Froebel For Families

How can we best share our Froebelian “learning together” approach with our children and families?

Project author:

Project summary:

An investigation of what children and families value and understand about the Froebelian-influenced experiences that our nursery provides, to inform how we share our principles in the future.

Introduction

This project is set against a background of Covid 19 which changed how we worked with families. It examines parents’ and children’s understanding of the Froebelian influenced experiences we provide.  The focus, using the feedback from families, was to develop a shared understanding of our Froebelian approach which would reflect the values and aspirations of both families and setting.   The project considered Froebelian principles of:

  • Childhood as valid in itself. Education is seen as something of the present and not just preparation for later.
  • The people with whom the child interacts are of central importance. (Bruce, 2021 p.142)

 

Context

To support our nursery staff having a robust unique understanding of every child and parent we asked families to complete a “What matters to me?” (a transition tool from home to nursery that provides personalised information from a parent’s and child’s perspective). From this, it became apparent that there was some disconnect between the settings aspirations for children and the more formal aspirations of parents.

Findings showed that 60% of nursery parents felt learning to read, write and count was important for their child. As Froebelian educators we believe that “school should be united with the life of home and family” (Froebel, in Lilley 1967). Therefore, we believe we must work with our families to support learning together in relation to the importance of play as fundamental to a child’s learning and development.

Staff have reflected that the pandemic has reduced opportunities to informally share the ‘why we do what we do’ with families. We have been limited to online tools which we feel have been less effective than a more personal in person approach.

We want to find out what families already know about our Froebelian informed pedagogy, any areas they would like to know more about, and discover any uncertainties families may have.

This academic year improvement plan has also involved a book study of Tovey’s “Bringing the Froebel Approach to your Early Years Practice”.

Methodology

We used qualitative, mixed-method, dual-perspective approaches. Written invitations were given to all participants. These explained the research’s purpose, how the information would be used, safely stored and individual anonymity protected. Written consent was obtained. A questionnaire was sent to all families. This was composed of open-ended questions. Themes emerging from the questionnaire were used as prompts in the semi-structured parent interviews. Semi-structured interviews were chosen to ensure that matters raised in the questionnaire could be investigated in the study, but follow-on questions to explore issues in more depth, could also be included. All four parents who volunteered were interviewed.

We used participatory group-based child interviews based on the Mosaic approach which covers a variety of methods, including ‘draw and tell’. It was explained to children that adults in nursery were learning how to really listen to find out what matters to children. Children were asked to take part in open ended play where they had “freedom with guidance” (Tovey, 2017). They were reminded about the project’s purpose, and they could leave at any time. Practitioners used their knowledge of individual children supported by the Leuven scale to consider children’s well-being, to ensure no child was uncomfortable whilst participating.

“Nothing gets under parent’s skin more quickly and more permanently than the illumination of his or her child’s behaviour. The effect of participation can be profound”

Athey, 1990

Findings

Children’s Reponses

We found that children were able to articulate their skills and achievements from Froebelian-influenced experiences. For example, in block play children highlighted their knowledge of mathematical language. They highlighted stacking, balancing, building structures and dramatic play. Children mentioned working alone and working collaboratively. This was replicated when children discussed other occupations i.e.  sewing, baking, drawing and clay. More children wanted to comment on playing outdoors than any other area.

Analysis – our children value and understand our Froebelian approach. They stress their enjoyment and their ability to be independent.

Parents Responses

The questionnaire was returned by 13 parents. Responding to “What is important to you about your child’s learning in nursery”. ‘Language development’ was used most frequently, by 5 parents. This was followed by both, ‘developing vocabulary’ and ‘memory’, each were raised by 4 parents, while ‘confidence’ and ‘learning rhymes’ were mentioned by 3 parents. Rating learning opportunities, 2  parents rated woodwork and sewing as very important. 5 parents rated these as not very important. All parents rated literacy and numeracy very important. 100% of parents felt outdoor play was very important. We found 2 out of 13 parents used the word ‘play’ in their responses. The interviews revealed that 3 out of 4 parents felt more formal learning was very important to avoid their child “falling behind in Primary 1” and to “help the Primary 1 teachers”. All parents felt that videos and leaflets were helpful to a limited extent. However, all felt seeing their child in nursery was the best way to understand their child’s learning.

Analysis

Findings show that what parents value, reflects our setting’s priorities. Our recent focus has been on Mother Songs. A practitioner has embedded a “1 story, 2 songs” approach for families. One parent said “1+2 is the new rule at home.” Another remarked that her child “sings all the time and knows far more songs…”. Similarly, where we have identified areas for development, sewing and woodwork, our findings show that parents value these aspects less. Moving forward a need to communicate the huge benefits to children’s development these bring. In addition, a focus on sharing with families the many benefits and the importance and value of play. Whilst advocating nurturing children’s interests and intrinsic motivations (Bruce 2021) and to celebrate what their child can do rather than what they can’t. This project tells us that children themselves are best placed to do this.

 

Conclusion

This project shows that children, can articulate and demonstrate the deep learning they experience through Froebelian inspired Gifts and Occupations through play. The data shows that when our setting prioritises sharing Froebelian approaches with families, then parents can see the benefits these approaches bring to their child’s learning and development. This could be a way to offset any parental anxieties about being “school ready”. We plan to have child led workshops showing parents the learning that takes place through sewing or playing with blocks. This is our next step to building Froebel for our Families.

Research implications

The findings from this research challenge our current pedagogy. We found that we must do more to convey ‘why we do what we do’ with our parents. This research will help us plan how to effectively communicate the benefits of our Froebelian approach to parents.  Our findings show that currently parents are anxious about their child being prepared for formal learning in school.  We need to address this and explain to parents, from the earliest opportunity, that the holistic experiences we provide, will give children the support they need now and provide the foundations for future learning. We need to provide opportunities to support parent’s understanding of the holistic developmental benefits of our Froebelian approach. Our findings have shown that children are best placed to communicate this to their parents. Our staff team were struck by the depth of children’s understanding about the skills they are learning from the Froebelian occupations they enjoy at nursery.

 

Moving forward we plan to have a monthly focus on aspects of our approach which will include a workshop for parents led by children. Our findings tell us that parents believe being with their children in nursery is the best way for them to understand what their child is learning. Findings from the research show that parents will have a better understanding of our approach by seeing learning through the eyes of their child.

 

Implications for resourcing will be mainly around time. We will prioritise staff time to ensure we can support children in showcasing and articulating their learning to parents. We will spend time on our initial home visits explaining that care and skills for life are our priorities and over time we will be able to show them how this equips children for lifelong learning.

We will take a fresh look at our policies to ensure they reflect our Froebelian values and approach. We will ensure our policy refresh have children’s voice widely reflected.

 

Beyond our setting it will be interesting to share findings with our cluster and wider authority. As a school and indeed as a local authority we embrace a play based pedagogy across the Early Level and into early primary. Realising the Ambition, our national guidance document, supports play and a Froebelian approach. It is noteworthy from our findings that we have failed to adequately communicate this with parents. Parents perceive a massive jump in formal learning between nursery and primary one. Perhaps a factor worth considering is the conflict in early primary, between the desire to promote child led, play based pedagogy and the pressure that the Scottish National Standardised Assessments bring to primary one. Is the pace of learning dictated by the assessments rather than the child? Are parents feeling the pressure of this? One parent who has an older child who has been through primary one told us that regarding learning the ‘gulf between the expectations in nursery and primary one is massive’. We need to find a way to bridge the gulf.

 

 

Practitioner enquiry

This experience has led me to feel that practitioner enquiry is an empowering tool for practitioners, which builds skills and knowledge. It supports practitioners in thinking critically and creatively. It supports collaboration between staff and with families. It helps professional reading feel meaningful.  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 enquiry.

Leadership learning

Before this course I had thought practitioner research involved a great deal of additional work and time. I was concerned that staff would find the extra workload overwhelming.

Having finished the project, I now have the opposite view. Well-designed research can be a way of saving time. It ensures time is spent focussing on what the data tells us is important, rather than what staff perceive to be important.

I gained so much from the programme, I particularly valued the opportunity to have professional discussions with colleagues from settings across Scotland. I learned so much from this. ‘Link always link.’

Author and role

Jacqueline Craig, Principal Teaching (Acting)

Comments from other network members

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

  1. Alison McCulloch
    Alison McCulloch
    18 May 2022 at 7:43 pm

    This was a really interesting read and has given me much to reflect upon in terms of how my setting could better communicate to families the Froebelian approaches we offer their children, and how they benefit from them. Without actually analysing our What Matters to Me information or formally interviewing our families, I already know there are similarities with what you have found in my setting with many of our parents/carers placing more importance on formalised learning than on ‘playful learning’ due to a lack of knowledge or misconceptions about how young children learn. There will be so much opportunity in the coming year to provide in-person family learning in our settings and providing physical evidence of how play supports learning across the curriculum and linking it to the Frobelian Principles is definitely something we had been hoping to implement too. However, your idea of workshops led by children rather than staff sounds amazing and was not something I had thought of. Your methods of child participation in your research has also inspired me, and also led me to further reflection on how my setting approaches childrens participation and if we actually spend enough time asking the children what they are learning. Thank you for sharing your research, it has provided ideas for improvements and future planning in my setting.


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  2. Gayle Robertson
    Gayle Robertson
    20 May 2022 at 5:36 pm

    What a interesting and thought provoking read ! Whilst reading your enquiry it enabled me to reflect on our setting ,our Matters to Me and what I can do to develop this further.Upon reading your enquiry I enjoy hearing about how involved the children were and made me reflect on how involved the children of my setting are in their learning .With being a new setting and staff having various Froebelian roots we are continuing to embed Froebel’s principles into our own we face a similar position with families developing a shared understanding of Froebel principles . Thank you for sharing , you have inspired lots of ideas to embed in my setting .


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  3. Gina Rendall
    Gina Rendall
    24 May 2022 at 1:43 pm

    I found myself really relating to this project. This really made me think about how I have shared my Froebelian knowledge with practitioners in my setting and families. I think the answer would be not very effectively! I really liked your context where you spoke about expectations of parents. I keep thinking that maybe we have stepped away from the read, write, count expectations but then it hits you in the face again. Play is seen as “just play” when it is, of course, fundamental to children’s development and learning. I loved that you highlighted ‘shared’ understanding of Froebelian principles, with children and families, I feel that came across really strongly in your project. I also want to read more which is a good thing!


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  4. katie smith
    katie smith
    29 Aug 2022 at 9:03 pm

    I have really enjoyed reading this project and the importance of supporting families to have a deeper understanding of ‘Play’ and Froebelian principles. It has made me reflect and gave me inspiration for moving forward this year.


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  5. Anya Wright
    Anya Wright
    14 Jun 2023 at 3:18 pm

    It’s interesting to see how you have involved families in this project. I think it’s important that parents and carers have a good understanding of the importance of play. This has lead to me reflecting on my setting and the ways we involve parents.


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