Building a shared understanding of Freedom with Guidance

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

An observational study on what practitioners understand about the Froebelian concept ‘Freedom with Guidance’ with an aim to build practitioners’ knowledge and confidence resulting in improved autonomy for children.

Children chopping vegetables at a kitchen table


This project looks at the Froebelian concept of ‘Freedom with Guidance’. This project examines what practitioners know and understand about Freedom with Guidance’. It aims to support practitioners improve their own practice, by developing a consistent approach based on shared values and the Froebelian principles that underpin them.

The project matters because at the start of the project practitioners were inconsistent in their approach ( to what e.g. Freedom with guidance ) – when to interact and when to stay leading to inconsistencies in children’s experiences.  The project aims to use a shared language to ensure a consistent approach that will supports children to be autonomous learners.

“To learn a thing in life and through doing is much more developing, cultivating, and strengthening than to learn it merely through the verbal communication of ideas.” (Froebel)


This project examined the Froebelian concept of ‘Freedom with Guidance’. I had been able to see this in action in Cowgate. On reflection I recognised that Freedom with Guidance’ was not consistently evident within my setting.

Fifty percent of practitioners in my setting have the Froebel Certificate. It was clear that some practitioners needed support to understand the value and impact of providing freedom with guidance. This project aimed to ensure all practitioners had a shared understanding of the importance of freedom with guidance and the positive benefit it brings to the children.

My aim was to:

  • Deepen my understanding of freedom with guidance
  • To improve my own practice by providing an enabling environment which will allow children to become leaders of their own learning.
  • To link the Froebelian concept of ‘Freedom with Guidance’ with the UNCRC and our Rights Respecting Approach.
  • Investigate what all practitioners know about freedom with guidance and to be able to give them more support and confidence to create a more enabling environment.

By doing this research I would like to identify what we do well in the setting to enhance freedom with guidance and what we need to improve on.

In order to carry out this project I gained parental and children’s permission which enabled me to observe, take photos and videos. I gained permission from all practitioners who understood that any observations would be dealt with confidentially. Some practitioners were a bit unsure about videos being taken but I made them aware they could pull out of the project at any time. I began with an interview to find out what staff knew about freedom with guidance and then used a mixture of observations of children and practitioners through video observations, written observations and observations made by children using an iPad to evidence interactions from their perspective.

I plan to feedback findings to staff and parents through media, newsletters and posters.


I found that staff were uncomfortable being videoed.  As soon as I started to take a video observation, practitioners would either change or would walk away which made it difficult to take accurate, natural video observations that could be referred back to.

To overcome this, I gave children the role of documenting the observations themselves by giving them control of the iPad which allowed me to see things from their level and their perspective. I explained to the children they were helping the adults learn what it is like to be them.

I had to be careful when replaying video observations to practitioners. I made sure I was reflexive, professional and non-judgemental. I used open questions and allowed the practitioner to have complete control of their analysis of the interaction. I ensured that I used one high quality interaction video which demonstrated giving children freedom with guidance alongside interactions that had room for improvements. This helped ensure the dignity of all concerned.

‘[The] child is free to determine his own actions according to the laws and demands of the play he is involved in. Through and in his play he is able to feel himself to be independent and autonomous’. (Froebel in Liebschner 1992:69)


This project highlighted that our staff team have differing levels of understanding in relation to Froebel and his principles. By completing an interview with staff at the start, it emerged that some practitioners thought “Freedom with Guidance” was allowing children to do whatever they wanted, in the setting. “Children free to do what they want with no limits or boundaries, which I don’t think is right.” (Practitioner quote). Many staff did not believe this should happen and that children shouldn’t be given this much freedom and choice. “The children are so young that I think we can give them too much freedom”. (Practitioner quote). I began the research by taking some observations of my own. It was evident that staff knew the children well, activities were well planned based on children’s interests and also practitioners confidently observed and planned for the children. However children’s experiences were inconsistent due to the lack of consistency of approach. Children were met with different responses They were allowed out without a jacket by one practitioner, only to be sent back in for not having a jacket on by another.  As a setting we needed to be consistent.

I scheduled a visit to Cowgate Under 5 Centre and observed the interactions there and the choice of language used and realised that this was missing from our setting. For example, I observed a practitioner at Cowgate asking the children to pause, and explain what was happening in their play. The children described what they were doing and why. The practitioner used this as an opportunity to remind the children to respect resources and ensure they returned them, for others to enjoy.

Returning to my setting, I shared my findings with practitioners and delivered freedom with guidance training. This led to a shared understanding and agreement of approach. We agreed that consistent language and conversations were key to implementing Freedom with Guidance. We adopted a more uniform language style which encouraged the children to pause and reflect/think without the adult telling and controlling what the child does.

The next step was to ask children to use an IPad to collect their observations. This showed practitioners enabling children to make their own choices, solving their own problems as well as empowering the children to think more for themselves. Some of the language used by practitioners was asking children to “pause” which then supported a meaningful dialogue that would encourage children to think for themselves. Rather than practitioners telling the children to tidy up practitioners used guidance and phrases such as if “you are finished could you return the resources to where they belong so that your friends can find them when they need them next”. Some children were also observed using the same language staff were using to try and resolve some disputes with peers. ‘Rushing in and rescuing children prematurely deprives them of the opportunity to flex their learning muscles and also to get used to the emotions which accompany such difficulties – frustration …. Apprehension and so on.’ (Claxton 1999: 265)

Since doing this research project I have learnt a lot more about freedom with guidance. I have reflected upon my practice and encouraged other practitioners to do so too. I feel the language and the way we say things to the children has a huge impact. Just by changing our language within the setting we are giving the children equal autonomy and more freedom.

I think some other useful questions would be:

How can we incorporate freedom with guidance to make a more child centred, rich learning environment?


To conclude, my research highlighted that some practitioners were unaware of Froebel, his principles and what Freedom with Guidance was.

As a team we developed training, which enabled us to build with all practitioners, a shared understanding of Freedom with Guidance.  This in turn has led to us agreeing collectively on the kind of language/conversations we should use and the responses we should give to ensure practice is consistent across the setting and in line with our Froebelian principles. Almost immediately, everyone noted more positive interactions with the children.

Moving forward, we want to continue to study Freedom with Guidance and to work collaboratively using language as a tool to facilitate it. As part of our welcome pack, we will include information about freedom with guidance and the key language we use within the setting to support it, which could be adopted at home.  We hope to meet together regularly as a staff team to discuss freedom with guidance  and include check in questions at the meetings, to encourage staff to share their best recent examples and support us to build on them together as a team.
I intend to make a leaflet and a poster highlighting the importance of freedom with guidance to support practitioners and parents.

Research implications

This research has had a significant impact on the feeling and culture of the setting.  It certainly challenged our pedagogy.

The research revealed that assumptions had been made regarding our whole staff team’s understanding on Freedom with Guidance.  While 50% of staff have completed their Froebel Certificate and all staff have benefited from Local Authority training on a Froebelian approach, the project revealed there was not a shared understanding of the principles that underpinned the setting’s pedagogy. There was not a shared understanding of what Freedom with Guidance means. It became evident that there were gaps in learning leading to inconsistencies in practice.  Learning opportunities had to be put in place to develop a shared understanding that would underpin a Freedom with Guidance approach across the setting.

Key to this research was the researcher’s visit to Cowgate. The researcher returned from this visit inspired by the professional dialogue she had there. The discussion on Freedom with Guidance had a significant impact on the researcher. This discussion took place with practitioners and children   on the nursery floor. The researcher was immediately struck by the language used by the Cowgate practitioners in interactions that resulted in children reflecting on their actions and the impact they would have on others.

The researcher used this to inform a learning opportunity for the whole team. She coupled this with children videoing interactions with educators and used this as a basis to discuss how we can empower children to think and problem solve for themselves. For example, rather than children being told to wash their hands, educators could use language to provoke discussions with children on what would be helpful before they went to eat?

This simple change in language has had a significant impact on educators which resulted in empowering children to think for themselves.

Moving forward, we plan to have a monthly focus using the self-evaluation tool from “Froebelian Values to a Froebelian Settings”. Our findings tell us that we need to work on a collegiate understanding  of our Froebelian principles.  Using this self-evaluation tool will help to high light strengths and areas to grow.

We want to share the language we use to promote Freedom with Guidance with our families and school staff. A leaflet and powerpoint are planned.

Implications for resourcing will be mainly around time. We will prioritise staff time to ensure we have the time and space to regularly discus the why we do things the way we do.

We have already made a plan to cover all staff to give everyone the experience of an inspirational visit to other Froebelian settings.

We will take a fresh look at our policies to ensure they reflect our Froebelian values and approach.

Beyond our setting it will be interesting to share findings with our Froebelian Network. Would a poster be a useful tool to share how a simple change in the words we use with children make a big difference to using a Freedom with Guidance approach?

Practitioner enquiry

This course has led me to feel that practitioner inquiry is an empowering tool for practitioners, which builds skills and knowledge. It supports practitioners in thinking critically and creatively. It supports collaboration between staff. It brings professional reading to life.  It feels personal. It is about our unique setting, our children, our parents, and our staff. It is an excellent way to support a shared understanding and purpose.

Moving forward we plan to incorporate practitioner research into our self-evaluation and improvement cycle. As we write our improvement plan for next session, we will incorporate practitioner research within that plan. There can be no better way to evidence the ‘How do we know’ part of self-evaluation, than through a well-researched practitioner inquiry.

Leadership learning

I have learned that it is all too easy to make assumptions on what people know. I learned the importance of regularly revisiting the underpinning principles of Froebelian approach. Practice is informed by principles and unless this is regularly and explicitly discussed there can be a disconnect between principles and practice.

I learned the value of finding time to support learning visits to Froebelian settings. The visit was clearly inspiring. The professional dialogue that this produced resulted in significant changes in the practice of the whole team. I learned that that small changes in the language used can have a big impact on children’s experiences.

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Kelly Cameron
    Kelly Cameron
    06 Jun 2023 at 12:18 pm

    Your project sounds like it has already made profound changes in your practice and that within your setting. While reading it has made me reflect on my practice and the thought I give to Freedom with Guidance each day. I would be interested to learn further from yourself and your project as it sounds fantastic

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  2. Lisa Boa
    Lisa Boa
    10 Jun 2023 at 9:35 am

    I loved reading about your project. It allowed me to reflect on the messages I share with teams. I talk a lot about consistency of language to support our learners with ASN and reading your project has allowed me to deepen my thinking and potentially think about how I ask questions that may prompt them to look at the language they use to support freedom with guidance. I agree that practitioners sometimes think of freedom with guidance as children having no boundaries. Your project allows practitioners to understand and reflect on what freedom with guidance should look like in a setting. I will be sign posting others to your fantastic piece of work and look forward to having further dialogue with you about it.

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