Time to talk and play

Norwegian children generally like kindergarten, a new study finds. However, many wish that the adults had more time to talk to them and play with them. The researchers believe that many children wish that adults were more available to them.



What is it that helps promote subjective well-being in kindergarten? And what causes failure to thrive? The three researchers Åse Bratterud, Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter and Monica Seland were interested in finding the answers.

Their research project gave a total of 190 children, ages four to six, permission to tell them exactly how they experience kindergarten. In addition, 18 children from one to three years old were observed. The researchers were particularly concerned with well-being and participation.

Most of the children say they have fun in kindergarten. The children usually have one or more good friends there. Spending time with them is among the things they enjoy the most.

However, a significant percentage of the children feels it is “just okay” to be in kindergarten. As many as one of ten children say that they are not especially happy. Nearly 12 per cent of the children say that they are often bullied in kindergarten.


The researchers believe that one of the most important reasons that some children do not thrive, is that they are not seen by the adults. More than half the oldest children report that it is difficult to catch the eye of the employees, who are pressed for time.

Some children say they also miss the adults making up fun things to do and taking part in their play. One-third of the children say that the adults never play with them, neither outdoors nor indoors. The children say that they think it is fun when the adults join in the play.

It is prudent to talk with the children, rather than to them. The children ask questions like: Are you full now? Would you like more milk? But the children are rarely invited to engage in longer conversations.


The youngest children also appear to like being in kindergarten. In several locations, the researchers observed that there was little extended contact between children and adults.

‘We see some children who walk around alone during unstructured play. They don’t engage with the other children or with the adults. They try to join the play with other children, but can’t manage on their own’, comments Monica Seland. ‘They need a supportive grown-up to be there for them.

‘Large groups of children and many practical tasks steal time from the children, and may be one explanation for the lack of presence. However, such a situation may also be ascribable to a lack of interest in talking to children’, adds Seland. She observed adults who had both time and opportunity, but who nonetheless did not engage in dialogue with the children at the dining table, for example.

‘A great deal revolves around talking with the children, not to them. The children are asked questions like: Are you full now? Would you like more milk? But they are rarely invited to engage in longer conversations’ states Seland.

Dialogue is about being seen, which is related to children’s well-being. However, it is also about linguistic stimulation. Kindergartens should be more aware of this, according to the trio of researchers from the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare (RKBU) of Central Norway at NTNU and the Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education.

‘Participation must also mean having an opportunity to decline.’


Children should have the opportunity to influence their day-to-day kindergarten situations. Most of the oldest children feel that they are often allowed to help decide what to play outdoors. But several of them report that they have less influence over what they want to do indoors. Once the adults have decided something, the children find it hard to say no.

‘Many experience that they must take part in things even if they don’t really want to. This applies to activities like going for walks or taking part in circle time. While small children show how excited they are about circle time, some of the older children report that they aren’t exactly crazy about it. When they go out for walks, many would like to spend more time exploring and engaging in unstructured play, rather than simply following the adults.

‘Participation must also mean having an opportunity to decline. And about being respected even if one doesn’t always want to do what the adults say, according to the researchers’, says Seland.