Froebelian Leadership – Mari Carr

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Project summary:

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


My Froebelian journey began in Falkirk Council where my nursery underpinned Froebelian values & my team shared the same Froebelian vision.  Having the opportunity to develop my career I moved to North Lanarkshire Council as an Early Years Principal Lead and found myself leaving a very established Froebelian nursery centre, to lead within a school nursery which had no knowledge of a Froebelian approach.  This is where my journey began to slowly embed a Froebelian approach & shape the mindset of my colleagues and school establishment.  

As my journey began, observation & fostering strong relationships with my children, families and team were priority.  Key leadership skills I needed during this process, were the importance of actively listening to my team, discovering the journey they had been on and the obstacles they were trying to overcome.  My team very much yearned to be listened to, to feel valued & respected. They lacked guidance in terms of vision & values & lost their identity. I shared my journey with them, whom I was as a practitioner & my beliefs’ and to my delight my team were intrigued by my Froebelian values.  I wanted to lead by example & show my team through Froebel’s occupations the impact his occupations have on our children.  To begin this journey, I identified the children’s love of cooking and this gave me a great avenue to develop this occupation.    

I shared with the team my vision to implement a ‘Cooking with Children’ programme & embed this aspect of learning as one of Froebel’s Occupations.  I explained that cooking would be a core experience where daily cooking experiences were always on offer.  The team were keen to drive this forward.  I had observed 2 members of my team who had already been instrumental in driving the children’s interest of cooking forward.  I asked them if they would like to lead in this development, and become our Cooking Leaders, they were delighted to take on this role and excited to become part of this development.   

I held a meeting with our cooking leaders, Claire & Lorraine and shared my vision for developing a cooking programme.  I discussed my vision of having a cooking ‘Skill of the week’ and a ‘Recipe of the week’.  I explained I felt the children were capable of so much more and they needed the challenge and excitement of being exposed to a range of different life skills and challenges within this experience.   

Together, we devised an action plan on how we would implement this & gave ourselves a timeline.  I explained I would devise the cooking programme, but the implementation would be their leadership role.  I discussed my expectations and how I visioned the programme would look, and explained we would continually reflect together on the journey to assess what was working well and what we needed to improve.  I explained that an important aspect of this core experience was to ensure we were creating autonomous learners, the children had a choice & freedom of expression, they had opportunities to take ownership of their learning, they had a sense of control & we were there to guide & support when needed, very much adopting the principle of ‘freedom with guidance’.  Discussing the role of the adult enabled me to share the role of a Froebelian & the leaders were very much on board with this approach.   

We discussed that the end product was not important it was about the process, those connections, relationships & developing a sense of belonging & feeling valued. 

Firstly I asked Claire & Lorraine to read the Froebel pamphlet ‘Cooking with Children’ to give them an insight on this occupation.  I then discussed for them to look at our cooking environment and gather a list of resources of what we would need.  I wanted to give the leaders the responsibility to develop and organise the environment. I felt it was important that they knew I trusted their judgement, & it gave them a sense of ownership.    

I compiled a booklet of recipes based on a Froebelian college who shared pictorial recipes with me and devised a programme of skills with the support and suggestions from the leaders.  Claire & Lorraine transformed our cooking environment.  They brought all the resources out from the kitchen into our designated cooking space to ensure the children had freedom, the resources were accessible & to give the children a sense of ownership.    

Claire & Lorraine devised a noticeboard to display our weekly skill & recipe & this was shared each week on twitter with our children and families.  I raise our families awareness as much as possible.  Lorraine suggested rotating a shopping list each week for a group of children where they had 1 item to buy to help support the development of our cooking programme.  This was a great opportunity to develop the whole process from buying to cooking to end product and also involving our families. 

For the first initial month, Claire & Lorraine our cooking leaders, implemented the ‘Cooking with Children’ programme.  Ensuring our key features, skills of the week & recipe of the week were being fulfilled and the children had autonomy. 

Although I reflected verbally each week with the cooking leaders, I held a reflection meeting with the leaders after our first initial month.  My main focus for this meeting was for us to reflect on what worked well, what wasn’t working and discuss next steps.  I asked the leaders to be open & honest.  We discussed the involvement of the whole team, each staff member being our ‘cooking host’ each week, as it was important our whole team were aware of the importance of this occupation & could witness first hand how powerful cooking with children was.  We created a list of expectations & responsibilities for staff as a support guide & ensure consistency for our children.   

At our next morning huddle Claire & Lorraine fed back to staff the plan for going forward to involve everyone in our cooking programme.  They explained the role of the staff member, staff expressed concerns as this was an area they were not confident within but our cooking leaders explained that they would always support staff & explained in actual fact the children take the lead we are there to guide.  We agreed after a month we would reflect on how staff were feeling. 

I asked the cooking leaders to continue to reflect each week with the staff & document any discussions.  I wanted to ensure the cooking leaders were involved at every stage and they were giving maximum opportunities to take responsibility.   

At a full staff meeting I asked Claire & Lorraine to hold a reflection meeting based on the ‘Cooking Programme’ and to ask staff what is working? What is not? Where can we go from here? 

From the staff meeting, the leaders & myself reflected on the feedback from staff and made any necessary adjustments, overall I was delighted staff had embraced our cooking programme & they spoke highly of how skilful our children were.   

Relationships & connections were key elements I ensured we strived to achieve when cooking with our children & I feel we had made great progress in achieving this.  It was now time to move onto involving our families and launch ‘Cooking with our Families, where our families are welcomed into our environment to share this wonderful experience with their children. 

We set a launch date and within 2 days of notifying our families every available space was taken, we were delighted.  At this stage I wanted to empower Claire & Lorraine as they had been so instrumental throughout the whole cooking with children process, I explained that these sessions were theirs to lead & I was there to support.   I ensured the leaders were feeling confident in leading this & they wanted to rise to the challenge.   

Our first Cooking with our family’s event was a roaring success.  We had a fantastic turn out and the families made the most delicious scones.  It was everything we had hoped, a relaxed, fun atmosphere where families bonded with their children, the children were able to showcase to their families the skills they have learned.  After this event the families asked when the next one was so they could sign up again.  We then decided to make this event every 2 weeks and due to the demand from families we have now increased our capacity to ensure as many families as possible have this opportunity to attend.   

Reflecting two months on, our nursery has full families attending our cooking sessions, every generation attends, aunts, uncles, dads, grans, & siblings and as the end of term approaches, we are ending with a big family bake off.  

I am incredibly proud of our ‘Cooking with Children Programme’ & I am incredibly proud of our cooking leaders, Claire & Lorraine, they have achieved so much through this occupation.  Our children’s skill range & life skills have soared through our cooking opportunities.   

Moving forward I would like to extend our cooking journey through Froebel’s belief in connecting with nature & for our children to grow their own vegetables & for this to be part of the whole process, allowing for children to make those connections.  I have since sourced us an allotment both within our school grounds & have been given a raised bed at our community allotment.  Some of our school children on our campus have joined us at our allotment & another member of my staff team has now begun to lead in this development.   

Throughout implementing our cooking occupation, I feel I have remained true to my Froebelian values and principles.  I have valued my team and their opinions and views, I have empowered them, gave them ownership & believed in them when they were reluctant to belief in themselves.  I have learned the true value of leadership, that there is not just one leader but when we all lead and lead with passion, astonishing things can happen. 

From a Froebelian leadership perspective, I feel I have really developed my skills & awareness of unity & connectedness.  My knowledge of the power of observation has new levels of depth. As my team observed the power of cooking with children their perspectives began to change, they became more willing to accept the idea of change, they began to see for themselves the power of a Froebelian approach.  For me unity is very important within an early years setting, relationships are of central importance, that sense of belonging and feeling loved and valued is important to everyone who enters and works within our nursery. I feel through our cooking this was achieved and everyone now values and is aware of the importance of unity. 

Through the Froebelian leadership course, I feel it has given me affirmation to believe in myself and that although I do not fit into the stereotypical leadership style box, that as long as you lead with your heart you can achieve many things. 

 I feel more confident in my approach, knowing that Froebel had to fight for change and stand for what he believed in has given me the courage to not give up and although I may face many obstacles, that change is never easy for everyone and by leading by example you can begin to change others’ views and perspectives.  I have learned how important I value a reflective approach and how instrumental this has been in creating reflective practitioners who now know that it is ok to make mistakes, that this is how we learn and evolve.  I feel a reflective approach have developed honest & open discussions within the team  and they no longer feeling judged but valued.   

Reflecting on feedback gathered by my team & families, staff have thanked me for the opportunity to lead & become part of this approach.  Families thank not just me but the team for welcoming them into our nursery and giving them precious time with their children and families.  I am incredibly proud of what my team has achieved & moving forward I will ensure my team members are always heard, involved & know they are valued. 



Mari Carr  

Early Years Principal Lead 



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