Nordic Childhoods and Early Education

“Cross-cultural study informs us through the juxtaposition of the familiar and the new, the known and the exotic. The best lessons lie in the differences.” (Wagner, p.289)

Pointing to chapter 2 of Nordic Childhoods and Early Education, Judith T. Wagner writes: “Kristjansson explains that, throughout the 20th century and continuing now into the 21st century, child and family policies maintain privileged, high-profile positions in Nordic societies. “It is in this macro sense that… the Nordic societies excel; that is, in the vitality and vividness [-p.291] of public discourse on childhood and in the policies arising from this discourse” and, further, that “…public child-centeredness found in the Nordic countries bears witness to” the value Nordic people place on childhood.” (pp.290-291)

Considering her own experiences with Nordic early childhood education (in contrast with American ECE), Judith T. Wagner writes: “The similarities in Nordic ideology, policy, and practice beguile me and, frankly, make me envious. Americans may have a few slogans to which most of us would subscribe, such as ‘our children are our most precious resource’ and ‘children are the future of our country’; but no one can legitimately proclaim a widely shared American childhood ideology that impels child and family policy or creates a realistic expectation for consistently high standards in American child care and early education. In fact, I propose that variation is the overarching characteristic of early childhood settings in America [and in new Zealand, too???].” (p.291)

Wagner continues: “The ideology represented in the Nordic concept of the good childhood (en god barndom in Danish) constitutes a powerful and driving force behind both public policy and daily practice in Nordic preschools, schools and communities. Unfortunately, there is no American counterpart to the good childhood concept. Furthermore, this lack of a broadly shared vision of childhood as it should be for all children accounts, in large measure, for fundamental differences in Nordic and American pedagogical practice and contributes to marked inequalities in American provisions for children.
“Many would assert that these differences in educational quality standards result primarily from dissimilarities between the American economic system and the Nordic social welfare system, especially regarding taxation levels citizens will tolerate. However, our economic systems also reflect dramatically different ideologies about the role of the national government
. Ultimately, these ideological differences play out in the way children and families are treated within our societies. Nordic people readily accept the premise that government’s central function is to ensure equal standards of living and a high quality of life for everyone, and, furthermore, that citizens themselves ought to share the tax burden associated with these expectations [-p.292]. This premise is realized through the Nordic welfare model, which provides generous child- and family-friendly benefits.” (pp.291-292)

The good childhood

The Nordic concept of the good childhood,” Wagner explains, “rests on these bedrock ideals as they apply to children: democracy, egalitarianism, freedom, emancipation, cooperation, and solidarity.” (p.292)

“…the Nordic notion of democracy as an essential feature of the good childhood requires that children experience democracy directly as an integral and consistent aspect of their daily lives at home, in school, and in their communities.” (p.292)

“Nordic people espouse that children and adults are equal along many planes. They enact this principle through their commitment to emancipation, that is, the notion that children should be free from excessive adult control and supervision.” (p.292)

According to Wagner, Nordic views on the above-mentioned ideals and how they apply to (the good) childhood, “create psychological space, openness, and respect for children’s views and their right to self-determination in much greater measure than is typical in American settings. For example, children in Nordic preschools and schools typically have a particularly strong voice (by my American calibrations) in decisions that affect them throughout the day. They spend a great deal of time (again by my American calibrations) in free play, often beyond the immediate supervision of adults, running indoors and out as their interests dictate, and engaging in potentially dangerous (to my American eyes) activities, … such as climbing trees or using sharp knives and adult power tools. Formal, teacher-initiated ‘lessons,’ in the American sense, are the exception rather than the rule. Lessons seem to emerge by spontaneous combustion, rather than from advanced instructional planning, as children and adults engage together in informal conversations, [-p.293] typically led by the children, energized by their immediate play activities and the interests that arise during free exploration of their indoor and outdoor environments.” (p.293)

“Democracy, egalitarianism, freedom, emancipation, cooperation, and solidarity collectively create the good childhood at both individual and group levels in Nordic early childhood settings. The ideals of democracy, egalitarianism, freedom, and emancipation empower individual children in a preschool or school context. Democracy ensures that children have a voice; egalitarianism ensures that children’s voices have influence; and emancipation gives them room to explore their options, energized by youthful inquisitiveness and passion for learning, largely uncompromised by adult authority and supervision.” (p.293)

“Although democracy is represented as a core value in general American educational discourse, references to democracy are infrequent in American ECE discourse. A key difference is that American preschools and schools are not conceptualised as democracies, but, rather, as places where students learn about democracy. It is often said that the purpose of education in America is to prepare children to participate in a democracy and to teach them to use freedom when they are adults. In contrast, Nordic people expect that children should experience democracy directly from their earliest days. This means, then, that Nordic children have rights and attendant freedoms that American children are only preparing to experience [-p.295] later in life.” (pp.294-295)

“I imagine that, if asked to describe the characteristics of a good childhood, Americans would list such fundamental things as having the basic necessities of food, clothing, and safe shelter; being cared for by a loving family; and having access to a good education. [However, …] these fundamentals are guaranteed in the Nordic countries by the centrality of childhood issues in social and political discourse and by the strong Nordic welfare systems. The Nordic concept of the good childhood focuses on grander principles and ideals, rather than basic necessities for survival.” (p.297)

“Even though we often intone the same authorities, such as Piaget and Vygotsky, and reference the same programmatic benchmarks, such as Reggio Emilia, High/Scope, or the Fifth Dimension, for example, Nordic and American educators often have fundamentally different ideas about what is developmentally and educationally appropriate for young children.” (p.298) Wagner goes on to describe a four-day camping trip, without parents, that eight preschools (i.e., 80 four year olds) go on each year.

Nordic preschools are both a platform for children’s ideas and a place where they can construct their own childhood cultures, in the company of adults who want to care for them without dominating them. To achieve these goals for children in early childhood settings, Nordic scholars, like Pramling Samuelson in Chapter 5, emphasize the importance of rigorous high-quality professional preparation for preschool and primary teachers.” (p.302)

Wagner appeals “to non-Nordic readers to consider how we might find inspiration in Nordic ways for enhancing childhood within the context of our own daily realities.” (p.290)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Judith T. Wagner ‘An Outsider’s Perspective: Childhoods and Early Education in the Nordic Countries’ pp.289-306 Eds. Johanna Einarsdottir and Judith T. Wagner (2006) Nordic Childhoods and Early Education; Philosophy, Research, Policy, and Practice in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Information Age Publishing: Greenwich, Connecticut


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in early years education, Images of Parent Child and Expert, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, social and political contexts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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