Educare requires a good acoustic environment in preschools
Swedish preschools have long been associated with an integrated approach that combines education with care, known internationally as educare. However, in order for children’s care, development, play and education to be fruitfully integrated, preschools need to have an appropriate physical design. This regards, not least, the acoustic environment.
The most important governing document for Swedish preschools, Curriculum for the preschool (Lpfö 18), was revised two years ago. The approach to education and teaching is clearly outlined in the revised curriculum, which is based on a holistic perspective to children and their needs in which exploration, play, creativity, guidance and learning are integrated processes for the children.
What was previously a vague basic approach applied in Swedish preschools has now become a defined goal from the Swedish National Agency for Education, the authority responsible for preschools, comprehensive schools and upper secondary schools in Sweden.
Swedish preschools are regarded neither as a general recreational space for children nor as purely a learning environment, but more as a playful learning environment where play is the basis for learning and development. This means that a lot of sound needs to be permitted and encouraged, while also having the possibility to control the acoustic environment. Consequently, the physical design of preschool premises must meet certain requirements.
An exploratory approach
Annika Palmgren originally worked as a preschool teacher and has 30 years of professional experience of preschool education and teaching in Sweden. She studied education and school development at university and, since 2013, has been working as a consultant on projects that support and develop the activities of independent and municipal preschools. She also works on international school development projects in Scandinavia.
Annika says that it used to be controversial to talk about teaching in the preschool world, as it could be taken to mean that preschool teachers should conduct classroom-style teaching and tell the children how things are and what they should do. The revised curriculum defines teaching differently.
“The basis is an exploratory, communicative approach in which play is a learning tool. The children generate knowledge together under the preschool teacher’s guidance,” Annika explains.
No required learning outcomes
The basic concept is that educators should have the ability to identify the children’s interests as manifested while they are playing, to help them develop and expand their knowledge.
“The children should be given as many experiences as possible in preschool and, not least, develop communication skills and experience things with all their senses. However, there are no required learning outcomes to be achieved in Swedish preschools,” she explains.
Central to the educational mission is a set of basic values aimed at educating children to become democratic citizens.
“Preschools should have an understanding of different cultures and provide different perspectives on the surrounding world. Each individual is unique and has a right to be heard, while also having democratic obligations. These are values that preschools must reflect and communicate,” Annika says.
People are communicative, social individuals, and this calls for environments that promote those characteristics. Good acoustics contribute to sustainability by making environments conducive to learning, development and, above all, sustainable health.
A good learning environment with room for play
Play as a learning and development tool requires an environment where sound is both permitted and enabled, although without presenting a health hazard. Preschool should be a place for play and exploration. Young children have many emotions that need to be expressed and communicated through a range of sounds: shouting, laughter, crying, language.
“We need to design play environments that also provide good learning and working environments. This requires the building acoustics to be both designed for and conducive to these purposes. With our curriculum, situations mustn’t arise where educators have no choice but to tell the children to be quiet just because the sound level gets too high. At the same time, preschools need areas where children can go to find peace and recovery, as well as separate areas where instructors can plan, communicate and reflect.”
Annika points out that children’s acoustic environment is an important aspect in building a sustainable society.
“People are communicative, social individuals, and this calls for environments that promote those characteristics. Good acoustics contribute to sustainability by making environments conducive to learning, development and, above all, sustainable health.”
A confluence of expertise
In other words, many different needs and activities have to work in symbiosis in a preschool in order to fulfil the goals and definitions in the curriculum. This has a direct impact in determining the physical design of preschool premises.
“Architects and other technical experts such as acousticians need to meet with educators and principals to discuss the needs and content of the preschool curriculum before preschool premises are designed. Everyone involved needs to know what children are entitled to in their education and learning environment. The work must always be based on the needs of the children. After all, they are the ones who will be spending time in these environments. Their learning environment must be designed to allow them to communicate and interact in a sustainable way, just as the educators need a sustainable working environment. I believe it is vital for the expertise of everyone involved to be taken into account, based on the children’s needs.”
Annika’s vision of future preschools
Preschools differ from country to country. Sweden has its own theoretical basis for children’s learning and development, with a model in which preschools are an optional form of school in the Swedish educational system. On the one hand they have an educational mission, while on the other hand, they have an instrumental role in shaping society while giving parents and guardians the same possibility as others to study or work.
I see the preschool as a democratic arena and meeting place for the whole of society, which welcomes all individuals’ uniqueness and enables everyone to express themselves and flourish.
In other countries, more of the responsibility rests with the child’s home environment and family during the child’s first years. I ask Annika what the preschool of the future would be like if she could decide and design it.
“I see the preschool as a democratic arena and meeting place for the whole of society, which welcomes all individuals’ uniqueness and enables everyone to express themselves and flourish. This is a fundamental cornerstone of a society that educates future democratic citizens. I also want to highlight the aspect of internationalisation. Although the children live in Sweden, they are also connected with Europe and the rest of the world. This perspective is important to enable them to develop tools for sustainable development and lay the groundwork for their future knowledge. In all of this, language – and therefore also the acoustic environment – plays a central role.”
Text: Lars Wirtén
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