Saturday, 17 March 2018

Education Matters - Erasmus Plus Visit to Sweden. Part 1.

Thanks to funding from the British Council's Erasmus Plus KA1 funding, myself and a colleague from Primary 1 were able to travel to Norrköping in Sweden to take part in a job shadowing project in preschools who had previously sent staff to do a similar scheme in our school in 2016.

After a later start than planned, thanks to Storm Emma, we arrived in Stockholm on Monday 5th March and headed to Norrköping by train. Even though we had had some snow on and off since December, we were still enamoured by the lovely deep snow that met us upon arrival. 

We visited 5 preschools in total, 2 inner city ones, 1 very rural and 2 in the suburbs. Both of us loved the classroom set ups - small rooms off a bigger room to allow for lots of small group activity; both child and teacher led. Every preschool had a designated atelier space to allow for in depth creativity on the part of the children. The influence of Reggio was very evident in every school with white walls and lots of recycled materials used for art work. The atelier spaces were well organised and we both remarked that it would be easy to be creative when all materials were easily found.

The children were in mixed aged group classes, with the 1-3 years in one class and the 4-6 year olds in another. It was incredible to see little ones taking part in circle time and joining in with songs and action rhymes by copying their older peers as much as by following the teacher. I was very impressed by the very subtle 'teaching' that was always present during any adult/child interactions and this is very much because the teachers are degree educated with a very clear understanding of child development. There was lots of singing of old, familiar songs and nursery rhymes and lots of movement during this time. Instead of children being expected to sit for long periods on a carpet, they were actively encouraged to get up and move about. One example I enjoyed was 4-6 year olds choosing a number card from a pile (the number & corresponding dots on a hand drawn card), the child had to identify the number and show corresponding number of fingers, then on the back was an instruction e.g. find 4 blue objects, stand on one foot for 10 seconds etc. 
Another small group activity that was very effective was a numeracy 'lesson'. Each child was asked to find 4 objects, 3 had to be the same and 1 different, then they had to explain to the group what was the same and what was different. I was very impressed by the level of thinking from the children, I think that we focus on number too much when looking at maths or colour and size. These children were able to come up with explanations like "These 3 are man made and that 1 is natural" or "These 3 are real animals. that 1 is mythical"! It was obvious they were used to this type of activity and weren't just focussed on a 'right answer', they were engaged in real mathematical thinking. The skilfulness of the adult was also very evident, as the teacher was able to allow the children time to think and not prompt them when they were stalling or unwilling to take part. She also really knew the children and was able to allow a child more time if they needed it or come back to them when she knew they were more ready to take part. The most striking part was the enthusiasm of the children taking part, they were bouncing on their heels and diving forward to take their turn or finding it hard to wait for their turn. 
In the classrooms, there were small boxes of resources dotted around the room for the children to take out as needed, rather than tables set up with resources and clear activities. I guess that as children can spend up to 3 years in a room it makes sense to not have tables set up with specific activities to ensure there is no repetition or boredom.

The most surprising thing was the fact that children were allowed to be in rooms on their own, sometimes with a door closed, building with blocks or drawing large scale on the wall by tracing an image from a data projector. 
On average there were between 18-20 children per class with 3 adults, one teacher and two assistants and this certainly allowed for more small group activity and a calm atmosphere. I was impressed by the pace of the day, it was slow and very much child led and there was no rushing between activities as is often the case back home. Every activity was a learning opportunity - snack time, lunch time, getting dressed to go outside - even toileting. If I take one thing back, it's to slow down and allow the 3 & 4 year olds in my class to have more time to take in all that they are experiencing in a day. Because our children only get 1 year in each class at school, the tendency can be to try to cram too much into that year but I intend to try and slow the pace. 

A big thanks to all the staff at Sörgården, Äppellunden and Parks förskola and to the British Council for this opportunity.