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Group size and organisational conditions for children’s learning in preschool: a teacher perspective.

Journal article
Authors Sonja Sheridan
Pia Williams
Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson
Published in Educational Research
Volume 56
Issue 4
Pages 379–397
ISSN 0013-1881
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Pages 379–397
Language en
Keywords preschool; preschool teachers; group size; structural aspects; organisation; learning
Subject categories Educational Sciences


Background: There is a limited amount of research about group size in preschool, and how it impacts on teachers’ working conditions and their ability to support children’s learning and knowledge development in line with curriculum intentions. Purpose: From a perspective on quality, this article examines the organisational conditions for children’s learning in preschool in relation to group size. The questions at issue are: how do teachers explain how they organise the child group and the learning environment in preschool, and why? Sample: The sample consists of 12 preschools from different parts of Sweden. The preschools selected for the study are stratified in order to represent small and large group sizes in Swedish preschools as defined by the Swedish National Agency for Education. The sample contains both urban and rural regions and represents districts that differ geographically, demographically, ethnically, and which include varied socioeconomic structures. The 12 preschools had children in three age groupings: 1–3, 3–5 or 1–5. The number of children in the participating preschools ranged from 12 children to 45 children, with seven of the preschools having more than 30 children in their groups. Design and method: The article is based on interactionist perspectives, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, a critical ecology of the early childhood profession, theories of children’s learning, and four dimensions of pedagogical quality. Together, these theoretical perspectives contribute to an understanding of the relationships between policy issues, educational goals, group size and teachers’ competence in organising and creating conditions for children’s learning. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with two teachers from each of the 12 preschools. The interviews lasted between 40–60 minutes and were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The analytical process was conducted in three steps and can be described as an analytical process of abduction. The four dimensions of pedagogical quality were used as analytical lenses to discern and understand critical aspects related to the teachers’ understanding of group size. Result: Irrespective of group size, most of the children participate in different group constellations throughout the day, some organised by the teachers and some by the children themselves. Teachers’ competence to organise the children in such ways that good conditions for learning were created, differed between preschools, and depended on the teachers’ approach, which can be described as either intentional or unintentional learning. Conclusion: Teachers’ organisational approaches influence the quality of the preschool and conditions for children’s learning in distinct ways.

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