Starting kindergarten is a big step for tiny tots. It’s where they make friends, learn about the world and develop skills in a controlled environment. As parents, educators, policy makers and concerned citizens how do you check if all is going well? Professor Jyrki Reunamo at the University of Helsinki has created an ideal instrument to explore what really happens in early childhood education. Let’s take a closer look at what the tiny humans are up to, and how we can use this information.
Why do we need to know?
In Finland there is no standardized testing within early childhood education and care (ECEC). Children are evaluated through pedagogical observation, discussions with the child and parents, as well as self-evaluation by the child.
- How is this information gathered on children within kindergartens impacting their learning and development?
- How is a child influencing the activities he or she is involved in?
- Can we measure the development of one child compared to another, or those within his or her class, kindergarten, city, country and the whole world?
Professor Jyrki Reunamo at the University of Helsinki and Sanna Lukander, CEO of Fun Academy
- How are teachers and the kindergarten environment related to activities a child is engaging in?
- How do we get information to create early childhood development (ECD) policies that support children in the best possible way?
Bottom line is to get a holistic understanding of a child we need to know what exactly is happening in the kindergarten. More importantly, we need to know how lessons, activities and routines within an early years setup are correlated with ECD outcomes. This is where the Orientation Project steps in to provide excellent auditing tools.
How do we find out?
We are in no way advocating for standardized testing within kindergartens. On the contrary, we believe in focusing on the ‘how’ of learning. What’s important is to ensure the child is safe, happy, healthy and curious to learn more about the world. In line with the same thinking, the Orientation project is an observation-based research into ECEC. Pedagogical observation is one of the most effective ways to evaluate young children. The child can act freely within her natural learning environment, while she is pedagogically observed and documented in a noninvasive way. The Orientation Project has over the last 10 years collected such information with the help of expertly trained observers. During this time cities within Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have participated in the research. The result; the ability to develop early education based on real-time feedback.
What exactly happens in kindergartens?
The Orientation Project unveiled a large volume of highly specific and real time data related to ECEC practices. Below are few observations to get you started.
In 2015, according to data gathered from the Helsinki Metropolitan area on the level of ‘physical activeness’ of preschoolers –
- Children were only physically active during 1/10th of their time in the Kindergarten.
- Time of physical activity fluctuated drastically between children from an average of 4.8 minutes, to 2 hours and 43 minutes per day.
- Boys were physically active 55 minutes per day, while girls were only active for 40 minutes.
- The difference between boys and girls were larger among children from immigrant backgrounds. Boys were active for 59 minutes per day, while the girls spend only 36 minutes.
Armed with this information educators of the Helsinki Metropolitan area can take a closer look at their ECEC practices. First and foremost, the science of learning confirms that physical activity is essential for children’s development. Thus, educators can decide if children need to be more active during a kindergarten day. They can explore why some groups of children such as girls and girls from immigrant backgrounds are less active that their peers.
It was for instance observed that girls get lighter tools and toys, and play by themselves more. Therefore, they need more weighty equipments, as well as encouraged to be more physically active.
Observations carried out simultaneously within Kindergartens in Taiwan, also presented equally interesting information. For example, a child carrying a piece of timber from one place to another, learns about mathematics, and the concepts of scale and weight better, than by studying numbers from a book. Thus, children learn more effectively by engaging in relevant physically challenging activity.
Where do we go from here?
As mentioned before, currently multiple cities across the world are participating in this research. Physical activity is not the only area the research is focused on. It also captures mealtime, nap time, role play and every moment within the kindergarten. Play itself is studied in different contexts such as indoors, outdoors, independent and controlled.
As a result we are able to compare and contrast observation-based results internationally, together with cultural factors. It may for instance unveil that children’s participation during mealtime was 30% in location X, compared to location Y where it was 70%.
However, it does not say which is better and worse, or right and wrong. Kindergarten heads, teachers and parents have the liberty to look at the data from a cross national perspective, compare it with science of learning as well as ECD goals, and decide the best way forward. The Orientation Project provides practical and meaningful instruments for researching, monitoring and evaluating early learning. Together with the Fun Learning approach, we hope to take the Reunamo method to our partners and collaborators across the world.
Find out more about our Fun Learning approach and the brilliant partners who are collaborating with us.