When the family assumes a greater responsibility for the small children’s learning

In Denmark the politicians want the homes to become learning environments. And the pedagogues to be the parent’s supervisors. What impact will that have on the cooperation between families and kindergartens?

Text: SIW ELLEN JAKOBSEN / TRANSLATION: HANNE HERRMAN

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Danish politicians want the kindergarten to play a key role in children’s early learning. In addition, they have decided that the parents must take responsibility for the task. The kindergarten researcher Lene S.K. Schmidt has examined this decision.

“For instance, pedagogues learn how to guide parents to show their children how to measure the size of their home, map the family history or buy food together,” she tells.

Schmidt has been leading a Danish research project looking at different countries’ political objectives for early learning in kindergartens. The researchers have compared the findings with the situation in Denmark. Also, they have looked at information brochures in Danish municipalities, aimed at parents and with texts saying something about how parents and kindergarten teachers ought to collaborate.

The researchers also participated in meetings with head teachers, kindergarten teachers and the parents’ representatives. And they have visited kindergartens.

UNCLEAR LINE BETWEEN HOME AND KINDERGARTEN

Pedagogues have always guided parents in questions about when ending pacifier and diaper as well as children’s sleeping pattern.

But in the beginning of 2000, something changed. In several countries, politicians started underlining the need for pedagogues to guide the parents about children’s early learning. In international documents they have studied, the Danish researchers have found several statements about this as well as in Danish political documents.

Consequently, pedagogues and parents have to collaborate more about children’s early learning. But Schmidt sees something else in addition:

“While previously stressing the early learning of each child, one is now more concerned with the learning environment. Both the family and the kindergarten are considered learning environments. The result is that the line between them has become more unclear,” Schmidt says.

It’s no longer only the pedagogues’ responsibility, also the parents have assumed an obligation for the children’s learning environment.

“While previously stressing the early learning of each child, one is more concerned with the learning environment today.”

BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KINDERGARTENS

At the same time the researcher has found big differences between the Danish kindergartens. In a big, public institution she studied, the parents’ involvement was mainly through logbooks and digital communication. They could also attend presentations of school projects the children were working on.

In a small kindergarten it was different. Here it was expected that the parents would engage in the everyday life of the whole kindergarten – not solely in their own child. They had to take part in the daily togetherness between parents and children, they had to feed the animals in the kindergarten on an alternating basis during the weekends and they had to participate in different traditions and yearly gatherings.

INTERVENTION OF THE PROFESSION AND THE PARENTHOOD

In the political documents the researchers can see how it is expected that parents and pedagogues enter into a kind of partnership with one another.

“The political aim is that parents and pedagogues share a common view of early learning as the most important thing in every child’s life. A view that will have an effect on the pedagogues’ professional role. It will also affect parenthood and the question about what a good childhood is,” says Schmidt.

The loose limits between home and kindergarten touch a classic debate: What is public and what is private? The researcher also questions if it’s a good thing that the pedagogue’s work shall reach out all the way into the child’s home.

The parents are asked to move over and into the pedagogue’s professional perspective instead of being parents. How will that affect the parental role? A pedagogue got seriously concerned about his/her own influence when a parent started talking about a meal at home as an eating situation.

WHAT ARE PROPER PARENTS?

Another important question, according to Schmidt, is what the society considers to be proper. What are proper values? What kind of family environment will be accepted as a good learning environment?

In Danish political documents, parents are categorized according to their status as coming from a high or low social and economic group, and whether the learning environment is strong or weak.

Thus, the researcher sees that it’s not merely a question of early learning. Certain people also wish to use the kindergartens for social politics.

“In the very moment it’s expected that pedagogues are to enter and guide certain parents more than others, it might lead to, implicitly or explicitly, that certain ways if being parents are regarded as better than other ways,” says Schmidt.

If one assumes the parents to come from a low social class, the more it will be assumed that the kindergarten ought to be an institution compensating for the family and directing the parents.

“There are many ways to be children and parents in Denmark today. Shouldn’t the pedagogues work in a way that adapt to that situation?” asks Schmidt.