Monday, 23 April 2012

Democracy and Freedom in the Early Years and Beyond

Democracy and Freedom in a Swedish

I have visited and worked with a number of  Swedish preschools during the past 5 years and my experience is that their thinking about democracy and freedom is central to their work with children.
Last week I visited a preschool in Gothenburg,  and interviewed Maria a teacher in a team of three who works with 4 and 5 year olds. The philosophy of this particular school is inspired by Reggio Emilia.. Maria, tells me:

“Democracy and freedom come together”

“The children have clear rules and these rules are changeable”

“We don’t say no unless it is dangerous”

“We can be in rooms alone and we trust children to do the same”

 Groups of children alone in rooms is not something that would be allowed here in the UK, but in Sweden I have seen this many times. Children calm and confident working together and it might be quite sometime before an adult returns to see how they are doing. 

Maria tells me that if we can be in rooms alone so can they, we trust them, she says, they know the rules which are very clear and they know that if they break them they cant be in the area. 

We are standing in the Art area when she tells me that this is an area where children can be trusted to work for quite substantial periods without adult intervention – say 20 minutes…it is well organised and stocked with paints, paper and collage materials, much of the material is in glass containers.

I ask her about conflicts and  she says again that  we trust them, we don’t feel stressed about them at all, we believe that children are inherently good and want to learn and they care for each other. 

In this area she tells me it is so calm, they sometimes all complete a piece of work as a group, which will be on a large piece of paper.

The only conflicts that occur are maybe that the room might be untidy, or there maybe paint on the walls, but this is ok, they learn and we all clean this together.

Mainly conflicts that occur are outside, when the play is more physical. They know its not acceptable to use language that provokes another to protect themselves or games that are required to be someone underneath or on top, if this happens Maria says they have to talk about it and they know this.


Once a week the children have a meeting to discuss their questions about rules, concerns etc . One child will chair the meeting and will record the question and the decisions. All children vote on decisions using their name on lego pieces, a tower is built as the voting takes place, this makes it easier for them to see where the most votes are.  Maria tells me that mostly, the children are able to do this completely alone. 

This week they voted on being allowed to bring in toys from home. Previously they have not been allowed to do this. It was interesting said Maria because when this happened, they found that the noise was very loud, many of them bought toys in that made a sound. They met together again and agreed that volumes needed to be turned down, or batteries removed. 

There have been many questions/concerns discussed and decisions made during the past few weeks. I saw the notes of each meeting.

These  included :

  • Its too crowded in here at registration
  • Some people don’t flush the chain in the toilet
  • Why don’t we have pizza for lunch?
Maria clearly explained the process that the children followed in each case and the extensive work that was undertaken to resolve issues that concern them they were involved in discussions, reading, interviewing etc….these are just some of the things we talked about…she told me much more about how they share information with parents and specifically how they do this via technology, how they keep individual records, undertake projects and what are the most important qualities and skills needed by the teaching team… if you are interested to read or hear more…do let me know and I will continue to share..

Children are the living messages
we send to a time we will not see-
 Author John W Whitehead

For children to be able to work in this way (and I'm not suggesting that we leave them to work alone in rooms) they need to develop language and thinking skills and the social and emotional capabilities for partnership, equality, mutuality,  solving problems and discussing their concerns etc ..they need a host of skills and competencies that are grown primarily from innate human potentials (to be nurtured from the inside out.) It is our job to support this process of development, helping them to express themselves as unique individuals who have the confidence, creativity, passion and empathy to know their own views and be able to listen to others … and it seems to me that this requires all of us..parents, teachers, practitioners, social workers work with ourselves around these skills and competencies too, how can we nurture these capacities in children if we don’t practice them ourselves..

If you would like to know more see:!/tracyseed

or contact me directly to learn more about the work I am doing here in UK.

 More from Sweden soon!!

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