Creating a positive Froebelian learning experience with clay through digital family learning

Project author:

Project summary:

An observational family learning study carried out over three sessions to determine if a positive Froebelian experience using clay with Primary 1 children and their families alongside digital learning can be achieved.

Introduction

This project will look at how a family learning experience using clay alongside digital learning will be meaningful for all involved. This project supports the already established Froebelian ethos within the nursery and infant classes and will expand the knowledge and underpinnings of Froebelian practice to the Primary 1 classrooms.  This project will be beneficial for practitioners to build positive relationships with the Primary 1 families and for the families to see the important impact of clay and how it can be enhanced when accompanied with digital learning. It was also explore the overall experience of adult and child learning together.

 

Context

This project is looking into one of Froebel’s gifts and occupations which I have a keen interest in and hope to share this interest and passion with other practitioners and the Primary 1 families. Froebel advocated the use of clay to ‘help develop the child’s understanding of the two and three dimensional form, for developing problem solving skills, supporting physical development, creative expression and for communicating and representing ideas’ (Parker, 2020). It is important to me to develop and sustain a positive and meaningful relationship with the families of the Primary 1 children to ensure children’s wellbeing and happiness continues to blossom. The use of ICT and digital based learning in the setting is limited so it was an opportune moment to combine the three main interests which I wished to develop; clay, family learning and the development of digital learning.

The overall use of clay in my setting is not always consistent across the three classes due to some teachers not being Froebelian trained and the understanding of the benefits not being fully appreciated. This project will help develop a shared understanding and appreciation of the benefits of clay and its continuous use within the setting.

As we have many new families join our school as their child joins Primary 1, a welcoming school ethos and approach with plenty opportunities for involvement through family learning with their child is key to develop a positive long lasting relationship.

In Primary 1, the use of our shared devices (class ipads) is quite limited to sound formation practice and numeracy games. As we only have three ipads, it is difficult to manage and meet the interests of each individual in class so unfortunately do not use the ipads to their fullest potential. By linking clay with the ‘Stop Motion’ app for our family learning sessions, the children (and their family member) are learning a new skill and working together to create something in the process.

In order to carry out this project I had to get permission from the families who wished to be involved in the sessions. By them showing their interest in attending the family learning sessions they were consenting to taking part in the project and for their photos to be taken (no visible faces shown). All children taking part have permission to be photographed and videoed.

I started with an informal interview with my two Primary 1 colleagues to gather what they knew about Froebel and his ideas about clay in an early level setting. Both teachers consented to their views being recorded for the use of the project. I then proceeded to carry out some observations of children (written) in class freely playing with clay to observe how children interact with it.

Once complete the three sessions I carried out a concise google forms questionnaire which gave anonymous responses to each question asked and offered questions which would explore the views of adult and child throughout the family learning experience.

Ethics

With the use of ipads I ensured that all participants had an allocated ipad that they would continue to use for each of the sessions. This helped with the creation of the project and overall logistics of saving the data. I also ensured all devices were appropriate to use e.g. no personal information was on ipads regarding other children. All devices used were borrowed for class sets which we have assigned to classes within the school. Participations were given clear instructions on which app they would be using so limited the potential of an ethical issue arising.

Having discussed the intention of the project with families at the first learning session I felt confident that I had the backing of all families who were keen to engage in an enjoyable experience with their child.

Throughout the three sessions I and a few other members of staff supporting took photographs to document the process of the project and these images were shared with the families via Learning Journals. These images were deleted from devices once they had been shared with families.

“Children thrive when there is a close connection between the kindergarten and the family and culture of each child. Respectful partnerships with parents were therefore essential.”

(Connectedness and Unity, in Froebel’s Principles and Practice Pamphlet).

Findings

From observing children and their families at the family learning session it was clear that range of experiences of using clay varied greatly. Some families had come with an experience of using clay either in school or at home as part of a hobby and some this was the first time using clay since they had been in primary school themselves. One observation that was made was with one grandparent and their granddaughter in the second session. Once the pair agreed on an idea for their video, the grandparent spent some time at home perfecting a particular aspect (small hatched eggs to be added to a branch) with their own clay and craft tools. It is clear that time and care had went into this in order to enhance the outcome of the clay creation. The overall experience and atmosphere at each session was relaxed and inviting, it was clear that each pairing were enjoying their time together to work on their clay creation.

In order to collect data, the most time effective way to gather the views of adults and the children was to provide a QR code in the last session which linked to a google forms questionnaire* which had questions aimed at both the adult and the child. As per the responses, it is evident that the overarching response to what the adults enjoyed most about the sessions is simply the time spent with the child. It was also noticed too that many adults were already competent with working the ipads too which allowed the children to learn from them in the process.

For the practitioners like myself, it was interesting to observe children with their family members and how they interact with them. The vast majority of children were elated to be with their family member using clay to create something which was inspired by them. I feel I have built a good bond with the families who participated and enjoyed engaging with them throughout each session.

When observing the children, it was clear that they enjoyed being with their family member in a school setting and were deeply engaged. There was a sense that the children were leading the creation with their ideas for the video. Many adults naturally, with or without knowledge of Froebel’s principles, were able to demonstrate some level of ‘freedom with guidance’ in their interactions with the children. This allowed the children’s ideas to feel valued and important. Through the senses and movement, and real and direct experiences, children are able to develop their understanding of the world and demonstrate this to adults (Bruce, 2012).

When analysing the children’s responses to the questionnaire, the clear theme from their responses was how much they enjoyed participating and creating their clay creations.  This highlights the desire children have to simply explore and play with clay as creative learners.

At the end of the final session, the group were able to come together and share their videos via the apple TV and the projector. Each family explained the idea behind their video and the reasons for their particular chosen creation. In this moment of celebrating success there was a real sense of unity, community and connectedness which is greatly celebrated by Froebel.

*All responses from google forms feedback can be found at the end of the document.

Conclusion

From observations and closely analysing the data gathered as well as the conversations had with other staff members who attended the family learning sessions to support the families it was clear that this was a successful family learning event which created a positive experience of Froebel’s gifts and occupations alongside digital learning. The families were able to share an experience of creating something with clay with a digital support. All children were engaged and content throughout the sessions.

As next steps, I would be keen to continue inviting families in to use the clay with the children perhaps within their class setting instead of the larger space. I am keen to continue to share the experience with those who have not had the opportunity to participate in the family learning sessions so that everyone in Primary 1 gets an equal opportunity to enjoy the time with their child in school as it is evident the experience has been overall positive. I am also keen for those children who attended the sessions to share their new digital learning skills with their peers who already have experience of using the clay resource.

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. Erin McGibbon
    Erin McGibbon
    25 Mar 2024 at 3:15 pm

    What a great project! I loved watching this develop from it’s starting point. It has been so insightful! I love that you have given Froebelian principles a really modern twist by incorporating digital technology.
    I really enjoyed seeing how families felt connected to their child and the school through this project. I really like the idea of the children sharing their skills with others who haven’t been to the sessions. Well done!


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  2. Kirsty McFarlane
    Kirsty McFarlane
    25 Mar 2024 at 6:48 pm

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your project about clay along with the digital aspect included. We are in the early stages of developing our own designated clay space in my setting and your project has given me some wonderful insight into how involving families and perhaps including technology can enhance clay experiences.


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  3. Debbie Brown
    Debbie Brown
    26 Mar 2024 at 7:52 pm

    This was a great project to read. It’s wonderful to see clay being used in P1 and with families I did my froebel in childhood practice project on clay and it’s so well used in early years . I really hope you continue playing with clay .
    Well done on your project


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