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Everyday life in preschool – Swedish and international approaches

Publicerad:7 november

Frida Åström har med fokus på barns delaktighet i förskolan undersökt förskolepraktiker och miljöer både i ett internationellt och ett nationellt svenskt perspektiv.



Frida Åström


Professor Eva Björck, önköping University Professor Mats Granlund, Jönköping University Professor Lena Almqvist, Mälardalens universitet


Professor Thomas Moser, University of Stavanger, Norge

Disputerat vid

Jönköpings högskola



Abstract in English

Background: The ultimate outcome of inclusive Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC), with the focus on everyday life in preschool in this dissertation, is child participation, i.e., being there and being engaged while being there. Little is known about the individual variation in child participation in preschool, and few studies have examined how the practices of preschool vary both in an international and national Swedish perspective, and what this variation may mean for child participation.

Aim: This dissertation aims to examine variations in preschool practices and environments within an international and national Swedish perspective, and to describe how these variations relate to participation in those environments for children. The findings will be discussed in relation to preschool quality, inclusive education, and the Swedish preschool for all children.

Method: Behavior count systematic observations were used to describe between- and within country variations in children’s and preschool teachers’ activities, behaviors, and environments in preschools in Sweden (n = 78 preschool units), Portugal (n = 42 classrooms), and the U.S. (n = 168 classrooms), and to provide comprehensive descriptions of activities in Swedish preschools (n = 78 preschool units). Behavior counts were also used to explore variations in observed participation patterns (based on level of engagement, associative/cooperative interactions, pretend play, and proximity to a small group including a teacher) between children in Swedish preschool free play (n = 453 children).

Results: The largest variation across the countries concerned the dominant activity setting. Free play was the main activity setting for Swedish preschools, while teacher-led whole group was dominant in Portugal and the U.S. Swedish preschoolers spent much time outdoors and had a relatively high proportion of associative child-child interactions. Across the countries, children were less engaged in their dominant activity setting. Child engagement was among the highest in teacher-led small-groups, but those occurred infrequently. For several preschool practices, the within-country variance was high in all three countries.

Swedish preschoolers focused on various contents, where construction, art, music, and less sophisticated play in small groups of children was most common, followed by pretend play. Teachers in the Swedish preschools displayed a large variety of teacher tasks where managing, i.e., organizing the child group, was most frequent.

Two groups of children displayed low-to-very-low observed participation in Swedish preschool free play. Second language learners and children from preschool units including several second language learners tended to reveal lower levels of observed participation, but not children with special education needs. Children with the lowest observed participation levels appeared unseen by preschool teachers.

Conclusions: The results reflect that cultural ideas and values are related to preschool practices on several system levels. The practices in Sweden reflect a social pedagogy tradition, whereas practices in Portugal and the U.S. reflect an early education tradition. A culture’s ideas and values also seem to be reflected in instruments measuring preschool practices and quality and demands caution when selecting measures. What children participate in, and their engagement when being there both seem influenced and defined by the activity setting. Changing activity settings more frequently may increase children’s engagement levels. In Swedish preschools, proximal processes for children’s participation may concern child-child interactions, as much as teacher-child interactions. In free play, some children do not get the support they need to participate in activities despite inclusive policies and the Swedish preschool curriculum emphasizing a “preschool for all children”.

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