Wow, wow, wow is all I could say throughout and after our day today. The Early Childhood centre (day care and Kindergarten) provided care for 80 children aged 0 to 6 and was such a delight to visit. We were ending our days in Helsinki with a bang… or rather a sigh. A sigh of love for the respect and care given to children in this place!
As we arrived we were asked to take our shoes off and take our seats in their small gym just off their entrance foyer. HOME was the first word that came to mind when walking into the daycare. I felt at home and I could imagine children felt very welcomed and loved, just by the way the environment was set up. We met the day care’s manager and one of the day care’s nurses. They started by explaining that the first thing the do with children and their families as they enter the day care is to have children work on creating and sowing their own quilts with imagines and patterns selected by them. Their own individual quilts that began their relationship, the relationship between families and the day care for the best of the child, for the care of the child. The symbol of the quilt (which children use for napping and for taking magic carpet rides) is a beautiful one. It symbolizes the individuality of each child but also the care and warmth for each one. Beautiful. I had a little knot in my throat listening to them describe the quilt and the process of making it, I must confess. The Day care manager added ¨The meaning of the quilt is that we are going in the same direction. Parents and us. Paving the way of childhood into adulthood¨. Goosebumps.
The whole visit felt like honey being poured right on to my heart. Here are my full notes of day 4 but I am not sure they can transmit the feeling!
Here are some of my A HAs but I am not sure I can put all of it into words. So please, ask me about it. I’ll be passionate to share more I am sure…
Partnership with parents– Parents, children and the day care/kindergarten staff share the responsibility for the care of the children and with one simple thing in mind. The child. Who is this child now (being) and how can we together support them in their learning path (becoming). The partnership is established early on with their quilt making and then is maintained throughout the years children are at the day care. Once the partnership is established parents participate in many other ways. They offer their expertise, they raise money for trips and extras and they dialogue with professionals about the well being and interests of the child. Individual plans are revised yearly with parents and a collaboration is established where the development of the child is followed, not pushed. Respect for childhood and the child is clear in the description of interactions amongst parents and staff and how children are listened to and given voice. Its a great collaborative effort.
Listening to children’s wishes and following them through no matter what– In August children share 6 wishes of what they want to learn. If they want to learn to fly a plane the early childhood professionals have to figure out how to teach them that. In this example, they had a parent who was a pilot and he came in and taught them everything about flying planes. The wishes are all displayed in school and parents pick what they can help with. Now that’s certainly a way to show respect for children’s interest. Never mind all the learning that take place learning to fly a plane!
It’s all about play– Play is the main means of learning here. For example every Monday the early childhood centre turns in to a small town. There is a mayor and deputy mayor and the groups of children are families and they go to different places like the shop, the library and everyone plays in the little town. Even the adults we are in character. For example, the Nurse is the mechanic who loves to learn and show children how things work. Another adult is the word lover who studies all the words and how they work. Adults dress up in their characters, talk like their characters and normally have a problem which children help them solve. As the manager described this day I could imagine the looks in children’s eyes and all the learning taking place. All through play.
The children are organized in study groups with 5-6 children in each, depending on the project that is going on. For example, lately they have been experimenting with machines, they tear them apart, discuss and look at how they work. They also work on words and rhyming. Adults explore poetry and discuss feelings through words. For example, they take children to a different, new place and ask them to create poems about this place. Inquiry at its finest.
Documentation of learning– We were able to see some examples of documentation of learning around the centre. They create a newspaper and every child is asked about certain questions (what is courage, what is love, etc) and some questions are made by the children themselves. For example children ask each other what is happiness adults write it down and create a newspaper that is sent home three times a year. We also saw folders with work that is carefully documented by the teacher. Photos of children doing different things and records of their thinking. Children create homes for their toy animals and teachers document their thoughts and observations in lots of ways. Photos below.
Young children can discuss big themes– As in the newspaper, there is a lot of evidence around the day care and kindergarten that children’s thoughts are taken seriously here. Children are asked what they think happiness is or courage is and they can describe it! Children put their thinking caps on and wonder about courage and what concerns them about that. Children have meetings once a month and they have theme and they discuss (more guided for the very little ones but done with them nonetheless).
Have a look at this video of the ECC manager reading a 4 to 5 year old’s thoughts on Courage. Courage is… https://youtu.be/86_GQ4CgYzA
Maximizing time outside– Children come in and have breakfast between 8:00-8:30 and then they go outside. To the park across the street. They play outside at least an hour a day and if they weather is nice and they are active they could be outside for 2 hours. There is a lot of research out there to support children being outside longer (see links below) and there are even some outdoor kindergartens and day cares where children are outside all the time and come in only for a snack. As we went outside to observe children play we also learnt about park nannies. These are nannies who come to the park everyday and parents can contract them to be outside with children playing. They charge parents by the hour or month and parents can go about their business of the day whilst someone watches them in the park. Many children were under the age of 2.
For more on the importance of children being outside see some of these articles:
- The Importance of Outdoor Play and Its Impact on Brain Development In Children
- Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature
- Importance of Outdoor Play at Preschool
Below are other shots of the day care with some more observations.
Wow! What a morning. We then headed back to the university to reflect on the week’s learning and give the organizers some feedback about the course itself and the different visits. Oh what a week! I think these blog posts show just a fraction of what we learnt. I know there will be more and more A HAs as we go home and digest this learning. Will try and post as they come!
And in the end. They joy of a certificate! Thank you to the lovely support and care given to us by Silja and Riina from the University of Helsinki (Centre for Continuing Education) and thank you to our wonderful group!
Inspiring for sure!