Instinct to Insight

Project author:

Project summary:


An exploration of what interest, knowledge and practice changes occur after given opportunities to experience and discuss Froebelian Principles in a variety of ways.


The key focus of this project was to compare how staff perceived themselves before having experiences related to Froebel principles in practice and after experiencing them – and using evidence of observations, see if this impacted their practice positively. .


It was hoped staff would develop a deeper understanding of and improve overall practice relating to the principle of autonomous learners, using what they had experienced and learned, and consider how we as a team and individually can provide quality consistently.


This enquiry was needed for me to better understand the reasons for inconsistency of quality of practice within the team and tackle an unconscious focus by staff on managing children’s learning.


I had considered most staff to be knowledgeable and nurturing educators; very experienced in their roles as ELC practitioners with 3 having over 20 years’ experience. Almost all staff were fully qualified but had taken different pathways to achieve that, in different periods of time as early years approaches changed and evolved in education from the 1980s onwards. This meant everyone had a valuable contribution to make and demonstrated varying strengths in practice that I could link to the Froebel approach but there was not a shared understanding of how autonomous learning supports attainment and wellbeing.  They didn’t align themselves with Froebel and no one used the language of the Principles within the setting.

We had been working on improving the consistency of quality of practice particularly in supporting learners to problem solve and be autonomous, using Health and Social Care Standards and QIs from How Good is our Early Learning and Childcare (HGIOELC) to evaluate. This had only been partially successful with some staff as most continued to focus on the managing of learning and instructing, rather than autonomy and guidance. I felt frustrated and had to find a way to inspire staff to learn and improve.

I had to consider that completing the research was during a very busy period of the nursery year December to March, with holiday periods and new children starting. I considered the timescales and availability of learning opportunities for staff to develop and experience Froebelian practice and approaches within working hours and how I would ensure cover for staff out during the nursery day.

I used initial questionnaires to gather a baseline of staff knowledge and perception of their practice. I used termly practice observations to compare and evaluate the ‘before’ (December) and ‘after’ (February) impact on practice. I utilised an authority inset training day to secure places at the Froebelian based Showcase event where staff attended 2 workshops, as well as choosing 3 staff to do a Woodwork workshop delivered by Pete Moorehouse.

I arranged for almost all staff to visit local nurseries who are further down the road with developing the Froebelian Approach to see the impact and discuss how challenges were resolved. I visited Cowgate Under 5s to see how they use the Froebelian Approach in practice and environment.


In keeping with our team ethos I invited all staff to participate in the project, rather than choosing anyone. The project was explained and introduced via a short presentation before consents were given out. I gained consent from my head teacher to complete the project and on my gatekeeping consent I ensured I detailed the purpose of why, what it included, desired impact on practice and how I would maintain equity and confidentiality throughout.

I ensured there was always choice of what activity or experience staff did and cover provided for activities that were during the nursery day so that provision was not impacted negatively or compromised.

I allowed time between initial questionnaire and activities for people to change their mind and also allowed a period of time afterwards before asking for the final questionnaire, so staff were not rushed.

All documentation was secured in a locked drawer in my office throughout and cross shredded after us.

‘I experienced how much I enjoyed being autonomous, it was very good being creative!’


The initial questionnaire revealed that most staff had a basic knowledge of Froebel and the Principles that underpin his approach based on current national frameworks created around them. Most staff perceived that their current practice demonstrated Froebelian Principles only a little or sometimes when supporting children’s learning, and 4 stated they didn’t know how beneficial it was to consider Froebelian Principles in practice, despite them underpinning our national framework document Realising the Ambition.  It emerged that almost all staff had not completed any training in Froebel and that time was the main barrier. This showed me the reasons why I had been struggling to effect a change in practice.

Practice observations in December showed many strengths that linked to principles. The weakest area needing development in practice was supporting learning effectively where it was child led, scaffolded and with appropriate challenge and effectively communication used aka being that knowledgeable and nurturing educator encouraging autonomous learning.

Sharing the principles with staff verbally and via the poster and the language used in them led to me hearing it more, sometimes stand alone and sometimes linking it to familiar language of HGIOELC quality indicators.

All staff reflected that the visits to other settings further developed their understanding of the benefits of using that approach and how it can be achieved in the environment quite simply. I found my visit inspired me more to continue the journey and further deepened my insight into the vastness of the approach. Staff created a big book to document with photos what they observed and recorded, what they took from the experience and a full discussion took place, leading to us thinking about uniqueness and discussing where our own first names came from. Staff were beginning to connect with the principles and understand why changes should be made.


After the showcase workshops of clay, sewing, campfires and STEM and the woodwork workshop staff enthusiastically described and discussed what they did and how they felt learning new skills and exploring their own creativity and problem solving as autonomous learners. The link between presentations at the show case and activities experienced deepening their understanding of the impact for the learner being autonomous in a holistic way for wellbeing and also learning. Some of the quotes from the final questionnaire at the end of the project from staff.  ‘I brought in seaweed, shells and pebbles from our local beach for the water tray’. ‘(I will be) encouraging children to explore in their own way’, ‘(I need to ) become more a guider than an instructor’, ‘(I will be) allowing children to problem solve for themselves’, ‘(I learned about)  creativeness with more freedom, no boundaries in how things are created, more about the journey than the end product’.

After the experiences, staff perceived themselves to be more Froebelian stating ‘mostly’ in the final questionnaire, with 4 staff indicating they are interested in doing additional Froebel training / courses which is a breakthrough.

The practice observations conducted after my project input showed a clear improvement of frequency and consistency of staff encouraging autonomy in learning and using communication and more playful behaviours in stepping in and back to scaffold and challenge.





In conclusion, it is apparent that our ELC staff do want to learn about and become more Froebelian and that as learners themselves enjoyed what they experienced across the project. It helped them understand being an autonomous learner more deeply by experiencing it regardless of whether that was positive or negative.


The staff are receptive to becoming more Froebelian in many ways and have a range of interests that have been ignited by the project that before had never been explored or highlighted. Staff are willing to be challenged as learners themselves.


I feel able to link practice and environment to Froebel without feeling that they don’t understand.


Going forward it will help us to use the Froebelian Self Evaluation tool as a team to identify our collective strengths and gaps and create a long term plan of who, what and how we can continue to introduce a Froebelian Approach across nursery.

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. Kirsty Tomlin
    Kirsty Tomlin
    25 Mar 2024 at 3:44 pm

    Thats brilliant that after the staff had the opportunity to have different experiences that they could see for themselves how Froebel could be implemented into the setting, Its great to read that the staff also felt more confident and you could see a change their their development. I hope this continues

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