Visit reflections from European Masters in Early Childhood Education and Care (EMEC) partner students from Norway, Sweden and Germany.
The innovative ERASMUS-funded EMEC project which brings together early years tutors and practitioners from Malta, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Scotland is nearing completion. The three-year project has allowed the development and piloting of a European Early Childhood Masters programme.
The course is delivered online, with two intensive residential programmes – the first was held in Malta and the second is to be held this September in Glasgow. All participants are qualified and experienced early years practitioners working with children from birth to 6 years old.
Scottish visit for European partner students
As part of the first module the five Scottish pilot students were joined by their European partners for a long weekend in Glasgow, during which they focused on professional development.
Students worked together on their country perspectives and as well as bowling and a good Glasgow curry, visits to early childhood settings were included.
Our thanks go to Mariann, Carmen, Hiba, Torill and Hanne – the partner students, who sent reflections on those visits. Several very clear themes emerge from their contributions. They were struck by the:
- Warm welcome from every setting they visited
- Way in which rooms are designed and set up for children
- Many activities available
- Quality of the resources
- Excellent staff-child ratios
- Documentation which included many examples of children's own creativity and imagination.
They did however wonder how each practitioner gets to know sometimes as many as 150 children well enough to build a personal relationship with them, and would have liked to enquire more about this.
Some things contrasted quite sharply with their own practices, in particular our attitudes to outdoor areas and how we use them, the way in which we emphasise resource-based learning through the provision of many different resources, our pedagogical approach, the use of technology and what they saw as a lack of much in the way of imaginative play despite the fact that all settings were well equipped for this. Their comments reflect these ideas.
European students' comments
'On each visit they had sandbox and water-play boxes inside which was really strange, interesting and raised questions about the outdoors where these things naturally take place for us.'
'Many activities and wonderfully designed rooms for children's learning. When I say learning I don’t think of space to run around and to hide away with your friends and get into free play . . . but great learning space for exploring, curiosity, learning numeracy and literacy and getting into construction and role play.’
'In my experience I am used to giving the children a bucket and a shovel to run round and explore, dig in the ground, building a den, clearing a path, making friends, play role-play, solve problems together and simply interact with each other to learn empathy and other social skills and be children.'
'Do adults steer children with their own notions on outdoors? – in some nurseries there is open access but this is not much taken up; in others staff don’t want to go outside – what about the children’s voices?'
'I like the idea that children grow up in a place where the environment gets respect and is protected – the pedagogical work follows the framework like the other nurseries, apart from a real focus on sustainability. But what is special is their Froebelian approach that influences the work with the children. So, the philosophy is child-centred.'
'I was impressed with the amount of materials and how many activities and plays the children were being offered. What I came to think about was that I didn’t see any children in imaginary play. With imaginary play I mean what we in Sweden most of the times call 'free' play.
'Free play is interesting to observe and during my years as a teacher I usually use this kind of play as an important source for learning. I prefer to call it imaginary play because the word 'free' can mislead teachers and other people working with and for the children.'
'What I also could observe was that I didn’t see many conflicts between the children, could this also indicate that the children were so busy with the material and not playing enough? Problem-solving situations, conflicts and so forth can develop significant skills for children to bring with them to school.'
So our visitors found different approaches in Scotland than at home; they were impressed by many aspects of their visits but speculated about the differences too!
The Scottish Co-ordinator for European Masters in Early Childhood Education and Care is Professor Aline-Wendy Dunlop at the University of Strathclyde.