“Although we in general have better weather, we are seldom outdoors. This is an area where we have a lot to learn from Norwegian practices, and we will probably try to facilitate more outdoor activities”, she adds.
The Spanish and English kindergarten teachers felt they were able to communicate with the children in spite of the language barrier. But although they were able to communicate through body language, gestures and facial expressions, it could be difficult to understand what the children were trying to say, and this could be quite frustrating at times.
“Nor was it easy being an observer and not having the opportunity to intervene in various situations and not being allowed follow your instincts as a kindergarten teacher”, explains Sílvia Turmo. She and her sister Natàlia run the school Petita Escola in Barcelona together. In the beginning of the secondment, they felt they were in the way, but the sisters say they became familiar with their roles as it went on. They were surprised by how differently Norwegian and Spanish kindergartens are designed. “Spanish kindergartens usually have large, open spaces without doors where the adults have a clear view of everything, allowing them to carry out different tasks at the same time as supervising the children. This is because of the high number of children per teacher in Spanish kindergartens, and we depend on employees being able to multitask”, they say.
Spending time with the children
Spanish kindergarten teacher Maria Jose Riella says she was impressed by the routines in the Sandvedhaugen kindergarten and that it was inspiring to experience the contact and interaction between the children and the teachers. She says it was great to see that the staff could spend so much time together with the children.
“In the kindergarten where I work one of us always has to tidy up and prepare things, which means that one adult has to take care of far too many children. This is not optimal, and I think we have to go through our routines and see if there are tasks we can solve better and thereby free up more time. During this week we have picked up a lot of things I believe would make our work day easier, such as letting the parents unpack the children’s rucksacks in the morning instead of the kindergarten staff. Implementing this as a routine would obviously have been of help to us”, she says.
In the Norwegian partner kindergarten, Sandvedhaugen, several routines have been changed as a result of the project. Assistant manager Liv Hjertø says it was something of an eye-opener when they were introduced to a new way of approaching meals, one that may open up for more learning during mealtime in kindergartens.
“We have made big changes as a result of the project, especially when it comes to meal practices. We have reflected a lot on conversation and communication at the meal table, both among the children themselves and with the adults. What is to be considered noise, and what is normal toddler behaviour? How do we adults talk with the children during meals, and what do we talk about? The project has made us more aware of how toddlers were being talked to instead of with during meals, and we have tried to do something about it. After encouraging more participation, independence and mastering during mealtime, we have experienced improved wellbeing among the children. And it is actually the adult’s role we have worked with and changed the most”, she says.
Couldn’t stop smiling
According to Kathryn Hogarth from “Achieving for Children” in England, the Norwegian kindergarten children seem to be calmer and happier than their English counterparts. She also finds them more independent.
“I thought I was letting the children be able to do things by themselves where I work until I observed a toddler trying to mount a swing. She was having problems getting her feet beneath herself, and I hurried to assist her. One of the Norwegian kindergarten teachers then stopped me and said I should let the little girl try on her own. She held the swing steady and let the girl climb until she had managed to mount it. She couldn’t stop smiling and was so proud of what she had achieved”, she says.
The Spanish and English kindergarten teachers in the project believe it is possible to learn a lot from each other’s practices, despite the big cultural differences between the various countries.
“We have a lot to learn when it comes to preparing children for school. In the Norwegian kindergarten there were three girls who were going to a different school than the other children, and they sat at their own table during lunch. It looked like they were at a dinner party, and they were really enjoying themselves”, says Mireia Miralpeix.