Drawing on evidence from at least two different countries, compare and contrast, the pedagogical and philosophical approaches, of 21st century early years educational provision
This assignment will explore and analyse two different approaches used within the Early Years and why they are used. The two approaches that will be discussed are, the United Kingdom and the Forest Schools of Denmark. Theory from Piaget, Vygotsky, Bandura and the Montessori approach will be included, along with several others, and their ideas will be linked to UK and Denmark’s pedagogical approaches. Furthermore, the two approaches will be compared and contrasted to see if they share any pedagogy, or if they are entirely different to one another.
The Early Years is seen as the key time for learning, as it is the most important years for a child’s development; Piaget (1962) believed that children go through stages of cognitive development in the Early Years, meaning a good, rich and strong source of learning is essential in the first few years of a child’s life. According to the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) (2005) the UK does not have an official or set pedagogical approach, and instead has incorporated other countries approaches into their own. However the United Kingdom does have several policies in place for the teaching of the Early Years, and these could be argued to be the UK’s joint pedagogical approach. The main policy was brought into legislation in 2008 by the Department for Education and is called The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This replaced the former statute, Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, and the Birth to Three Matters Framework, which was not statutory law (DfE, 2012). The Curriculum Guidance began from after a child’s third birthday to the end of their reception year, and it had six specific areas. These were: personal, social and emotional development; communication; language and literacy; mathematics; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development and creative development (DfE 2000). Birth to Three Matters had four key aspects: a strong child; a skilful communicator; a competent learner and a healthy child. This approach focused more on what activities could be carried out to enhance these areas of learning (Sure Start: DfE, 2002). The EYFS created six specific areas of learning; communication; language and literacy; personal, social and emotional development; problem solving, reasoning and numeracy; understanding of the world and creative development (DfE, 2012). At first glance these areas appear to be the same as the Curriculum Guidance, but, communication, language and literacy have been combined; mathematics has changed to numeracy, problem solving and reasoning, meaning a wider range of learning opportunities.
One of the first types of early year’s education and care in the UK was by that of Robert Owen. He believed that education was extremely important and so built the world’s first nursery (New Lanark kids, n.d). Bradburn (1966) stated that Owen was an idealist, but knew that society needed to change in order to create communities that worked together to help one another, rather than carry out activities for self-interest or personal gain.
During the Second World War, the Early Years started to be noticed as important (Payler, J, Georgeson, J and Wickett, K (n.d) cited by Georgeson, J and Payler, J). This was due to the fact that mothers had to go to work in the factories so their babies and toddlers needed caring for, and so, nurseries began to open. However there were no legislations or need for qualifications to look after children at this time, so the quality of education was likely very poor (ibid). This suggests that the UK still did not recognise that the actual child’s learning was important, only that they were fed, changed and watched over so that their mothers could work. However, the work of theorists such as Piaget showed the importance of the Early Years, and the United Kingdom’s philosophical view on education in modern day is to make children school ready (ibid and DfE 2012). However this suggests again that the UK is still focussed on the economy rather than the child’s learning, as it could be suggested the UK is making sure that our young children get a good education in order to set them up for a good job that will eventually pay back into society.
The suggestion that the UK’s pedagogical approach is to make children ‘school ready’ links in with another theorist. Tina Bruce believes that quality curriculum is made up of three major facts – the child, the context and the content. She is also very positive towards the idea of free flow play. This is where children can roam about a setting and take part or interact with anything – meaning they can choose what they want to play with (Bruce, 2010:284 cited in Moyles, 2010). This links to the UKs pedagogical approach as the EYFS focuses on providing activities that let children explore and understand the world in a creative way (DfE, 2012) and this links with Bruce’s 3 facts of the child, the context and the content as it allows the child to access information through in their own way.
Vygotsky created the Zone of Proximal Development theory to a child’s learning, this links to the EYFS as Vygotsky believed that children learn by the help from the adults around them and other more abled peers (Vygotsky, 1978). The EYFS provides enabling environments and ensures that each child gets the right level of work for their ability, meaning that the child is within their ZPD.
The UK also has a policy set up called Every Child Matters (ECM), this was created after the death of Victoria Climbѐ and was designed to improve the lives of children. They aim to do this by keeping children safe and healthy, giving them a good economic well-being, helping children to enjoy life and achieve the highest they can and teaching them to be positive towards their community. The policy recognised that early prevention was needed to stop poverty, poor education and abuse, and that if any child showed signs of difficulties in their life, early intervention can help them overcome these problems (ECM, 2003).
So overall, the UKs view of childhood appears to be that the children of today are Britain’s future workforce and that, in order for them to be a strong workforce that brings in money for the economy, they must have a good education which includes a good start in the early years. It could be suggested that although the UK does have a strong Early Years curriculum, the EYFS and also ECM, that this is purely for the economy and not for making children safer. This is possibly seen also in the fact that ECM was introduced after the death of a child – which could make the controversial suggestion that education is seen as more important than a child’s safety in the UK.
Denmark soon adopted the idea of forest schools for pre-school children after Sweden first developed it. This pedagogical approach has high adult to child ratios meaning that children can do more activities that may be considered dangerous in a UK school with lower ratios (Waterproof World, 2005-2013). In forest schools the children go into natural outdoor areas, mainly forests. They take no toys with them, only themselves, warm and waterproof clothing, tools and matches. Within these schools the children are free to do as they please in the outdoor environment, some climb, others may build or light fires and this links with Tina Bruce’s idea of free flow play (Bruce, 2010: 284 cited in Moyles, 2010).
Denmark’s Early Years curriculum came into legislation in 2004; since then, all educational facilities has had to incorporate a plan into their day that covers six areas of learning, these are: overall personal development; social development; language; body and movement; nature and natural phenomena and cultural expression and values (Williams-Siegfredsen, nd). This is similar to the UK, however the Danish curriculum focusses more on learning through nature.
There is strong research to suggest that this outdoor learning is extremely beneficial to a child. It boosts self-esteem and confidence, strengthens relationships, gives children lifelong skills, enhances communication and language, and of course there is the physical aspect of exercise (Massey, n.d). Thomas and Harding (2011 cited in White, 2011) found that the physical aspect of forest schools increases the flow of blood to the brain; this increases brain activity. They also state that the use of tools, large equipment and playing in the forest aids them in the development of fine motor skills and hand/eye co-ordination. Thomas and Harding (ibid) also state that it enhances a child’s cognitive development, as activities in the forest mean the children have to solve problems. It also increases their observational skills as they are more alert in open areas.
Many theorists have influenced the creation of forest schools and have agreed that this outdoor learning is a beneficial pedagogical approach, one of these theorists in Friedrich Froebel. Frobel believed that humans are productive and creative beings, and he thought that we develop these characterises in harmony with God and the outside world (Frobel, 1826). Another theorist is Maria Montessori, she strongly believed in outdoor play in the Early Years and suggested that children are all unique and that their individual development is a mystery:
“This fashioning of the human personality is a secret work… All that we know is that he has the highest potentialities, but we do not know what he will be. He must ‘become incarnate’ with the help of his own will.” (Montessori, 1966: 32)
This quote from Montessori shows how she believed that all children have the potential to be great, but that they need the self-confidence and motivation to get there, and she suggests that outdoor learning is the key to this.
All of this suggests that the Danish view on childhood seems to be much more about the child’s learning and development, rather than the economy. However, because the children get a strong, rich and diverse curriculum out in the open, and although their reading skills are not ranked as highly as other countries, the children value social and emotional development very highly (Bennett, 2009).
Although these two pedagogical approaches seem very different, there are a few similarities between them. Firstly, the UK has started to adopt the idea of forest schools. There are approximately 100 forest schools in England and a further 20 in both Wales and Scotland; some of these are private schools but many are run by the Local Education Authorities (Forestry Commission, 2014). However, even though there are forest schools emerging, it is a new way for children to learn and some parents are very wary of their children using ‘grown up’ tools. But as the Forest Schools Education (2014) states, children are to feel safe both mentally and physically and also a full risk assessment is carried out each day. On the same topic, another similarity between the UK and Denmark’s pedagogical approach is shown in the following quote:
“Wherever possible, there should be access to an outdoor play area, and this is the expected norm for providers. In provision where outdoor play space cannot be provided, outings should be planned and taken on a daily basis (unless circumstances make this inappropriate, for example unsafe weather conditions)” (DfES, 2006).
This quote from the DfES says that children will not go outside if the weather is bad, and this is also true of Denmark’s forest schools. Even though the popular saying amongst forest school leaders is: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” (Farstad, 2005: 15), children will not go out in high winds in case of falling branches, but this is the only weather that stops them.
With the UK starting to bring forest schools into light and showing how they enhance a child’s pre-school development, this could mean that in the future more forest schools will open across England, Wales, Northen Ireland and Scotland. This could result in the EYFS being changed to match that of the Danish curriculum in forest schools, meaning that forest schools could become the leading form of nursery in the UK. However for this to happen, laws would have to be passed, parents would need reassuring that these outdoor nurseries are safe and beneficial, and teachers would have to be trained in how to teach in a forest school; all of this costs time and money, which makes this future change something that would take years to achieve.
One major difference between these two pedagogical approaches is how the education of children is valued. In the UK it can be suggested that the EYFS exists purely to ensure a stable future economy; the UK also has the second youngest age for starting school at the age of five, with most countries starting their children at six or seven (nfer, 2013). This could also be another sign that the UK puts its children through the Early Years at a young age so that they can start their learning, and be at an advantage for Reception and Key Stage One. Whereas in Denmark, children do not start school until the age of seven, this age used to be six but was changed to seven in 2008 (ibid). The first year of school in Denmark is also pre-primary education, so it could be argued that their schooling does not start officially until the age of eight. This pre-school year is the child’s transition from kindergarten or forest schools, to primary schools (AngloInfo, 2014). In the UK the reception class is our version of Denmark’s pre-primary school, however, with the UK’s reception children being only four or five, this can be problematic as the children are still in their key development years, and some children may still have separation problems, may not be fully potty trained and may just not be developed enough for school at that age. In their 2012 report, Ofsted said that one third of children at the age of five were not school ready (Paton, 2012) suggesting that the school starting age may need to be reconsidered and changed to six or seven like Denmark and many other countries.
This developmental difference in school starting ages between the two countries could mean a future change in the legislation for the UK, as there are many cases and plenty of evidence to suggest that five is too low for children to be starting school. Denmark’s pedagogical approach with children starting school one or two years after the UK seems to be the more favoured age amongst many countries, and this also allows for children to develop more and be more ‘school ready’.
A similarity between Denmark and the UK is their social pedagogy. A report in 2005 on pedagogy in the UK stated that: “While they are together, children and staff are seen as inhabiting the same life space, not as existing in separate, hierarchical domains” (TCRU, 2005: 3). This shows how the UK appears to take more of a children learning through interactions with an adult approach, and this links to Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. Bandura noted that children appear to imitate the behaviour of those around them, suggesting that children need to be in an environment with adults or more able peers to show them how to behave and learn (Bandura, 1971). Similarly in the Danish forest schools, children are encouraged to play together in order for them to learn from one another.
This social pedagogy is seen in both Denmark and the UK, and evidence from theorists such as Bandura and Vygotsky has suggested it to be a great learning technique in the Early Years.
The final comparison between the two pedagogies is the adult to child ratios. In the UK children in the Early Years under one year of age need one adult to every three children, aged one is one adult to three children, aged two is one adult to four children and over age two and to the end of early years is one adult to eight OR thirteen children (DfE, 2013). This differs from Danish forest schools as they do not have a legal requirement for adult to child ratios. However, they are normally very high and this means that children can explore areas of woodland, and take part in activities that would normally be deemed unsafe with low adult to child ratios; they can do this while feeling safe and secure (Waterproof World. (2005 – 2013 and DfE, 2013). However, it is to be assumed that these ratios differ so much because of the environments the approaches take place in. The UK’s pedagogical approach is much more indoor based, whereas forest schools are almost always outdoors; they may have small huts or shelters to eat in if the weather is very bad but only then will they be indoors. In a classroom, children can only go so far, so less adults are needed to watch and teach them. But in the great outdoors, children can wander out of sight very quickly, meaning it is necessary for forest schools to have a much higher adult to child ratio. But, this could then suggest that children in the UK are not getting enough social interactions from adults in Early Years settings than that of Danish children, and this could result in a lower quality of learning and development.
These different ratios could affect the future of pedagogy and how it is valued as if it is found that higher adult to child ratios have a positive impact on a child’s development, then legislation in the UK could change to increase the number of adults in Early Years settings. This would ultimately produce more jobs in the Early Years and would allow for more time to be spent with each child; this enforces the Every Child Matters policy further.
Overall, each pedagogical approach is different, yet effective, in their own right. The UK focusses on getting children ‘school ready’, however some young children are still not deemed developed enough for school by the DfE, suggesting that the EYFS possibly needs reforming, or the age at which children start school in the UK could be changed to six or seven, like it’s European neighbour, Denmark. The Danish pedagogy appears to work very well for children in the Early Years. Being in the open air in all weathers and being allowed to use ‘adult’ tools, light fires and climb trees gives these children a greater and deeper understanding of the world, which may result in more developed children with a greater respect for the world and society. A suggestion for the future could be for the UK to develop its own set pedagogy, as currently several pedagogical approaches are in place, meaning children in the EYFS will receive a different method of learning and may even develop differently. A specific pedagogy for the UK would, “…provide a framework for discussing aims for children and young people in society as a whole” (TCRU, 2005: 3), and this would be useful in helping children develop to the best of their abilities and would give all children a uniform curriculum, meaning equal chances. Denmark appears to have the better pedagogical approach, however trying to adopt this approach nationwide in the UK would mean change in legislations, convincing parents and society that forest schools are safe and also re-training pedagogues. Both countries have their similarities and differences, and both could learn from one another’s approaches to improve their pedagogy in the future.
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