Froebelian Leadership – Stacey MacKinnon

Project author:

Project summary:

Action research and reflection on leadership from a Froebelia perspective in an early earning and childcare community.



Practitioners co-designed an inquiry to explore how the Froebelian occupation of sewing
could be lead with children, families and colleagues through distributed leadership in three
various settings.

The main purpose in undertaking this practitioner inquiry was to lead change through
distributed leadership within an educational setting. This project enabled distributive
leadership to take place at all levels by enabling practitioners to work collectively to
foster Froebelian principles and practices, leading curriculum innovation and
improving outcomes for children. This research explores how practitioners developed
relationships to support and empower one another to lead change within their
settings, encouraging all to be brave in their approaches to delivering the
experiences and outcomes of A Curriculum for Excellence (2004).
The process of this inquiry can more accurately be described as a practical project
which looks at using Froebelian principles and practices to support distributive
leadership in practitioners as they enhance children’s learning experiences through
the Froebelian occupation of sewing. It will discuss how practitioners were
empowered to take ownership of practitioner research projects and considers how a
staff team worked together to participate in collaborative leadership. Furthermore, it
reflects on the impact which their inquiry projects had on our colleagues, children,
and families by drawing on the perspectives of, and observations made by, this
group of practitioners and members of our Senior Leadership team. Finally, it refers
to publications from the Froebel Trust, Tina Bruce and Helen Tovey which outline
how Froebel’s occupation of sewing can be used with children today and the role of
adults in shaping the ethos and expectations of our settings (Bruce, 2012).

Leading change in the early years setting requires leaders who empower their
colleagues to be bold and take risks alongside having respectful relationships which
allow you to recognise the talents and passions of others. Effective distributive
leadership can inspire others to lead change and innovation if relationships are
strong and supportive. Tovey (2017) describes the role of the educator as a key
element of the Froebelian approach. Adults have the power to foster relationships
which nurture a Froebelian community and enable children’s learning.
At the beginning of this project, practitioners in the early years settings were
committed to providing a developmentally appropriate curriculum through child initiated experiences. Furthermore, they had developed their practice in using someof Froebel’s ‘gifts and occupations’ with their children, particularly block play and sewing. The staff who have led block play and sewing had either been undertaking or had previously undertaken the Froebel in Childhood Practice course. Practitioners were therefore interested in further developing their knowledge of Froebelian occupations
to enhance their practice with the children. Additionally, they were inspired by the
Froebel Trust webinar, ‘Sewing with Young Children’ marking the launch the
publication of the trust’s latest pamphlet. Following the webinar, practitioners
identified that sewing was a Froebelian occupation which was not yet developed to
its full potential within each early years setting. It was evident that some practitioners
had a vested interested in developing a Froebelian approach amongst our staff team
but required support to develop their skills and to inspire others. It became clear that
an intervention was required to allow distributed leadership at all levels.
As a team, we decided to explore how we could enable Froebelian leadership
characteristics in each setting within our establishment by leading practitioner inquiry
projects on sewing with our young children. Our team consisted of four practitioners
at three different stages of our nursery and primary school establishment.
Participating in this project highlighted the different leadership styles and approaches
used by each practitioner to implement and lead sewing at their stage. However,
from our initial discussions it was evident that as a team we had a common goal – to
improve our Froebelian principles and practices across our settings. Overall, we
worked collaboratively to help children solve practical challenges and develop a love
for sewing. In doing so we began to value the contribution of others to improve our
personal practices and we engaged in sustained shared thinking to make effective
decisions that would overcome any challenges presented.

Following the Froebel Trust webinar, ‘Sewing with Young Children’, practitioners felt
empowered and confident in their abilities to begin sewing with the children in their
settings. The sewing occupation was therefore implemented across our nursery,
Primary one and two stages last term. This was led by practitioners at CDO, Teaching
staff and student teaching staff level. Each practitioner had the responsibility of
assessing the fine-motor skills of the children within their setting to provide adequate
resources and materials that would allow for differentiation to support all children
within their sewing areas. A sewing area was then developed in each space with a
wide range of threads and needle sizes providing appropriate differentiation for this skill.
The dedication to ensuring there was relevance and progression ensured children’s
high interest levels were sustained. The practitioners used theory and research to
support the inquiry whilst using pupil voice and interest to guide the experiences
provided to the children. Staff also dedicated time to work with children on adult led and
adult initiated activities to develop their understanding of the process of sewing whilst
developing their creativity, fine motor skills, directional language, and hand-eye coordination. Furthermore, practitioners were therefore given full responsibility and autonomy as to how to lead sewing inquiry projects within the nursery setting and
primary one and two classes. Initially, practitioners explored how best to develop and
lead sewing areas to engage children in first hand experiences and sustain their
interest (Bruce, date). Whilst engaging in the inquiry projects, practitioners were
interested in how the experiences and outcomes, of A Curriculum for Excellence,
were delivered through children’s participation in sewing activities. Finally, the
success of each project led practitioners to think about how they could lead change
at various stages within this establishment by inspiring their colleagues to engage
with Froebel’s gifts and occupations.
Weekly environmental audits of our settings, with our wider staff team, afforded
practitioners the opportunities to share our experiences with the children and their
engagement in sewing. During this time, we shared our reflections with our
colleagues across the early years department and discussed how we could solve
any practical challenges arising and looked at the progression of children’s
experiences across our stages by referring to the skills progression chart created by
Deirdre Grogan at Strathclyde University (appendix 1).
It was evident that each practitioner was committed to their inquiry projects and to
providing children with rich, first-hand experiences which would develop transferable
skills. It became apparent that each practitioner had their own strengths and
approaches which could be shared to enhance the practices of others. The
environmental audits of each sewing area within all three settings allowed
practitioners to share their learning experiences and expertise. This process was
effective, and all participants were able to take part in professional dialogues by
speaking enthusiastically about the engagement and success children were
experiencing – this was supported with pictures, observations, creations, and wall
displays. The practices evidenced during these audits were very much underpinned
by theory and research, inspiring other members of staff to take this on within their
own classrooms. However, it also raised an awareness that some members of staff
lacked confidence in sewing. I decided to tackle this challenge by asking a talented
student teacher, who had a passion for sewing, to take a lead role in organising a
workshop which would support our colleagues to implement sewing within their
environments and to lead similar projects. This practitioner led sewing with a group of
primary two children and was able to share her experiences and expertise with staff and
discuss pre-cursors to sew and progression within sewing to support all practitioners.
Imray, Thomson and Whinnett (2023) share their expertise by stating: –

‘To support children’s skills and ideas, educators have to be well informed
themselves. They need hands-on experience to pass on helpful strategies to

During the research, data was collated using observations of the children as they
engaged with the adult initiated sewing experiences within their settings. Further
qualitative data was gathered using practitioners’ responses to online
questionnaires. The questionnaires identified some challenges faced by members of
staff including sustaining the children’s interest in the sewing activities when the lead
practitioners were absent from the setting or not within proximity of the sewing space
to support the children to engage with the materials. One practitioner found it to be
very frustrating that the children were not engaging in the area which she had
developed due to the lack of invitations and provocations inviting the children to
explore their curiosities in her absence. However, more positively, a Senior Leader
commented on the distributed leadership she witnessed (appendix 2) during this
inquiry project: –

‘A confident and forward-thinking member of staff within the school began sewing
in her primary two classroom. During environmental audits and learning walks,
this practitioner spoke eloquently about the engagement and success children
were experiencing. The practice was very much underpinned by theory and
research, and this was again shared with colleagues during environmental
audits. These inspired other members of staff to take this on within their own
classrooms – the primary two practitioner took a lead role in supporting her
colleagues.’ (anonymous)

Overall, the questionnaires identified a significant impact on levels of engagement
and motivation during sewing experiences with the children. The Leuven scales for
well-being and involvement were referred to by practitioners during environmental
audits. They described the newly developed sewing areas as potentiating spaces
(Claxton and Carr, date) where the children’s levels of engagement scored between
4 and 5 on Leuven scale in all three settings. Additionally, practitioners felt more
confident to embrace new challenges and to be brave in terms of what experiences
they offered their children. Some described how they now felt more comfortable in
providing children with new experiences which they would not have previously
considered to be “age” appropriate. Evidence of parental engagement from online
Seesaw observations identified that there had been an impact on parents’ views of
play and highlighted how delighted families were to witness the capabilities of their
children as they identified the skills they were developing through play: –
‘There has been a clear progression of skills observed with children beginning to
learn the initial skills with a needle and thread to developing independence when
sewing buttons on to clothing etc.’ (family voice – anonymous)
Some children even made positive efforts in transferring their skills from our settings
to their home environments by sewing with family members to create puppets and
mend buttons. One child in our nursery class received a sewing kit as a birthday gift
from her parents after their conversations about her child-initiated sewing
experiences from nursery (appendix 3).

Final Reflections
From observing and participating in the sewing experiences, practitioners identified that
sewing practice does not just need to be with needle and thread, there are many ways
in which we can differentiate this experience to support and extend the learning for all
children. This may be through weaving, threading, exploring with line and shape and
introducing more complex stitches. It has been lovely to learn about these processes
alongside the children and to share with colleagues during our discussions to
support all children. The Froebelian principles and practices highlight that each child is
unique, and we should focus on what they can do as a starting point for their
Feedback from my colleagues highlighted that this collaborative research inquiry
reinforced our beliefs as Froebelian educators that our children are autonomous
learners and as Froebelian educators we respect children for who they are and value
them for their efforts (Tovey, 2020). We witnessed high levels of well-being on the
Leuven scale as well as motivated and engaged children in all three settings. Our
observations lead us to believe that sewing provides a nurturing experience which can
foster positive relationships through socialising and conversation. It has been clear to
see the impact that sewing experiences have had on children’s focus and concentration.
We have observed children who, at times, find concentration and focus difficult,
engaged for longer periods of time. This sewing occupation can be described as a
‘slow’ teaching experience and in turn fosters the practice of ‘slow pedagogy’ (Clark,
2022), helping to develop their communication skills and expand vocabulary
alongside creativity. Furthermore, these experiences have allowed us to celebrate
our diverse community as we have explored different prints and fabrics from a range
of countries and cultures.
Participating in professional dialogue with my colleagues during environmental audits
and empowering the student teacher to take leadership of the sewing occupation
with the children in the primary two setting, allowed me to take on a coaching role
during this project. In the past I have tended to drive forward Froebelian practices
forward by leading practice and implementing strategies which I had devised and
planned for across the early years stages. However, participating in this project
allowed me to step back, allowing others to lead as I became a mentor who was
inspired and learned from others. I learned that by encouraging practitioners to take
risks, inspires their creativity, and develops their confidence.
Undertaking the Froebel in Childhood certificate and leading the Froebelian Futures
research project last year allowed me to develop my skills in leading change in early
years practices within my establishment. However, I feel that in undertaking the
leadership certificate this year has afforded me opportunities to demonstrate
distributed leadership skills. I learned how to stimulate collective responsibility and
agency amongst practitioners within a staff team as we worked towards developing
our practices to improve outcomes for our children. Relationships within our team
became key to engaging and inspiring others to become open-minded as they
embraced change and adopted Froebelian practices with their children. We describe
sewing as a companionable occupation which affords children opportunities to
develop their relationships by sitting sewing next to each other (Imray, Thomson and
Whinnett, 2023). However, this can also be true for our professional learning
conversations which took place during our environmental audits. Practitioners were
given opportunities to develop relationships across all three settings to develop and
extend their professional skills with their colleagues. In the end, they spoke
eloquently about their observations of children and how they supported their
interests and skills to nurture Froebelian practices with the children and families in
each setting.

In conclusion, facilitating colleagues to co-design our sewing inquiry using distributed
leadership fostered a Froebelian culture within our early years community. We were
able to inspire others to engage with the pamphlets from the Froebel Trust, attend
Froebel webinars and inquire about undertaking the Frobel in Childhood Practice
certificate because of the unity and connectedness demonstrated by all. The
challenges which now lie ahead include developing further occupations and
practices in our settings to create truly responsive and enabling environments
underpinned by Froebelian principles and leadership styles.

Bruce, T (2012) Early Childhood Practice: Frobel Today. London: Sage. Chapter 1,
pp 5-16
Clark, A (2022) Slow Knowledge and the Unhurried Child: Time for Slow Pedagogies
in Early Childhood Education. London and New York: Routledge
Claxton*, G. and Carr, M., (2004). A framework for teaching learning: the dynamics
of disposition. Early years, 24(1), pp.87-97.
Froebel Trust (n.d.) Froebelian Principles. Available at:
Imray, S., Thomson, T. and Whinnett, J. (2023). A Froebelian Approach: Sewing with
young children. Available at:
Laevers, F. ed., (1994). Defining and assessing quality in early childhood education
(Vol. 16). Leuven University Press.
Scottish Government. (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish
Tovey, H (2017) Bringing the Froebel approach to your early years practice. London:
Tovey, H (2020) Froebel’s Principle and Practice Today. Available at:
Practitioner Inquiry Poster

Appendix 1 – Sewing Progression Grid by Deirdre Grogan
Appendix 2 -Practitioner Inquiry Poster – Leading the Froebelian occupation of sewing to deliver
the Experiences and Outcomes of A Curriculum for Excellence in the Primary 2
Appendix 3- Photographs from learning observations, displays and staff sharing practice



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