This article was produced and financed by Oslo Metropolitan University
Children need time out from adult control
Too many adult-directed activities in day care centres may inhibit children's curiosity and desire to learn.
Oslo Metropolitan University
Nine out of ten children of pre-school age today spend large and important parts of their everyday life in day-care centres.
As an institution, the day-care centre is gradually becoming more closely integrated with the school system.
New book on play
"The danger in strengthening the kindergarten as a learning arena is that it will result in more adult-directed activities," says Kristin Danielsen Wolf in the Department of Early Childhood Education at HiOA.
"Modern everyday life is highly organised, so children should also be allowed the time and space to play without being directed by adults," she says.
"If we organise such large portions of children's everyday life, we run the risk of stifling their natural curiosity and spontaneity," says Wolf, who is writing a book on the significance of play for children. She has also conducted a study of three day-care centres in Eastern Norway in which she examined how young children explore and play in different educational environments.
Children learn a lot through play
"Children are meant to learn and explore," says Danielsen Wolf. "Children learn a lot through play; it has an intrinsic value that must be respected. To a large extent, children's culture is based on play."
"As for strengthening the day-care centre as a learning arena, I think it's important that play be understood as a form of both living and learning," say Danielsen Wolf.
The researchers believes that care, play, and learning should be viewed in relation to each other but that play should also be understood as ways in which children behave and express themselves. Play therefore has special significance.
"If we view learning as a matter of giving adults more control over children's everyday life in the day-care centre, we run the risk of becoming too methodical and organised," she says.
Day-care centres vary considerably in terms of the opportunities they offer for free play.
Play environment inspires children
Danielsen Wolf is also concerned with the different ways in which a day-care centre's physical environment can stimulate play. One of the main messages in her book is that rich and varied play environments that offer different types of equipment and materials will promote different forms of play.
"The data I collected indicate that there is a higher frequency of role play among children in physical environments with a rich assortment of materials that can be used for dressing up," says Danielsen Wolf, who believes that more focus has been placed on large play elements that encourage physical play.
"That's a very good thing, but play equipment does not have to be provided at the expense of materials that inspire and encourage symbolic play and role-playing."
Danielsen Wolf also examined the significance of adults' play skills and how pre-school teachers can enrich children's play as spectators, producers, and actors and as cultural mediators in day-care centres.
"The day-care centre is a place where many children spend large parts of their everyday life, so it's important to examine what opportunities and limitations exist in their educational environments," says Danielsen Wolf.
Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no