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Preschool conditions limit the influence of children

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The influence of children is a central goal in preschools. But in practice, it is subordinated to the competing goals of the curriculum and the other needs of the organisation. This has been shown in a new doctoral thesis that calls for an in-depth discussion of what children's influence means.

Children's influence is strongly emphasized in the preschool curriculum. It states, among other things, that children should be given opportunities to take responsibility, that children's interests should be taken into account in planning and that children should develop the ability to understand and act according to democratic principles.

– I know from my own experience as a preschool teacher and from later conversations with teachers in preschools that it is difficult in practice to find suitable ways in which to incorporate children's influence. That is why I wanted to investigate how preschools work with children's influence in practice, and in what way that work is affected by the framework and conditions of the organisation, says Carina Peterson, University Lecturer at the University of Borås and a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg.

Children's influence is subordinated to the other goals of the preschool
In her study, Carina Peterson observed the efforts of two preschools to give children influence over the course of one year. Above all, she has studied activities that the teachers initiated to give the children influence. There have been different types of choice situations, where the children were able to choose one of several activities, and also where the children were able to vote which book the teachers should read to them, for example.

– Choice situations were described by the teachers as a way of giving children influence. But in actual fact, they ultimately controlled the children, in terms of time, space and activity, by guiding the children into planned activities and to a certain action, says Carina Peterson, and she continues:

– It became clear that there are competing requirements in the curriculum in the form of knowledge content and skills development towards which the children need to be guided, and that the preschool's need for social order and to organise the children in terms of time and space superseded the importance of children's influence.

Voting created misunderstandings and resistance
When it comes to voting, teachers often gave too few and unclear instructions. As a result, the children did not understand what the votes were about, how they should vote, how the results were formed and whether the vote was a majority vote or an individual choice. Furthermore, they could be used to create peace and quiet by making the children adapt to the collective.

– The majority decisions largely meant that the children were trained to suppress their own desires and needs in favour of adapting to the needs and desires of others, says Carina Peterson.

The teachers try to balance different requirements
Carina Peterson concludes that the intentions of the policy documents concerning the influence of children clash with the other requirements and conditions of the preschool. She hopes that the study contributes to an in-depth discussion.

– The teachers were aware that, in their work, they balance these conditions with the part of the curriculum that concerns children's influence. The influence of children is a complex and difficult concept. We need to discuss the extent to which children should be allowed to govern, control and influence the activities, and to what extent teachers need to govern, control and influence children based on the preschool's diverse remits. Only then can sustainable and qualitative work regarding the influence of children be carried out.

Carina Peterson will be defending her doctoral thesis on May 29, 2020 at 13:00. The doctoral thesis was completed within the framework of the Graduate Research School in Educational Sciences at the Centre for Education Science and Teacher Research, CUL, University of Gothenburg.

Title:
Val – omröstning – styrning (Choice – Voting – Governing). En etnografisk studie om intentioner med, villkor för och utfall av barns inflytande i förskolan (An ethnographic study of intentions, conditions and outcomes of children's influence in preschool)

Contact: Carina Peterson, phone: 033 – 435 4576, email: carina.peterson@hb.se