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Playful Learning

Towards a More Intentional Practice in Norwegian Preschool Groups

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Location: Rogaland and Drammen, Norway

Sample: 1300 children in 96 preschool centers  

Timeline:  2017 - 2035

Target Group: Five-year-olds during their last year in preschool

Outcome of Interest: Achievement in mathematics, language and executive functioning at end of pre-school. Long-term achievements in school.

Intervention: Introduce an intentional and systematic pedagogical practice stimulating school readiness skills

AEA RCT Registration Number:  AEARCTR-0003852

Data: Achievements in language, mathematics, and executive functioning pre-intervention and post-intervention, and registry data on family background and school achievement.

Principal Investigators: Ingunn Størksen and Mari Rege

Investigators: Ingunn Størksen, Mari Rege, Ingeborg Foldøy Solli, Dieuwer ten Braak, Ragnhild Lenes, John Geldhof

Funders: The Research Council of Norway

Policy Issue

Many children arrive at the start of their formal schooling falling behind on cognitive and socio-emotional skills that are critical for school adjustment. Despite Norway’s generous welfare system, there is a substantial gap in learning outcomes between children of advantaged and disadvantaged families . Due to the pedagogical practice in many preschools, we may be missing a key opportunity to narrow these gaps. The framework plan of Norwegian daycare centers (Rammeplanen) consists of important values and principles for good teacher practices that are meant to stimulate children’s skills, creativity and sense of wonder. However, it does not fully reflect international empirical evidence from the early childhood education and care literature, linking an intentional practice with key curricular foci to successful child development. Moreover, there are limited scientifically based tools and resources, on which teachers in the Norwegian daycare context can rely when creating an intentional practice with a curricular foci. This project aims to help Norwegian preschool teachers develop a more intentional and systematic practice stimulating skills that are critical for adjusting to school and for later-life success, and investigate how this change in practice affects child development.

Context

In Norway all children at ages one through five have the right to attend publicly regulated and subsidized preschool before compulsory schooling starts at age six. The uptake is very high; 97 percent of all five year olds are enrolled in preschool, the age of the targeted children in this study. Children are typically organized in mixed age groups and, by regulation, children ages three to five have at least one college-educated preschool teacher and two assistants per 18 children. The program is dominated by the social pedagogical tradition; it refrains from adopting a curricular focus, instead expecting teachers to facilitate learning through spontaneous engagement, interaction and free play, and through crafts projects and story time. Preschool centers are expected to prepare the five-year-olds for transition to school, however, there is no specific curriculum defining the type and content of, or time spent on, activities for this age group.

Intervention

The intervention consists of a nine-month comprehensive curriculum, called Playful Learning, with age-appropriate intentional skill-building activities in mathematics, language, executive functioning and social skills. A playful learning approach permeates all the activities, and the curriculum emphasizes a warm and responsive child-teacher relationship. This new curriculum is accompanied by teacher training in how to implement it. The teachers were expected to spend at least eight hours a week for nine months (almost the full preschool year) engaging the five-year-olds in the curriculum.

The Playful Learning Curriculum was developed in a previous research project called the Agder Project. This project emphasized user involvement from teachers in the development of the curriculum, and the teacher received extensive teacher training. As such, the intervention in the Agder-project cannot be scaled up at a low cost. Playful Learning is taking the Agder-project to the policy level, since we investigate if it is possible to help teachers towards a more intentional practice in a way that is easily scalable at a low cost. Our teachers adapt an existing curriculum. Moreover, as a substitute for the extensive teacher training in the Agder-project, they receive a one-day training seminar, in addition to a video bank with videos illustrating best practice in the learning activities. Finally, during implementation teachers received weekly electronic nudges that reminded them to give special attention to children with lower skills within early math, language, and executive functioning.

Experimental Design

We investigate effects of the intentional practice intervention in an RCT with 96 participating daycare centers. We randomly split the centers between a control and a treatment group using block randomization based on municipality and size of preschool centers. Treated centers receive the curriculum , in addition to a one day seminar and complementary web resource. The preschool centers in the control group continue with business-as-usual, but teachers received the seminar and intervention material two years later. We assess the children’s skills in language, mathematics, and executive functioning pre-intervention and post-intervention. In all assessments, the tester is trained and certified in the assessment tools, and blind to treatment status. In addition to the assessment organized by the researchers, we also investigate effects on official mapping tests conducted by schools, and registry data on long-term school achievement.

Results and Policy Implications

First publication on trial is expected in the fall 2020