Connecting classrooms….connecting communities

Exploring the relationship between a partnership for global learning and Froebelian practice

Project author:

Project summary:

How Froebelian practice has strengthened, and been shaped by, a partnership with Ghanaian practitioners to promote children’s learning on issues like climate change, equity, and sustainable living.

Introduction

As part of the ‘Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning’ initiative practitioners at Cowgate Under 5’s, a Froebelian nursery in Edinburgh, have established a partnership with settings in Scotland and Ghana. Over the past year practitioners and children have met virtually on an almost weekly basis and created a solid platform for collaboration and shared learning.

This project explores how Froebelian practice has strengthened, and been shaped by this partnership. How the partnership has fostered a sense of local and global community reflecting Froebel’s concept of unity and his assertion that individuals flourish within supportive communities.

Context

Practitioners hoped that this partnership would deepen understandings of the connection between nature and humanity and nurture a sense of community and global citizenship. That it would inspire the Cowgate community to wonder about the world outside and to be part of positive change. They were eager to learn from other settings and passionate about sharing their view of children as capable partners in the navigation of these complex problems.

This partnership began during a process of deep reflection at Cowgate as practitioners sought to understand and address the ways in which racism affected their practice. They hoped that the partnership would expose white, Eurocentric and colonial perspectives and offer meaningful ways of talking about race and racism.

The commitment to social transformation, driving the partnership clearly advances Froebel’s ‘radical traditions’ (Tovey, 2020). As May has written, ‘Being Froebelian is also about advocacy for social and political change’ (May, 2006).

Methodology

Critical to the integrity of the project was the need to offer complete intellectual and emotional respect to children and to practitioners in partner settingsAs Froebelians practitioners were committed to learning alongside children and responding to their interests and needs, as partners they were committed to respecting the pedagogies and approaches of practitioners in other settings.  Reflecting this, the shape and direction of interactions and collaborations were determined through constant dialogue and negotiation, through careful listening and observation and through the identification of common interests and priorities.

Cowgate’s culture box was received in Ghana. Here in Edinburgh, "N" watched a video of it being opened and heard Bertha say ‘This is from our friends in Scotland.’ "N" gasped, she replayed the video listening carefully then smiled broadly and said slowly: ‘This is from our friends in Scotland….she said, our friends in Scotland’. N’s moving response reflect the significance of this relationship to her and the sheer joy she felt at being described as a friend.

Findings

The partnership for global learning has strengthened Cowgate’s Froebelian approach in profound and wonderful ways.  Consistent with Froebel’s holistic way of thinking it has unified children’s learning into a meaningful whole rather than fragmented activities.  The exchange of ‘culture boxes’, for example, has been a common thread through which children have been able to develop emotionally, socially, intellectually, and physically.  For Froebel, people mattered, and relationships were intrinsic to children’s learning (Tovey, 2020). The partnership has nurtured warm, joyful, and deeply significant relationships supporting children to identify connections between different environments, provoking their curiosity and prompting them to dream about traveling to Ghana and beyond. Froebel believed that the power to create symbols was a principal means of self-education (Froebel in Lilley, 1967) enabling children to see their ideas given visible form, reflect on them and share them (Tovey, 2020).The familiarity and warmth of the partnership’s relationships has facilitated  the emergence of children’s inner symbolic life  beautifully illustrated when L  passed his ‘vanilla ice cream pie’, made of sand, through the ipad to his friends in Ghana strengthening their bond through the gift of nourishment.

The partnership has encouraged children to explore the identity of their own communities, their place within that identity and their connections with other communities. The love for and ownership of their coastal environment was particularly striking.   When T shared with Bertha that he would like to see what shells are like in Accra this prompted them both to contemplate how connected their communities really are:

T: ‘I think the shells will be the same.’

Bertha: ‘I agree, they’re the same sea!’

Finally, the partnership has strengthened Cowgate’s commitment to anti-racism, prompting critical reflection on images within the setting and provoking meaningful conversations with children on race. Navigating discussions around race can be daunting for practitioners and Froebel’s insights are particularly helpful.  Through this partnership we have learned that some children already have considerable knowledge about other cultures, and what determines skin and hair colour.  The role of the educator, Froebel argued, is to extend children’s own thinking by connecting new ideas to existing knowledge and supporting them to build their understanding gradually (Tovey, 2020). This guidance is as relevant to deepening children’s understandings of race and racism as it is to deepening their understanding of all other aspects of life.

Conclusion

The partnership for global learning has been life affirming and everyone involved is determined that it will be sustained. Partners have recently collaborated on an exchange of books exploring gender equality and have tentatively discussed extending the reach of our relationship to families and communities beyond our early years settings.  We dream that practitioners will to be able to visit each other’s settings in 2022 and who knows what else….this will be determined, as always, through dialogue and negotiation and sustained by the genuine joy and love that has been nurtured by our relationship so far.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

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. Clare Langley
    Clare Langley
    15 May 2022 at 6:20 am

    Thank you for sharing this project. This is so interesting. It has really got me thinking of my context, a primary school where we too are trying to find meaningful ways to talk about race and racism. I love the quote from May 2006. This is so true and has a link to current GTCS standards.


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