strengths of those around them they had an opportunity through this for transformational change. 

 The Process 

 In discussion with the manager, we looked at possible lines of inquiry to cultivate a positive ethos within the setting and encourage practitioners to reflect, self-evaluate and co design a way forward that considered the child and family perspectives, to really make a culture change for children and adults. The manger wanted to look at the vision values and aims of the setting with the practitioners and families, through encouraging an understanding of Froebelian principles. We had concerns that some practitioners had little confidence in what their role was with children and found it difficult to explore.  We devised a way to approach the practitioners in a non-threatening way to look at their skills, abilities and in what they were providing, an opportunity to discuss informally what they hoped for children and what were their strengths and to really home in on what makes them distinctive from other settings. Putting a focus on the spaces, experiences and interactions and to look in on their shared pedagogy and the impact on children.  Through developing a curriculum rationale for the centre, I hoped they would find their own identity and drive this forward.  

 “Under each human fault lies a good tendency which has been crushed, misunderstood or misled. …bring to light this original good tendency and… nourish, foster and train it.” (Froebel in Bruce 2021: 29) 

 Thinking also on some of the relevant questions posed recently by Lynn McNair during the Falkirk Froebelian Festival to ensure the child is at the centre of what we hope to embed. 

  • How do practitioners honour children’s ideas and their different ways of being and of expressing themselves?  
  • In what ways are the children involved in making decisions that affect their lived experiences?  
  • What can your children do and what are their strengths and how do we afford this for them?  
  • How can our image of the child as capable and trustworthy be made visible? 

 I wanted them to consider the design principles from Curriculum for Excellence as a base to support their thinking, in what ways do they provide challenge and enjoyment, breadth, progression, depth, personalisation and choice, coherence, and relevance, however, to ensure they took a child centred approach, one that looked at the image of the child, one where they have self-belief displaying that they are knowledgeable and nurturing practitioners.  

They have a wonderful prospect to provide a richness of play opportunities within this remarkable setting where the outside comes indoors. How do they prepare for and with the children to make the most of this. 

Lairdsland Early Years Centre – Open May 2021 – YouTube – This video was filmed in May 2021, just before opening to children and shows the potential for development. 

They can offer a sense of community, developed through its town centre position, the opportunities to explore nature, not only in the garden space but through observing the spaces outside, to connect with the day, light, dark, weather, people and the possibilities of forces through the garden space and in how they develop opportunities for climbing, sliding, pully and pushing.  In what way do children have autonomy in their own learning because of the range of spaces available to be physically active throughout the day.  For children to work collaboratively from ages 2- 5 years old without barriers, to have free flow access to the outdoors that offer children options to engage with the occupations of Froebelian practice – the opportunities to garden, work with tools and bake through the wide range of resources available.  To enable practitioners to answer some of these questions I interviewed a selection of the staff team using a questionnaire.  I wanted this to be a conversation with individuals to tease out their thoughts offering a time for reflexive practice, to see if there was a shared pedagogy and view of what they had and what they provided. They needed an opportunity for dialogic [?] 

 Project Outcomes 

This was really an opportunity for pedagogical leadership in guiding through the Froebelian principles, to allow practitioners to see that they did have commonality in their beliefs for children and families and that strong leadership of change can have positive outcomes that they can play a part in.  that leadership and management of practitioners was to encourage reflexivity for the whole team and as an individual to develop a clear and coherent set of principles  

“It is of course easier… to have an answer given by someone else but it is far more valuable and stimulating for them to find it out for themselves… [so] we should rather put them in the way of finding answers…” (Lilley, 1967:126) 

What really has come form this so far, and it will be a journey or path to follow, is that all the practitioners could articulate through the questions what they felt they provided for children and how they were enabling children, they were confident in what they had to say.  They also were not phased by the principles or lines of inquiry and said that they had little previous knowledge but did not shy away from responding and almost all in a positive way. 

From this opportunity I will go back to them with the collation of the information they provided me with to let them see that they are all working within a set of principles, they just needed an approach to express them and define them. This will be shared with children and parents for their input and will evolve further to outline their rationale.  Once this has been created, I will support the team and manager to further impact the research and theory in to practice through their spaces and experiences for children.  With a new session they will also develop the vision values and aims as a community that hopefully will now have the foundations of Froebelian principles. 


In my current role as quality improvement officer, I do not always have the opportunity to work directly with a whole staff team in this way, from manager to support workers, therefore I had to adapt my leadership style for this to work, a democratic leadership style in order to gain cooperation and engagement for the team.  To provide them with my rationale for taking this forward but also in gaining their trust and in ensuring them that this was for them, to help them have an opportunity for expression. 

Although this was not a surprise to me, I could quickly see that children wanted to have input in this too.  When in discussion with the practitioners, often children would approach the conversation to become active within it.  I found this really pleasing and actively encouraged their participation, reassuring adults that we could include their opinions and have a shared discussion, to be confident talking about their practice alongside the children.  As part of this some coaching conversations took place to let them know this was a good opportunity and that child voice and participation alongside the adult always has impact, but also that we are offering children the autonomy to have their say about their setting as well as facilitating this for the adults, that we should be working with children in paragogy, seeing each other as peers in our learning. 

children not only copy what they see others doing around them – they try to do it equally well or better. In doing so they make mistakes from which they are able to learn if allowed the time to do so / freedom with guidance (adapted from (Egersdorff & Mundy, 2017, npn). 

This aspect of leadership has provided me with inspiration to allow myself time to play a supportive role to practitioners.  A lead on professional learning within my authority for early years professional and therefore I am well placed to continue this path and facilitate practitioners to engage in professional learning to develop practice as knowledgeable and nurturing adults and as with children where we talk about starting where the child is, to be kind to yourself and colleagues and start wherever you are.  

Whenever I engage in Froebelian principles and practice, I am always invigorated to continue and hope to see the practice around me grow and develop, encouraging a network of practitioners who are working towards the same goal for children and families. I see this as my next step for me to promote this and to further my knowledge by applying to MSc Early Education and Froebel at the University of Edinburgh. 

 Appendix 1 

Questionnaire used with staff  

challenge and enjoyment; • breadth; • progression; • depth; • personalisation and choice; • coherence; and • relevance. 

  (Curriculum Rationale on Froebelian Principles )

Knowledgeable and nurturing educators 


How do you observe and reflect on children’s learning? 


How do you record what you have observed? 


What do you do to reflect on your own practice? 


How do you continue to learn? 


The central importance of play 


What do you offer that shows you value opportunities for a rich play environment? 


Freedom with guidance 


How do you: help children to think for themselves, make choices, solve problems and pursue their own interests and talents? 


What do you do to ensure freedom operates within a framework of responsibility and respect for others, the resources and the natural environment? 


How do you allow uniqueness and individuality to flourish? what makes you a strong, supportive community? 


What do you do together?   
What connections do you have in the community?   
Freedom with guidance 


How do you: help children to think for themselves, make choices, solve problems and pursue their own interests and talents? 


What do you do to ensure freedom operates within a framework of responsibility and respect for others, the resources and the natural environment? 


Unity and connectedness 


What do you do that builds on a child’s own experiences and interest first? 


How do you connect with the children in your setting   
What do you do that celebrates diversity and uniqueness?   
Learning through self-activity and reflection 


How can children learn through doing, exploring, playing, taking things apart, and posing questions in their effort to understand the world around them? 



What provision and resources do you provide to promote this? 


Engaging with nature 


How do you support activity, curiosity, investigation and play in the outdoors?  


What do you do to support children engaging with all aspects of nature, not just plants and animals; the universal laws of nature such as forces, gradient, gravity, motion, energy, light, sound? 


Autonomous learners and relationships 


How do you nurture relationships in your setting? 


What do you do to let you know where your children are in their learning? 


How do you take forward their learning? 


How do you provide choice and self-selection? 





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