Lisbeth Ljosdal Skreland worked in a kindergarten for 18 years before she started studying kindergartens for research purposes. She has always found rules annoying, so she wanted to study what they are used for in kindergartens.
She spent three months collecting rules in three different Norwegian kindergartens. She observed which rules were written down and passed along from adults to children. She also interviewed 30 children, ranging in age from three to five years old, in addition to 13 employees, to find out what they think about the rules.
‘Kindergarten employees sometimes stated that they didn’t have many rules. Of course, it’s easy for them to forget the rules because they are so ingrained. For that reason, I found the children to be the best informants’, she smiles.
Most rules are related to safety
‘Many of the same rules were applied in all three kindergartens’, says Skreland, who posits that the rules can be divided into three categories.
The largest group of rules revolves around safety: No climbing on the roof of the playhouse. Riding a bicycle is only allowed behind the kindergarten building. An adult should be posted on every side of the kindergarten building. These are examples of rules related to safety.
The second group is about social intelligence: No hitting allowed. Play with everyone. Be nice. These are examples of rules based on deeper existential values.
The third group consists of rules that apply to the physical space and equipment in the kindergarten: You are not allowed to take indoor toys outside and vice versa. Children are not allowed in the staff room. The toy train tracks have to stay in the toy railway room.
‘No, I’m sure that doesn’t happen. After all, we’ve tried it many times.’
Everyone breaks the rules
Children and adults alike break the rules all the time.
Adults break their own rules when it suits them. For example, there is no running in the hallway, but the toddlers are occasionally allowed to run anyway. Skreland interprets this as the exercise of discretion.
The children protest against the rules a lot and break them intentionally. Skreland asks a little boy why they have a rule about not climbing on the roof of the playhouse. In response, he explains to her that if you jump off the roof of the playhouse, you can fall down and break your leg. ‘Does that ever happen?’ queries Skreland. At that point, his playmate responds: ‘No, I’m sure that doesn’t happen. After all, we’ve tried it many times.’
Time-outs for infractions
When children break the rules, they often face sanctions.
All the kindergartens she studied used time-outs or moved children to a different place when they broke rules.
Skreland found that the children felt the rules were terribly annoying and they were highly critical of the sanctions. Of course, they have no union to represent them and they have a hard time expressing what they mean.
Some rules are important, others are not
The study proved to Skreland that her assumptions were correct. There are many rules in kindergartens, and they are generally in place for the adults. However, she is a little more relaxed about the rules now than she used to be.
‘There are many good reasons for having rules to give the children structure. We need rules wherever there are many of us because total anarchy is intolerable. Many rules are anchored in core values. There are also many rules that exist only to make life easier for the adults.’
She believes it is important for employees to discuss with the children which rules are important, and which are less important. Setting rules should be a joint project.
She is also of the opinion that assistants should be included in discussions about how to apply good judgement when it comes to abiding by the rules. At present, the kindergarten teachers set the rules, and the assistants abide by them loyally.
‘But no one should work in a kindergarten unless they can think for themselves. The assistants can exercise good judgement’, she insists.