Children can learn from each other

Children develop socially, emotionally and cognitively when they cooperate. However, we are not always good enough at encouraging children to cooperate with each other in connection with pedagogical activities. This means that children and adults alike lose out on important experiences', comments researcher Lone Svinth.



Sally and Gloria sit and draw, following along with each others’ work. ‘I think what you’re making is lovely’, says Sally, watching how Gloria uses a yellow felt-tipped pen to colour. ‘Would you like me to do the same on your drawing?’ Gloria asks. ‘Mmm’, replies Sally in the affirmative, handing her drawing to Gloria. ‘Gloria is helping me’, she tells the adult in the room. The adult replies: ‘Yes, I can see that.’ A few seconds later, the adult asks the two girls to each make their own drawing. Gloria and Sally proceed to work individually, but they soon leave the table to go play.

This scenario was excerpted from researcher Lone Svinth’s study on how children cooperate with each other. The study tracks two groups of children in two different Danish kindergartens for more than a year, focussing on the part that children’s cooperation plays in the pedagogical activities. ‘As it turns out, the adults only rarely encourage children to cooperate and help each other. When the children cooperated on their own initiative spontaneously, it was rarely seen as a resource’, recounts Lone Svinth.

‘I was actually surprised that there was so little adult control and so little focus on how the children themselves could contribute to the common good. Even though we talk about kindergarten as an informal space for learning, I experienced that the adults were mostly concerned about the children learning from the adults.’

‘Some children get off easier than others when they break the rules. This leaves a social downside linked to experiences. An exclusion occurs that was unintentional. But it does occur’, states Lone Svinth.


The researcher points out that there are several consequences of not including the children’s contributions in the pedagogical activities. The adults need as many arms as an octopus when they try to help everyone.

‘To some extent, this also means the children fail to see themselves and each other as resources. In other words, the children miss out on important experiences that show that they have a lot to contribute to the common good’, Lone Svinth continues, giving yet another example.

‘It is breakfast time and the children sitting around the table have each been given a little box of raisins. The adults are seated at the table along with the children. Marie cannot open her raisins. She struggles with the box and tries to attract the attention of the adults to ask for help. But in vain. Another girl is sitting beside her. She opened her box of raisins in short order and is quietly observing Marie and her struggle. After a few minutes, Marie starts to cry, and the teacher helps her.’

‘Had the institution focussed on children helping children, the situation may have played out differently. Perhaps Marie would have asked the other girl for help? Perhaps the other girl would have offered to help?’ asks Lone Svinth.


The research project shows that it is especially the most vulnerable children who suffer when the adults fail to encourage cooperation among the children. Some children manage to collaborate nonetheless, failing to comply with the adults’ rules and regulations, while others lose out on these experiences because they need a little extra help to see themselves as resources. Thus, they are not part of the social structures of cooperation.

Some children get off easier than others when they break the rules. This leaves a social downside linked to experiences. An exclusion occurs that was unintentional. But it does occur’, states Lone Svinth.


In other words, children need adults to help them see themselves as resources, that is, as important participants in their shared community. How, then, can it be that we have not done that already? One explanation is that we have an understanding of learning that is based on seeing the adults as experts who are able to transfer their knowledge to the children.

‘In many areas, it is possible to mistake learning with the assumption that the adult, that is, the expert, is supposed to teach something to the child who is not an expert’, comments Svinth.


Lone Svinth believes there is a need to devote more attention to the social dimension of learning, and to an understanding of learning which, to a greater extent, allows children also to contribute to the common good as social individuals.

‘Learning is fundamentally a social process, at the same time as children learn facts and acquire specific competencies, while children’s interaction with the adults and other children has a strong impact on how the child experiences himself and his social surroundings. The child’s social identity and his incipient identity as a learning being are at risk when early childhood educators have “a plan” for the children’, continues Lone Svinth.

‘If you see the children as individuals who can develop in social contexts, together, you also realise the social capital represented by each of them individually. You see the eagerness in the children’s eyes, investigate what is going on, and determine what each individual child can contribute to the common good’, adds Svinth.


The researcher indicates that the pedagogical leader has an important responsibility for ensuring that someone in the institution develops a concept of learning that includes the social dimension of learning.

‘The individual educator is not supposed to define this alone. There should be a shared attitude to and discussion about it in the institution. As an educator, you must make it possible to be more inquisitive and more flexible in connection with pedagogical activities. That calls for deliberate pedagogical reflection. Here, the leader should step in and pave the way for reflection and discussion about our understanding of learning and the way learning is addressed in the dynamic interaction between adults and children.

‘In return, a social concept of learning will benefit the adults as well as the children, says Lone Svinth.

‘You can look forward to seeing children experience themselves as appreciated, and then becoming a resource for adults and children alike in kindergarten’, the researcher concludes.