John Davis is the Professor of Childhood Inclusion at the University of Edinburgh. He is author of the SSSC Taking the First Steps report that evaluated the impact of the BA Childhood Practice qualification. His research. on issues such as creativity, innovation, inclusion, participation, pedagogy, social justice, integrated working and multi-professional collaboration, has been employed in various national and international contexts to support children and parents to redesign education, health, social work and family support services. John supported Lynn McNair and Jane Whinnett to set up the Froebel CPD course at Moray House and has written with Lynn McNair on creativity and learning (see link here).
In a series of posts, John explores the meaning of pedagogy (the thinking around the way we work with children) in relation to the courses he is involved in with Lynn, Jane and other colleagues.
Introduction: The Questions This Post Will Answer About Pedagogy?
This series of posts arise from a conversation with civil servants, in the Scottish Government, who were seeking assurances that the BA Childhood Practice qualification covered issues of pedagogy (the concepts that underpin the way we work with children). This conversation occurred at a time when I had recently attended an excellent session about pedagogy on the Midlothian Froebel CPD course, . The session, by Jane Read from the University of Roehampton (see link here to Jane’s profile), had enabled me to reflect on what might be the ‘Scottish’ aspects of my own pedagogy. Hence, this series of posts seeks to link questions of ‘Scottishness’ with questions of pedagogy. It does so, in a way that gives an indication of where our ideas of pedagogy have come from and where they might take us.
The key questions that the 3 posts explore are:
What does our pedagogy look like?
What principles underpin and enable our pedagogy?
How flexible is our pedagogy?
How useful is the word ‘quality’ when connected to the word ‘pedagogy’?
What are the connections between earl years, play and outdoor pedagogy?
What does an inclusive, rights-based and socially just pedagogy look like?
The posts examine different types of play-based, outdoor, and creative pedagogy and contrast technical rational, rigid, top-down, controlling and oppressive learning contexts with pedagogical practices that value intuition, examine issues of meaningfulness and connect learning to our very essence of being.
These posts have been developed from over 25 years of researching issues of child rights, inclusion, social justice and pedagogy – hence their accumulative length.
I first develop my understanding of pedagogy whilst working as a sports coach in out of school clubs. In 1991 I began a PhD that examined the cultural reasons that children give up on sport. This research involved participant observation in PE lessons and after-school clubs. During this study, children identified a range of issues that impinged on sport and play, including: a lack of resources, bullying, friendship issues, family context, discrimination and a dearth of local facilities. Later in my career, I would be involved in evaluations of disabled children’s use of after school clubs, children’s experiences of sure start facilities and various local community project (some of which I had also collaboratively established). My knowledge of these contexts was of great value when I began the process of creating a BA Childhood Studies/Practice qualification in 2002. I have worked in this and related fields ever since.
Myself and Lynn McNair were central to the development of both our BA Childhood Practice degree and our Froebel CPD course and therefore, this post involves a connection between Lynn’s and my own philosophies.
The Froebel CPD course critically examines the work of Frederick Froebel (b: April 21, 1782 in Oberweissbach, Thuringia, Ernestine, Saxony, Germany, d: June 21, 1852). This blog post employs my understandings of Froebel’s work as an analytical tool from which to, systematically, counter the mistaken impression (e.g. of the Siraj and Kingston workforce review) that the BA Childhood practice qualification does not cover issues of pedagogy.
This series of posts, whilst not explaining every aspect of our degree, seeks to demonstrate the unifying pedagogy that is promoted within our courses and highlight the critical nature of this pedagogy. In so doing, it complements recent work by SOSCN on play pedagogy (see link here) that seeks to provide an integrated approach by synthesise ideas of play, development and learning. A central thrust of the post is that play should not be constrained by notions of age and stage. We see extremely strong links between early years’ notions of pedagogy, play-based school pedagogy and pedagogies employed by out of school play professionals. Hence, we advocate for our ideas on pedagogy to be applied to all age children and young people.
A Unifying, Creative and Shared Pedagogy For Different Management and Professional Roles:
The BA Childhood Practice degree is the leadership and management qualification for professionals aimed at early years, childminding, family support and out of school play professionals (who have or aspire to adopt leadership roles in their services). The BA Childhood Practice is the qualification, specifically, developed to enable staff in early years and out of school play to register at management level with the Scottish Social Services Council.
The Froebel CPD course involves staff from all levels of experience and with all levels of qualifications (e.g. NC, HNC/SVQ, degree, masters and PhD). However, both the BA Childhood Practice and The Froebel CPD are based on the same philosophy, pedagogy and practices. Each qualification seeks to clarify and integrate the different concepts of childhood that underpin and impinge upon practice; enable professionals to pose questions about their practice; and ‘liberate’ professionals (and as a result children and parents) from the shackles of rigid pedagogy and curriculum.
My own perspective is that a mix of professionals can contribute to children’s early learning. However, research suggests that the two sets of workers with the most experience of early years and play pedagogy are Childhood Practitioners (because creative, outdoor, anti-discriminatory and holistic pedagogy are the beating heart of their qualification) and Early Years Teachers who have done post-graduate qualifications in early years and play pedagogy (e.g. like the European Masters in Early Child Education and Care at The university Strathclyde or a CPD equivalent in early years and play pedagogy).
Please note, my view is that a school teacher, who has only done a two week placement in early years, is unlikely to be an appropriate person to manage or lead early years and play pedagogy. It is difficult to see how a teacher can claim to have expertise in the area of early years if they have not subsequently extended their knowledge of early years and play pedagogy through professional development courses, or, not carried out a post-graduate qualification on early years and play pedagogy.
A school teacher may have knowledge of play, pedagogy, inclusion, transition or emergent numeracy/literacy that is useful in an early years context. However, without post-graduate learning, it is difficult to see how they can be tasked with leading and managing early years and play pedagogy. Hence, we developed the Froebel CPD course to ensure that school teachers, head teachers and other professionals could gain the same contemporary knowledge of concerning early years and play pedagogy that childhood practitioners possess. It also acts as a bridging course to our BA Childhood Practice and to our post-graduate provision.
My philosophy regarding the different professionals that make up the early years workforce evolved within a project I carried out with Anne Hughes from The University of Strathclyde (see my 2011 book on integrated working Chapter 3 for description of this project). This project analysed issues concerning co-location, professional roles qualifications and training in early years children’s services. It highlighted tensions between innovative learning structures, conceptual change and workforce development (Davis and Hughes 2005). It posed key questions about how we enable holistic pedagogical approaches, clarify pedagogue roles and enable play based curriculum. We concluded that:
The hybrid early years work force makes conceptual integration difficult but not impossible.
That there is conceptual resistance to schoolification (the structural merger of schooling, play, day care, out of school and early years) because school pedagogies are perceived to be rigid, hierarchical and adult led and, therefore, childhood practitioners and early years teachers (who have done post graduate qualifications) feel very protective towards their more flexible pedagogy.
That we needed to avoid conflating the role of managers/early years experts and teachers (because the latter have little generic training on early years and play pedagogy).
That there is a difference between daily, regular, intermittent, peripatetic or targeted practitioners.
In particular, this work argued that early years centre managers (who now possess the BA Childhood practice qualification) could play a key role in supporting different professionals to achieve conceptual integration concerning creative pedagogy. My view has always been that The Childhood Practice qualification, and the aspects of this qualification that are enshrined within the Froebel CPD course, can provide a conceptual and pedagogical basis for multi-disciplinary working in early years services. Childhood Practitioners, teachers and other professionals can unite by sharing their ideas of pedagogy and can achieve conceptual integration around the use of: strengths based approaches, anti-discriminatory pedagogy, rights-based learning, and inclusive practice. Hence, our work has always sought to enable professionals to understand the usefulness of diverse childhood theories and the importance of centring children’s learning on the fact that children belong to, learn with in, and have knowledge of a variety of local environments.
Beauty, Wonderment, Similarity and Difference – A Pedagogy For All Ages, Settings and Ways of Being:
Jane Read’s recent session on the Froebel CPD course posed specific questions for professional learners e.g. We all have ideas that under pin our work – but where do they come from? And, What has shaped our ideas, practices and values? Currently, students come to the BA Childhood Practice with an HNC in early years, play or childhood practice (and/or equivalent SVQ qualifications amounting to around 120 credits at level 7)
The students get advanced entry into year 2 (as recognition of their prior learning and experience). Prior to coming to our BA degree, students do a heck of a lot of pedagogy including placements in schools and nurseries.
It is not clear that the Siraj and Kingston review understood that the BA Childhood Practice qualification involves students studying with at least two providers (e.g FE and HE) and carrying out work experience in a range of placements (e.g. the minimum for SSSC registration is 2 work places and the average is 4 work places).
These professionals will have encountered different courses in their prior qualifications, that will have stressed different ideas concerning pedagogy. E.g. they may have taken the Play And Early Development (SCQF level 7) course that enables professionals to understand how children learn through play, or, they make have taken the Childhood Practice: Pedagogical Approaches (SCQF level 8) course that asks students to analyse, evaluate and understand the importance of a range of national and international pedagogical approaches, or, they may have taken various forerunners to these courses.
The HNC in Childhood Practice includes courses on child development and you will see a lot in the media about the importance of child development (e.g. in relation to age and stages of development). No doubt the way children’s brains develop has an impact on learning, but we have to avoid overdoing the psychological aspects of learning that focus on measuring, at too young an age, learner’s individual abilities. Similarly, we need to recognise: that learning involves creative relationships and that, therefore learning is both a group and an individual activity. Hence, when we use ideas about ‘normal’ child develop, or, age and stage to segregate specific groups of children, we prevent them from learning from their peer group, siblings and older children.
My ideas on pedagogy come from personal experience of being, intermittently, segregated in a ‘special needs class’. I can still remember the othering, stifling and stigmatising silence of the empty corridor, that carried me between our mainstream primary classroom and the segregated classroom, during my first two years of schooling in Dunfermline, Fife. My experiences of nursery were even worse than that of primary school. My main memory is of having to hide under tables from ‘scary teachers’ rather than take part in activities that made no sense to me.
We learn a lot when we play on our own with sand and/or wooden objects, we learn just as much when we play with other children in spaces where we can collaboratively discuss our learning – we learn very little when the pedagogy and transition process are so poorly thought through that we seek sanctuary under the table. I loved playing at home or in the street with neighbours – but not in that restricting, noisy and scary nursery building.
Collective play and creativity can happen as much with our parents, friends and siblings as with people who have newly come into our lives. For example, I was discussing this idea of shared enjoyment recently, with a musician that I had organised an event with. She had explained her joy at exchanging stories about spiders with a young child who had newly come into her life. Through the stories, both shared a sense of wonder about the world and through technology (video and picture) they were able to capture, share and discuss this wonderment (including over long distances).
Here we can see pedagogy as something intuitive, meaningful and connected to our essence of being. Pedagogy is also the space between concepts, theories, perceptions and actions. It is the space where we analyse, enquire, evaluate and reflect on our practices (see link here). Children can gain hugely by attaching to, and sharing wonderment with, people who are not their biological mothers or fathers. I was reminded of this, recently, when interviewing for our BA Childhood Practice degree. One of the students delivered a well thought through presentation that critiqued traditional notions of attachment by unpacking her skills developed through caring for and about her much younger siblings.
My oldest daughter who is 10 and 12 years older than our other children – definitely co-parented our children, and, is now a thoughtful early years professional. Older siblings can make intuitive connections with their brothers and sisters and be extremely supportive of, and empathetic to, their siblings learning needs. When we separate children by age, we can lose out on those kinds of supportive attachments (this issues applies as much to nurseries as: schools, residential care settings and foster care provision).
Intuitive and creative definitions of pedagogy are different to the original idea of pedagogy which was centred on notions of moral education (teaching the correct way to behave) (see link here). Sadly, by focussing on rewarding and punishing children for specific types of behaviours, this moral pedagogy can lead to manipulative adult-child relationships and the over emphasis of adult ‘power’ in schools, out of school play services and early years settings.
With the advent of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (CFE) and in response to Lynn McNair’s recent work on transition, we have advocated a need for primary schools to adopt less rigid approaches to their curriculum (see link here to some of Lynn’s ideas that we put forward in our response to the Scottish Government Blueprint Consultation). Research suggests that teachers have been burdened with paper work during the change to the new curriculum and that there has been a complete lack of clarity on what creative pedagogy looks like (for more on the CFE and creative pedagogy in primary schools look out for Krystallia Kyritsi’s forthcoming research see link here).
Lynn’s research, and her knowledge of the pros and cons of Froebel’s pedagogy, have heavily influenced our Work-based Learning 1 and 2 courses; that she coordinates on the BA Childhood Practice degree. Lynn’s research illustrated substantial differences between primary school and nursery pedagogy that resulted in some children, e.g. those who were ‘self-led’ learners at nursery, feeling dis-empowered and oppressed by primary school pedagogy. This state of affairs has to change, if the CFE is to achieve its aim of delivering confident learners.
Jane Read and Jane Whinnett argue that Froebelian thinking can be used in any learning context and at any leaning age and stage. Our Froebel CPD encourages school teachers: to utilise the creative aspects of the CFE to enable more child-led learning; to employ more creative/collaborative activities to enable peer-led learning; and to time-table more time for learning through the outdoors.
My own personal experience is that not all primary school teachers are the same, In a previous blog, I explained how a primary school teacher had enabled me to be myself at school, because, she had employed at lot of self-led, creative and outdoor learning. I also remembered, during the Midlothian course, that this teacher had a Froebel qualification. This may have influenced her to even be created in relation to indoor learning where she encouraged us to use clay, household materials and our imaginations to make fantastic creations.
By the time I reached the middle years of secondary school, this artistic ability had been killed off by a rigid and prescriptive curriculum. Indeed, I found the subject of art to bethe most tedious activity you could encounter. However, at primary school I loved working with clay and I also built an amazing rocket out of left over plastic and cardboard from household products. The image of this rocket still sticks in my mind even though it was 40 years ago (It was around the time of David Bowie songs about star men). Similarly, we spent so much time learning outdoors and making our own choices that I associated learning with freedom – from adult control.
This type of joy of learning stays with you for life. Modern day approaches, e.g. that utilise cameras and IT, can also effectively ‘enable’ and ‘capture’ creative learning. However, we have to be careful that the tactile nature of early learning is not reduced through use of computer technology. It should be noted that it is not just techy activities that can lack creativity. Non-IT items, such as jigsaws, can also have limitations – in the sense that there is a ‘correct’ way to do them and that they tend not to be three dimensional.
This is why outdoor learning is important. There are so many different and natural colours, materials, smells, sounds, shapes, patterns and textures in the outdoors. On the Midlothian course, Jane Whinnett emphasised the play potential of even the simplest outdoor objects – posing the question, What can a stone become?
Jane Read connected Froebel’s ideas to Comenius (sensory learning with water, earth, fire, rain, plants, and rocks), Rousseau (direct engagement, rationality, physical activity, learning through nature and utilising curiosity) and Petsilotsy (learning through real objects and farming, housekeeping, spinning and weaving) (see this link for more). At the heart of these ideas was the image of the child as a seed. A seed that will develop from within, when given access to the elements (soil, water, and sun) and nurtured with love and understanding.
When the staff on the Froebel course highlighted the beauty of natural objects and places, it struck me that today’s world involves a clash between beautiful pedagogy and neo-liberal ideas of education. A clash between shared learning and that learning focussed on commodities, productivity, personal gain and profit for the few (not the many). Neo-liberal ideas are already enshrined in the way that we employ external criteria to judge pupils and in the way we prevent many children for gaining use of outdoor space, land and our natural environment. It is difficult for children in some nurseries to access, connect with and experience a variety of types of outdoor settings.
There is something up lifting about beautiful landscapes – we need to ensure that socio-economic, legal and cultural barriers do not inhibit children from accessing that beauty. The word beauty is prevalent in the writing of Norman Maclean:
As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. Somehow, I early developed the notion that he had done this by falling from a tree. As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty. Unlike many Presbyterians, he often used the word “beautiful.”
Maclean links the art of learning (in this case about fly fishing) to rhythm, power and beauty. My own feeling is that when we create something rhythmic, tactile, textured or visual; when we create space for unintended consequences; when we enable learners to encounter contradictory ideas; and enable them to contemplate the unity of those contradictions – we create a feeling of learning as something beautiful, free flowing, energetic and inclusive. Inclusive, because, by understanding, valuing and recognising similarities and differences, we create a framework for our learning spaces to enable people to exist as ‘same ‘(in the sense of having the same right to use, access and be recognised within learning spaces) but ‘different’ (in the sense of also having a right to have their different identities, learning requirements and capabilities equally valued in those space).
The Froebel CPD course encourages professionals to recognise that art, music, rhyme, woodwork, baking and textiles can give expression to imagination, feelings and ideas. Froebel argued that play should start in the home and Growing Up In Scotland research by CRFR at the University of Edinburgh has emphasised the importance of creative play for future learning. Yet, Baby Bell market research found many parents felt unsure of how to be creative with their children (see link here).
For Froebel, play promoted enjoyment, satisfaction and serenity. The Froebel CPD emphasises that babies have an intense curiosity for noisy, glittery and bright objects. It suggests that such play objects can enable parents and very young children to make connections, through sight, movement, touch and sound. Our CPD course also argues that there is no one ‘best’ way for parents to do this. Our, Children Health and Well-being course on the BA Childhood Practice utilises the writing of Margaret Donaldson and videos (connected to the work of Colwyn Trevarthen and colleagues) to enable professionals to analyse, and value, different types of creative interactions between babies and adults.
Different children and parents will make different connections. Therefore, there are lots of reasons that parents may not be in a position to play with their ,children (e.g. parents may have to spend longer hours working to meet their living costs because there are too many low wage jobs in our society). Jane Read argues that parents and professionals need to avoid pushing children away when they are interested in something different to the adult or, when children’s ideas don’t meet with adult learning aims.
Jane suggests that we (adults) need to avoid crushing children’s enthusiasm and reflect on the difference between children’s perspectives and our own. Our BA Childhood Practice Work-based Learning courses promote analytical professional practice and encourage students to consider what types of leadership approaches enable creative pedagogy to flourish. Similarly, our Froebel CPD course invites students to analyse the environments where they work and to consider who designs those environments. Our courses pose questions for students regarding: participation (attention to children’s views, perspective taking and self-empowerment), reflexivity (individual or collective questioning that enables change) and evaluation (of the extent to which professional practice enables children and parents to achieve their aspirations, rather than the aspirations of professionals).
Evaluation of self, and others, is an important aspect of our courses. Indeed, around the time we set up the BA Childhood Practice degree (its also level nine qualification in some colleges), research, published by the Scottish Government, critiqued the lack of appropriate evaluation of early years and play pedagogy (see link here).
We (myself and colleagues) argue that pedagogy is the thinking, feeling and ways of being that enable our practice. It is a unifying approach but it is not one approach that can be fitted into neat tick boxes. Different pedagogical approaches will have different meanings depending on the context. For example, Jane Read contrasted the use of outdoor learning, where children might see something beautiful or magical that touches their inner self, with more prescriptive approaches. Prescriptive approaches can involve adults introducing objects into children’s learning spaces: e.g. Froebel’s ‘gifts’ (spheres. cubes, sticks etc.) or Montessori’s pre-prepared activities.
Jane Read indicates that Froebel viewed the gift of the sphere as symbolising unity:
‘Every circle is for me full of symbolic significance. The ball or sphere is a symbol of perfection, of something complete and finished; it is the symbol of my fundamental spherical principles of education and life’ (Frederick Froebel Selected writing Page 45 Cambridge).
Frobel felt that children, through playing with the sphere, could surmise and engender an inner understanding of unity. He also suggested that unity could be promoted through circle games. Jane Whinnett explained on the Midlothian CPD course that the first gift, the hard wooden sphere, was both different and similar to other gifts.
She contrasted hard cubes, soft cubes, wooden cylinders, different coloured gifts, etc. – to explain that Froebel’s underlying ideas sought to encourage children to value and understand difference. Jane also argued that the gifts sought to enable children to learn about different movements, including: rolling, tumbling, and sliding. As the gifts progress the addition of colours, holes and sticks enables children to build 3 dimensional objects and to be more creative in their play.
There was an anthropologist called Marcel Mauss (see link here) who argued that the gift is never free – and he is correct in the sense that Froebel and proponents of Froebel have specific ideas for how gifts can stimulate learning. This raises the question, How ‘free’ – is ‘free flow’ play? Froebel’s approach has been critiqued for, at times, being rigid. This critique suggests that Froebel provided too much instruction for professionals (e.g. Froebel produced formal manuals). Such critiques emphasise the need to balance child-led and adult structured play – and to resist the urge to be too formal concerning professional learning and practice – hence all of our course, that myself, Lynn and colleagues have developed for professionals, employ creative, flexible and self-led learning activities. They do so, to demonstrate to students that we practice what we preach.
Froebel was keen that children: learn about local occupations; connect with local people from a variety of backgrounds; and explore the unity of their socio-economic environment. Today’s nurseries may have connections with local bakers, joiners, gardeners, textile makers, musicians and artists. We encourage professionals to talk to children about which types of occupations they would like to learn about and which places they might like to visit. We also encourage nurseries to enable children to get used to the various ‘tools’ of these occupations (even hammers and saws). We encourage staff to introduce children to ‘tools’ that the children are interested in and to enable children to utilise Froebel’s ‘gifts’ creatively. We do not associate learning with a total lassie-fair approach – we encourage professionals to collaboratively (with children) create thoughtful and flexible frameworks for learning.
Froebel’s work can be used rigidly, yet, his gifts can also be transformed by children – given meanings that adults couldn’t have imagined. Children’s learning speeds up and is more enjoyable when they self-empower. That is why early years and play pedagogy needs to be flexible. Froebel argued that adults should avoid prescriptive, categorical, and interfering approaches. We argue that: the adult cannot know what the children’s ideas concerning the curriculum will be in any given day. This means that adults have to employ process of dialogue (dialogic pedagogy) to find out children’s views.
Our Work-based Learning 1 course encourages students to understand how we put our principles into practice concerning outdoor, nature-based, creative, holistic and inclusive pedagogy. This course focusses on our idea of ‘unity’ by inviting students to recognise the connections between: theory, policy, research and practice. In particular, it identifies key documents (including different curriculum) that provide helpful frameworks for our practice in play, family support and early years.
This course utilises the work of Tina Bruce to pose questions about free flow play and to connect students to: national strategies on play (see link here); case studies concerning creative play; Froebelian notions of pedagogy; and the ‘Building The Ambition’ policy (see links here and here). The ‘Building The Ambition’ document seeks to remove artificial age & stage boundaries and to promote the notion that early learning and play pedagogy should attend to issues of: children’s rights, equal opportunities, responsiveness (to children’s perspectives) and relationship building. It states:
The challenge for us when we think about play is that it can be misinterpreted as being “just play” and the intrinsic value of what a child is actually doing, can be missed or ignored and therefore seen as less valued. It is both a tricky word and complicated concept to define. Additionally, when children are engaged in what practitioners would say as free-flow play this too can be perceived as less meaningful than a planned activity. The challenge that practitioners face is that at times they feel uncomfortable about letting natural play evolve and tend to want to over-direct play. Tina Bruce describes 12 features of free-flow play to help staff understand the level of deep engagement in learning which children show while they play. For example, in their play children use the first hand experiences they have had in life. Children rehearse their future in their play32. But there is a balance where we need to raise the profile of play and also to deepen an understanding for practitioners in supporting play experiences with children.
This statement is helpful, because it questions adult practices and pre-conceptions. In our courses, we argue that there is no one definition of ‘natural play’. All play is based on prior: aspirations, meanings, preconceptions and motivations. As such, professionals need to pose the questions: Are my preconceptions over influencing the process of play? And, Are my preconceptions preventing me from understanding the children’s starting points?’
A range of things prevent students from posing these questions, including: top down notions of ‘quality’, thoughtless management regimes, mountains of paper work, and rigid power relations (particularly in local authorities). Hence, not only do early learning and play pedagogues need to reflect on how they can avoid crushing children’s enthusiasm, managers need to reflect on how they avoid crushing their staff’s enthusiasm.
My next post analyses how we (and managers) move beyond rigid concepts of ‘quality’ to enable more flexible pedagogy see link here