‘We’re searching for a design that says neither institution nor home. We want to create a setting that inspires the children’, comments Yvonne Häll, assistant director of a kindergarten in the Södermalm area of Stockholm. This centre has become a model kindergarten in Sweden because it is so creatively designed.
It is easy to understand why when you step through the front door of the 800 square metre kindergarten. Curiosity leads you from room to room. There is tremendous variation in the different settings. Roughly 80 children from one to six years of age spend their days here, and they are offered settings adapted to their stage of development. The children themselves have helped create these environments.
Kindergartens are usually divided into sections for infants/toddlers and for older children. Täppan has divided the children into more specific age groups. One- and two-year-olds are together, three- and four-year-olds are together, etc.
After spending a year in one section, the entire cohort moves on to the next one.
‘Every year, they advance into a group that is tailored for their particular stage of development’, says Häll.
INSPIRED BY THE ITALIANS
Initially published in 1998, the Swedish curriculum was strongly inspired by the philosophy of education and the practices of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy.
It is based on the idea that children change and develop continuously and that they need to develop skills along the way. In addition to the adults and the other children, the physical setting is the third educator. The settings are designed to encourage the children to explore and discover together.
‘When we saw the curriculum, we felt it was absolutely fantastic. We immediately started thinking about how to approach the pedagogical documentation and the different stations for children of different ages’, the enthusiastic educator tells us.
‘’The idea is that we can work with a wide variety of different approaches. Lighting, for example. There are huge differences in energy levels in a group of children in a room where the lights have been dimmed, compared with the energy levels in a room with fluorescent lighting on the ceiling.
‘Täppan invests considerable effort in working with colours. They also affect the children’s energy levels. Soft colours result in a calmer atmosphere’, according to Häll.
A DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLE
All Swedish kindergartens are cognisant of gender and equality. This also applies to Täppan. The units are devoid of gender-coding, and the children are encouraged to play together.
‘We don’t have many traditional toys because we find most of the toys on the market today to be sadly gender-coded. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have dolls and cars. It just means that we think we can offer other options in kindergarten as well’, comments Häll.
‘We don’t want to take anything away, but we want to offer a wider range of different ways for the children to express themselves, so that they have a choice. The children should also be given opportunities to learn together. This is a democratic principle.’
“THE DOLL BED”
The staff of Täppan is of the opinion that the environment in the unit should always reflect the children’s current stage of development. ‘Rainbow’ is the unit for the youngest children. They used to have a little doll’s bed and dolls. However, one-year-olds don’t relate to putting a doll to bed. For that reason, they now have a big bed where the children can put each other to bed.
When children start kindergarten, their parents stay with them for the first three days. At Täppan, the visiting parents get put to work. They are tasked with sewing a doll that symbolises their own child. Inasmuch as most parents find this a challenging job, some of their attention is diverted from their own child. That gives kindergarten staff a better chance to get to know the child, while the parents get to know each other better.
HOSPITAL BED AND THREE DOLLS IN ONE ROOM
All the children know which doll represents which child. In a group of one-year-olds who have no verbal language skills, this offers a great way to communicate and make choices. If a child is sick, it is put to bed. If someone would like to go down to the movement room, they can put the doll in that space. In this way, they can communicate what they want, without having language.
THE MATCHBOX CALENDAR
All kindergartens have a calendar. But what difference does it make to a one-year-old whether it is 24 or 28 August? How many understand the difference between Monday and Friday? With this ‘calendar’, the children knock on a door on the calendar from Monday to Friday. Each day, a new doll comes out in response to their knock. On Fridays, Freja Friday comes out. There are no dolls behind the doors for Saturday or Sunday. This helps give the toddlers a sense of time. When they return, it is the beginning of a new week, and when they get close to the last two windows, it will soon be the weekend.
THE LANGUAGE UNIT
The Swedish curriculum states that kindergartens are to stimulate each individual child’s linguistic development. This is to be documented, but not evaluated. Täppan has a separate “Language Unit”. Staff members ask the children once a month if they want to tell about anything. The children’s utterances are jotted down word-for-word with pen and paper.
Reports on what the children have said in the Language Unit are hung on the wall, so that the parents can follow along with the children’s linguistic development. This is an effective means of documenting the children’s language development, at the same time as the children feel they are being heard. This also makes them more interested in written language, according to staff members.
When the children are promoted from the toddlers’ section to the next section in August, they are given two pine cones. When they turn three, they go out in the woods and pick the third one themselves. In addition to the symbolic value, the children learn simple mathematics.
THE DINING ROOM
When Täppan began planning to remodel the units, staff went down to the children’s eye-level. They found that what the toddlers see are dining tables and chairs. That gave rise to the idea of having a separate dining room. It is equipped with tables and chairs of different heights, adapted to the different ages. There are no toys in the dining room, which removes some of the distractions of eating in the units. Eating is the only activity performed in the dining room.
There are stages in all the sections of Täppan. Having different floor levels makes it easier for the children to be in larger groups in the same room. Play takes place in two different “worlds”. It feels natural to have quiet play up on the stage, and other play on the floor.
Indoor sandboxes are very popular.
‘Nature and fairytales are in focus in the section named “Bumblebee”, where the older children are. The children made their own architectural drawing of this structure. They gathered most of the materials for their project in the forests themselves. When the children help create their settings, they take better care of them’, a staff member mentions.
READY FOR SCHOOL
The oldest children will soon be starting school. They are both excited and apprehensive about being in what they call “the classroom”. This is a place where they can combine play and learning.
THE HOT DOG STAND
The hot dog stand gives the oldest children a chance to learn mathematics.
The way in which Täppan has used the walls makes pedagogical documentation easier. There are restrictions as to how much staff can change fixed walls. Adding shelves and partitions on the outside of the regular walls allows more latitude for changing the setting to feature different themes.
All the store rooms at Täppan kindergarten have been made into tiny creative playrooms. This store room is equipped with a little kitchen.