Freedom to Learn

Project author:

Project summary:

This study looks at practitioners understanding of Froebel’s principle Freedom with Guidance with a view to develop a more consistent approach in our Early Years settings.


This project focuses on how early years staff can foster a consistent approach as they strive to implement and embed Froebel’s principle Freedom with Guidance within their daily practise.

This enquiry matters to ensure we have consistency for our learners. If staff have differing or conflicting expectations this can be confusing for the child. As practitioners we need to encourage our children to be independent, solve problems, and make choices, plans and decisions in their learning while offering a balance of freedom and guidance. Thus enabling them to become autonomous learners.

My purpose in undertaking this work was to further develop an understanding of how practitioners perceive Freedom with Guidance and apply this principle in their pedagogy.


Through daily experiences and pedagogy in my setting I have found there can be differing opinions towards Froebel’s principle Freedom with Guidance. This can then make it difficult for children to understand what is expected of them, whether they are encouraged to be adventurous or given the ability to lead their own learning by some adults but not allowed to by others. I feel a shared approach is essential and through respectful discussion, valuing each other’s opinions, sharing experiences and anxieties we can as a team build a more unified approach. Some practitioners see Freedom with Guidance as allowing children to do what they want, rather than respecting and encouraging children to do things for themselves, developing children’s confidence and autonomy.

Tovey says, “Free movement, free choice and self-activity are important, but they should be within a framework of guidance in which the role of the adult is crucial.” This I believe is something for us as a team to strive towards.

Personally Froebel’s principle Freedom with Guidance for me means, allowing children to play freely, making choices, plans, and decisions and assessing risk in their own play. The role of the adult is there to guide, interact and support when needed.

My research participants will be both children and practitioners and numbers will be dependent on participant consent. Observations of children during play will provide knowledge and understanding of how children play. Questionnaires completed by practitioners will offer insight on how practitioners support or respond to freedom with guidance. I chose not to use interviews as a source of research as I did not want to make my colleagues feel uncomfortable or feel they could not be completely honest in their responses.  We are a relatively small team, therefore I extended my questionnaire out to other practitioners within my local authority cluster.

As a team we will use responses from my questionnaires to enable us to look at how we can support, guide or respond to the children’s play. Doing so should then enable us to develop an agreed consistent approach as we strive to implement Freedom with guidance in our setting.


Before the research study took place all parents and carers were issued with a permission form for their child to take part in the study. Parents and families were also given verbal information of why this study was happening and what the intention of the study was. This then gave our families the opportunity to ask any questions regarding the study or to freely share any concerns.

I also sought permission from my Head Teacher and local authority lead. They were also given a copy of the project enquiry proposal to give a clear indication of the purpose of this project.

Participant observation consent form was given to all staff for their permission to take part in this study. All questionnaires were anonymous allowing the participants the ability to freely share their own experiences, views, opinions, concerns or anxieties. I also had a meeting with my own staff team to make them aware of the purpose of this project.

“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.”

Alexandra K Trenfor


Further to staff who responded to the questionnaire it would appear that practitioners were conscious of Froebel’s named principle Freedom with Guidance and how it underpins early years. However is this always reflected in daily practice as in my experience there can sometimes be a disjoint between what has been said in the questionnaire to the daily practice in the setting. This shows there is a willingness but staff’s personal anxieties can be a barrier to fully embracing this principle.

Practitioners said, “This is a vitally important principle as it gives each child the freedom to explore, learn and challenge themselves independently while offering support, guidance and challenge.” “Allowing children to lead their own learning with practitioners observing and supporting children to facilitate their own learning.”

When asked how we ensure our own anxieties do not restrict children’s learning opportunities and play, practitioners shared, “Shared understanding about safety and risk allows staff to operate in an environment where expectations are made clear.” “Take a step back, try not to interfere and disrupt play.” “I try not to express my own anxieties, have a calm approach and offer support if needed, be there to discuss any potential risks with the child.” When discussing how we are providing Freedom with guidance whilst being mindful of the individual child, staff shared, “It’s about knowing the individual child, their need, developmental stage and where they may need support or challenge.” “Supporting individuals, scaffolding for those who need more support.”

By discussing these findings with my team, I found staff were becoming more engaged in developing this principle and more openly willing to share any barriers, concerns and anxieties. We were able to acknowledge each person’s own anxieties or obstacles and support each other as we travel on this joyful journey together. This ensures we are more eager to embrace this as a team, helping us as we choose resources, plan and evaluate in our early years setting.

We are aware we still have work to do as a team, for example, we have pre existing arrows on the bike track directing the children which way to travel. However it has been observed some staff members will ask the children to adhere to the arrows, where other members of staff are allowing the children the freedom to explore and use equipment as they choose in their play allowing the play to flow in a more natural way. The adult is then encouraging independence, creativity, imagination and curiosity enabling the children to engage in self-directed play and learning experiences. We need to share a more flexible innovative approach to these situations to prevent conflicting signals for the children. As stated in My Creative Journey, sometimes we need to overcome our own fears and barriers as practitioners in order to empower children.

Freedom with Guidance makes certain we have a shared understanding of our setting’s vision, values and aims and how we connect these with our Froebelian pedagogy. This practice underpins:

  • Our learning, which as I have mentioned is reflected in our vision; to inspire, play, grow and thrive.
  • Our values; kindness, respect and inclusion.
  • Our aims; to shape our curriculum around a pedagogy of play, to enable our children to be autonomous learners and lead the consultative planning process, to ensure our children and families voices are listened to and respected.
  • This also reinforces the child’s right to develop interest and talents; I have the right to lead my own play. I am encouraged to keep going even when I find a task challenging. The adults that care for me observe me as I play and make plans to help develop my interests and extend my learning, as stated in the UNCRC Article 29.


This enquiry into Froebel’s principle Freedom with guidance has helped my early years setting appreciate how important the role of the adult is when sensitively observing, interacting and supporting our children in our daily practice. This has made all staff more aware and remind us of a Froebelian environment. It is vital that a child’s play is not interrupted or taken over by adults. We have also been discussing the impact of using language in a positive way and how this can impact on the child’s play, for example, that’s a good idea, why don’t you try it, let me know if you need me, rather than saying, no it’s not safe.

As a team we are aware there is still room to develop this principle further for example, by revisiting Froebelian literature and current guidance.  We are also hoping to dedicate continued professional development time to this principle, to enable us to become more responsive, supporting each other, reflecting on our practice as we collaborate and communicate together.

“Tune in to child initiated activity and sensitively intervene to extend children’s inquiry, problem solving and thinking skills”. (Realising The Ambition: Being Me).  We will continue to share any anxieties, experiences and explore ways around any barriers as a team ensuring we can foster a consistent approach as we strive to implement Freedom with guidance.

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. Caroline Smith
    Caroline Smith
    24 Mar 2024 at 1:48 am

    Amazing and I’m sure your project relates to so many settings, acknowledging the barriers of not having a consistent approach and hearing you have now changed the narrative. Freedom with guidance is the essence of human existence so it’s important we promote this at the youngest of ages.

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  2. Lynne Morrison
    Lynne Morrison
    25 Mar 2024 at 10:05 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your project. It sounds like you have taken a sensitive approach when discussing barriers that can impact a consistent approach with a team. Through reading this, I can tell how much you value the importance of getting this right within your setting for the benefit of all your young learners. Thank you for sharing.

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