Values education – In Nordic preschools

This is everyday life in preschool. In the daily encounters between children and adults, many questions regarding values arise. What is right, what is wrong, and what is fair? Let’s discuss the dilemmas that might appear for the practitioners in preschool. Values education in Nordic preschools Our study is a cooperation between the five Nordic countries. It is about values and values education in preschools. Values education remains one of the most neglected areas in educational practices and research. Our intention is to raise awareness of values education in the early years. To understand how to work with values education, let’s take a closer look at an example from an Icelandic preschool, recorded by a researcher in the project. What kind of values are at stake here? But you forgot to count these. How is it going? – Is it going OK?
– They were stealing. What!? No, Oliver took several blocks from them! – Without asking?
– They had many! They had many! But even if they have many, can you just take them? I was just asking! – Oliver, can you do that?
– No. No. – But Sverrir; I was just asking.
– Yes. And when you asked, what did Sverrir say?
What did they say when you asked? Yes. Okay… But they had all the blocks. Not all of them One, two, three, four, five, six… But can you use for example different building blocks, Maria? to start to build the castle? – Yes, maybe like this?
– For example. 25, 26, 27, 28… – Do you want to try that?
– You can have these two. … 30! ohhh… And then one and two. Do you want to try that? They have many. But, we also need them. But, we also need… You can have these. Yes, for example; begin with this one. Good idea. Hey, there are more blocks. And bigger. What is this situation about? What kind of values are involved here? Let’s hear what parents, pedagogues, politicians and researchers who have participated in this project say. I got the feeling that I have been in this situation before. Even though this situtation was in an Icelandic preschool, it might just as well have been in a Finnish preschool. The children were playing, in a little group and between the children, as I see it, a conflict of interests occurred. In other words, a very normal — argument about who has the right to play with which toys. They negotiate with each other, they discuss, they listen to each other. Not everybody listens to each other, but some of the children do. The values that most often present themselves amongst the children, and which they try to figure out, are injustice and respect; namely that they do not respect those who have the blocks, and ask if they are allowed to take them. On the one hand this is about the individual, and the individuals’ rights, whereas, on the other hand, we see values associated with community. So this situation about values appears to be multi-faceted. What I also can like is that she doesn’t sit down and interfere, she doesn’t go to them and say ‘boom’ problem solved. She places herself actually almost a metre away from the children and says “What are you doing?” and “What are you doing?” and then says to the girl Maria, “Can you build the castle with some other blocks?” But can you use different building blocks, for example, Maria? – Yes, maybe like this?
– For example. While some would see it as positive to solve the conflict by adding more blocks, others would have another point of view… So it’s quite interesting here which values present themselves when the conflict resolves, or dissolves. The conflict is resolved by introducing more resources. That is the suggested solution. Not that you must share more fairly of the existing blocks that are already there, but by introducing more resources to the situation. The children can learn something by doing that, but in real life, it is often so that one cannot just add more resources, so that everyone can be satisfied. One must often enter into a difficult and perhaps hurtful compromise, in order to achieve a solution in such situations. They were stealing! What!? No, Oliver took from them without asking! Working with values education is about increasing awareness of the conflicts and value choices we face. This situation is also about gender values and the different responsibilities for girls and boys about how to solve the conflict. Practitioners will constantly meet various dilemmas in their work. Living with dilemmas and conflict. The dilemma is about that different interpretations of values can stand against each other, and different values can stand against each other. And… Every day conflicts between children are often value based conflicts. At the same time, it becomes apparent here that adults take responsibility and have an important broker role. And within that, is a difficult and heavy burden in the adult really for if you are to be a broker, you should take very good time to listen and try to understand what has happened and get an understanding of other perspectives even though you perhaps feel you could contribute with some good solutions, this is very much about enabling, how shall I put it… conflict resolution powers in children and participants. What should children learn? I think preschools and primary schools should focus on social skills, and also focus on teaching children to recognise their own feelings, that they learn how to recognise themselves as individuals. The results of this are that the children are more independent. The children can think for themselves, set boundaries, and show respect for others. I think good friendship is important. They don’t always need to be best friends, but we all need to learn to get along, and respect each other. I can’t take your blocks just because you have many, I have to ask for permission. It’s like Robin Hood of Sherwood forest: you can steal from those who have a lot. But that is not okay. This is one of the values, they should learn through playing like this. There is something about social relations that children build in an institiution, that I, as a parent, maybe can’t give them with their peers at home. A modern democracy is one big conflict resolution project really, it’s about insitutionalising different interests so that we can successfully live with each other. We will not always agree on everything. So, it’s about being able to harmonise the solutions that we can agree on, jointly. One cannot expect everyone to agree on what kind of values should prevail. In a society, the key is about ‘you choose yours’ and ‘I’ll choose mine’, and together we can stand side by side in this. We have to learn how to be an individual and also how to function as part of a group or a community. It is extremely important that children learn about conflict resolution, and that they can cooperate even if things get tough: nonetheless, they manage to resolve the situation. I really believe in the importance of conflict experience: of having experienced conflict directly and not being afraid of them. A society that is afraid of conflict is a scary society for me, conflict allows for both growth and the assimilation of knowledge about others and one’s self, so do not necessarily stop a child’s conflicts so fast and so easily. Participants in this project see conflicts as an opportunity to learn something. How can one work with this in practice? Values eductaion in practice. One point is to be aware of those conflicts, the value conflicts that are expressed between children, and which I, as a pedagogue, are confronted with. Meaning, that one actually has the courage to highlight one’s own thoughts, to meet others’ thoughts, and to discuss about them. One way to do this, which is connected to our project, and that I know many work with, is narratives. Narratives from daily life in preschool, which the adults collect. And later, you can write the narratives down and talk about them together, to illuminate value conflicts and different interpretations of situations. And to do this in your own reflection, and together with others, and most importantly: collectively. I think that this collective work is very important. And to link it to everyday life situations makes it concrete. Another thing which has been a challenge, is that it is difficult to verbalise values, practitioners in preschools are often keen to talk about their own work, and their own pedagogy, but when we start to talk about values, then we move into a more difficult field. To define values is difficult. But this does not mean however, that one is not aware of values. Even though practitioners struggle to find a language for values in their daily discussions, the curricula in all the Nordic countries emphasise values. Such as participation, solidarity and community, which all refer to democracy. Fostering citizens for tomorrow. All the Nordic countries’ curricula include the value democracy. and… there the mission is clear: the preschool is a place where children learn about democracy. Our assessments on preschool in Mörbylånga municipality is, above all, that you shall show respect for each other as children, and that one learns at an early stage that we are all different and unique: this is an absolute resource for both the school and community. We want the children to be a part of a preschool that supports them to be active persons, who take part in what is happening, who sees and cares about others, who has courage. When we are talking about the values that are important, and which we think that the children should take with them when they are going forward in life; social rules and values, it is equally important to focus on your self as a pedagogue. “What do I stand for?” and, “Why have I chosen this?” To stand up for something is so important. One of the most important things is that the children in preschool are surrounded by adults who stand for something, who have their minds set to give the children valuable experiences on their way forward in life. The challenge is to identify and reflect upon the embedded values in daily interactions. What kind of future citizens do we foster in early childhood education, in order to build a democratic society? Which values are important? The preschool of today,
fosters the citizens of tomorrow.

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