Introducing Froebelian principled practice – An evaluation of progress

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Project summary:

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



Whilst studying for the Froebel in Childhood Practice course in 2022/23, the key principles of Froebelian practice were shared with practitioners and introduced to our setting. This current project focussed on distributing leadership across team members to evaluate progress made to date in developing a Froebelian principled approach to practice. The evaluation took account of the views of practitioners, parents/carers and the children themselves and the team were able to identify areas of strength, identify key challenges and suggest potential change ideas for improvement.   


The formal leadership team consists of my role as Head of Centre (HOC), a Principal Early Years Officer (PEYO) and a Senior Early Years Officer (SEYO), however, a culture of distributed leadership is evident throughout the setting to promote leadership at all levels. O’Sullivan, (2009), highlights the benefits of growing and nurturing staff not merely for succession planning but to strengthen the organisation with leaders at all levels.  

Prior to commencing this project, my hypothesis was that whilst there is evidence of Froebelian principled practice becoming more embedded across the setting, this is not yet consistently evident. Some practitioners, including those newly appointed have stated they do not have a deep underpinning knowledge or understanding of the principles. In addition, I believed this to be the case when speaking to parents. I had however observed children engaging in a variety of exciting play based learning, being supported by responsive interactions with practitioners. Tovey (2017) highlights the importance of these relationships stating that they should also be ‘‘intellectually engaging’’. This was evident when observing practitioners who are skilled in using effective questioning. The Froebelian principled approach was clearly influencing the environment but I wanted to facilitate the team to undertake a more robust evaluation of this during this project, ensuring that the environment was looked at in relation to the ‘‘spaces, experiences and interactions’’ (Scottish Government 2020).   

The Process  

The project overview was agreed and following consultation with others the key tasks were delegated. The improvement methodology used included recording on a Likert scale, 1-10, highlighting knowledge, understanding and confidence of practitioners in relation to key Froebelian principles. A Pareto chart was used to map the outline of the project, identifying potential ‘change ideas’ in consultation with staff to help address some of their concerns. These included the need for further training, more effective use of Froebelian pamphlets, informal workshops with practitioners  and families, visits to other settings, undertaking more professional reading, participating in the Froebel Practitioner Inquiry projects alongside colleagues and undertaking the audit of progress to date.                                                         

The Froebelian reflective tool kit ‘From Froebelian values to a Froebelian setting’ (Froebelian Futures) – was used to gather views of practitioners as to the progress made over the last session on the Froebelian journey in more detail and looked at specific aspects in more depth. The PEYO and SEYO were identified to lead a discussion with staff focusing on the categories around ‘Froebelian relationships’ and ‘Froebelian environments’. Two practitioners hold a qualification in Froebel Childhood Practice and they took on key roles in facilitating the reflective discussions around ‘a shared vision’ and ‘a Froebelian community’. Given their knowledge and deeper understanding of the Froebelian principles, this enabled them to take on informal leadership roles and to build confidence as they led the self- evaluation discussions with their colleagues. It was important in the spirit of self- evaluation and critical reflection that everyone had a voice and an opportunity to share their opinion, observations and ideas. This resulted in people feeling empowered and motivated to engage in the project.   

Following on from the evaluation and analysis from this work undertaken around the toolkit, key strengths and areas requiring further support, development and training were identified. 

Visits to the local Froebelian ELCC were then arranged where practitioners were able to observe a wonderful Froebelian environment with passionate and enthusiastic practitioners who were willing to share their experience of slow pedagogy. An invitation was extended to visit our setting and this proved very successful with both teams sharing ideas on how the environment could be further developed and potential solutions on how to overcome similar challenges. Practitioners reported it had been a really positive opportunity to develop further links through the local Froebel network, in line with the key principle of creating ‘unity and connectedness’ through a shared purpose. 

In order to ensure the audit took account of the child’s voice, it was essential to listen, respect and respond to children’s comments.   Key workers were best placed to do this and this was undertaken during general observations and discussions with children capturing their views. Children spoke enthusiastically about outdoor learning and the development of the planting and growing spaces, clay, and blocks, the new lunch area was also a positive for the children.  

Parents attended an open evening where the three Froebel projects and academic posters were shared by the Froebelian trained staff. This resulted in many parents stating they would like to hear more about Froebelian practice and would attend stay and play workshop sessions with staff. This is important and it is essential to have families working in partnership and understanding our vision values and aims, ‘’the early years setting should be closely connected with the life of home, family, culture and local community’’ (Tovey, 2017,p 126). It also highlighted the need for more communication with parents through our newsletters, daily interactions and induction process.  

Project outcomes  

Throughout the audit it became clear that the lack of confidence within the practitioners stemmed from a lack of underpinning knowledge about the key Froebelian principles. As a result further training opportunities will be sought for the team including in house workshops led by the trained Froebelian staff, and others from the local Froebel network.   

Practitioners will be encouraged to sign up for the Froebel in Childhood Practice course to deepen knowledge and understanding resulting in increased confidence and leading to more effective practice. The audit also demonstrated the need for further training and understanding around the importance of slow pedagogy. This was noted particularly around meal times, although significant improvements have been made, further work is required. A project that the PEYO is currently leading on.  

The audits around the environments showed key developments in several aspects, particularly in the areas that had been a focus of the previous Froebel projects around planting and growing. Funding secured from ‘Food for Thought’ grant is being used to further develop the environment and the experiences for children and families, with a further practitioner inquiry project currently focussing on sustainability.  

A key strength highlighted was that of nurturing, responsive adults who engage and interact positively with children. The team work effectively and are supportive of one another learning from any mistakes. Children were given opportunities and experiences to be ‘autonomous learners’ through exploration making choices and learning from their mistakes. Children were given ‘freedom with guidance’ and practitioners were demonstrating an understanding of this supporting and scaffolding learning as required. 

A cycle of regular audits, using the tool kit will be introduced allowing for the deeper reflection moving forward on our Froebelian journey. Children and parents will also be invited to participate in this evaluation.   

Final Reflections 

It is at times challenging to achieve the right balance between management and leadership and whilst leadership tasks may be more inspiring and energising, the reality is that the daily management tasks can take over. A priority is to try to achieve a better balance through more effective delegation of management and distribution of leadership tasks where possible. This has proven to be a successful approach within this project. It is essential to support developing leaders, O’Sullivan (2019), recommends coaching and supporting staff to deal with the challenges and setbacks. This can be achieved through having close professional relationships with the team and ongoing support. As a leader you retain accountability and therefore need to have confidence and trust in the practitioners.    

My leadership style has been described as predominantly democratic and I strive to live by the principles and values that are important to me such as respecting the views of others. This is in line with Froebelian leadership characteristics. Collaboration, listening to alternative ideas and to be willing to change direction if it results in a better outcome is important. Additionally, Bruce, (2017) highlights the importance of a clearly communicated framework for practice that changes to reflect diversity and cultural contexts.   

Through a democratic leadership approach I was able to engage practitioners in reflective discussions, building confidence and tapping in to the many skills within the individual team members. The benefits of undertaking further reflection and more practitioner inquiry projects has been highlighted throughout this project, ensuring that our thinking and practice is continually challenged and based on what is right for our children and families. 

I was able to make the connections between my initial project, which had a focus around the role of the adult and the importance of children having access to ‘knowledgeable and nurturing educators’ (Froebel Trust 2020). By sharing my learning and facilitating others to take on lead roles, this resulted in staff feeling empowered and autonomous, which is what we also aim to do for the children.   

I will continue to undertake professional learning and to learn together with the team, our children and families as we strive to become truly Froebelian in our approach.  

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