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– Does everyone play outside even when it rains?

Through the action research project ToWe, Spanish and British kindergarten teachers were given the opportunity to “shadow” their Norwegian colleagues.

Inside the kindergarten Sandvedhaugen. Spanish kindergarten teacher Maria Jose Riella together with children in the Norwegian kindergarten.

For an entire week, the Spanish and British kindergarten were able to be flies on the wall at the kindergarten Sandvedhaugen in Sandnes. They shadowed their Norwegian colleagues to see how they work, how Norwegian kindergartens operate and to pick up good practices they might bring with them back home and apply in their own kindergartens.

Testing manuals

The secondments were part of the EU project “Enhancing Opportunities for Toddlers’ Wellbeing” (ToWe). The aim is to let more kindergarten employees carry out secondments or “job shadowing” with partner kindergartens from other countries. ToWe is an action research project where the overall objective is to improve the quality of life for toddlers, with a focus on disadvantaged children, to ensure they are given a good start in life and to fulfil their learning potential.

The kindergarten teachers who are involved in the project will be able to gain new knowledge. Early childhood education departments from the University of Stavanger, Kingston University in London and Universitat Ramon Lull in Barcelona have together developed a number manuals that kindergarten employees may use to learn more about the wellbeing of children during meals, how they can work with children’s ways of expressing themselves and how they can contribute to language learning for toddlers. The material that has been developed, currently being tested in the partner kindergartens, is available on the ToWe project website

Many funny moments

During the job shadowing, the English, Spanish and Norwegian kindergarten teachers participating in the project had some revelations, and there were many moments of insight – including some funny ones.

“For me the amount of time spent outdoors in Norwegian kindergartens came as a big surprise. It was also strange to see children sleeping outside in their prams. And I must admit that I was somewhat shocked when one of the kindergarten employees said that everyone had to go out and play in the rain. My response was simply: What? Are we going out now? Isn’t it raining? I was afraid the children would get cold, but that was only until I saw the suits and rain clothing Norwegian children wear. This is not common in Spain”, says Mireia Miralpeix, who works in the kindergarten Escola Bressol Mas Balmanya outside of Barcelona.

“Although we in general have better weather, we are seldom outdoors. This is an area where we have a lot to learn from Norwegian practices, and we will probably try to facilitate more outdoor activities”, she adds. 

Different designs

The Spanish and English kindergarten teachers felt they were able to communicate with the children in spite of the language barrier. But although they were able to communicate through body language, gestures and facial expressions, it could be difficult to understand what the children were trying to say, and this could be quite frustrating at times. 

“Nor was it easy being an observer and not having the opportunity to intervene in various situations and not being allowed follow your instincts as a kindergarten teacher”, explains Sílvia Turmo.

She and her sister Natàlia run the school Petita Escola in Barcelona together. In the beginning of the secondment, they felt they were in the way, but the sisters say they became familiar with their roles as it went on. They were surprised by how differently Norwegian and Spanish kindergartens are designed.

“Spanish kindergartens usually have large, open spaces without doors where the adults have a clear view of everything, allowing them to carry out different tasks at the same time as supervising the children. This is because of the high number of children per teacher in Spanish kindergartens, and we depend on employees being able to multitask”, they say. 

Spending time with the children

Spanish kindergarten teacher Maria Jose Riella says she was impressed by the routines in the Sandvedhaugen kindergarten and that it was inspiring to experience the contact and interaction between the children and the teachers. She says it was great to see that the staff could spend so much time together with the children.

“In the kindergarten where I work one of us always has to tidy up and prepare things, which means that one adult has to take care of far too many children. This is not optimal, and I think we have to go through our routines and see if there are tasks we can solve better and thereby free up more time. During this week we have picked up a lot of things I believe would make our work day easier, such as letting the parents unpack the children’s rucksacks in the morning instead of the kindergarten staff. Implementing this as a routine would obviously have been of help to us”, she says. 

More independent

In the Norwegian partner kindergarten, Sandvedhaugen, several routines have been changed as a result of the project. Assistant manager Liv Hjertø says it was something of an eye-opener when they were introduced to a new way of approaching meals, one that may open up for more learning during mealtime in kindergartens. 

“We have made big changes as a result of the project, especially when it comes to meal practices. We have reflected a lot on conversation and communication at the meal table, both among the children themselves and with the adults. What is to be considered noise, and what is normal toddler behaviour? How do we adults talk with the children during meals, and what do we talk about? The project has made us more aware of how toddlers were being talked to instead of with during meals, and we have tried to do something about it. After encouraging more participation, independence and mastering during mealtime, we have experienced improved wellbeing among the children. And it is actually the adult’s role we have worked with and changed the most”, she says. 

Couldn’t stop smiling

According to Kathryn Hogarth from “Achieving for Children” in England, the Norwegian kindergarten children seem to be calmer and happier than their English counterparts. She also finds them more independent.

“I thought I was letting the children be able to do things by themselves where I work until I observed a toddler trying to mount a swing. She was having problems getting her feet beneath herself, and I hurried to assist her. One of the Norwegian kindergarten teachers then stopped me and said I should let the little girl try on her own. She held the swing steady and let the girl climb until she had managed to mount it. She couldn’t stop smiling and was so proud of what she had achieved”, she says. 

The Spanish and English kindergarten teachers in the project believe it is possible to learn a lot from each other’s practices, despite the big cultural differences between the various countries.

“We have a lot to learn when it comes to preparing children for school. In the Norwegian kindergarten there were three girls who were going to a different school than the other children, and they sat at their own table during lunch. It looked like they were at a dinner party, and they were really enjoying themselves”, says Mireia Miralpeix.


Text and photos: Maria Gilje Torheim