Play and learning are equally important

'It is crucial that we use the term 'teaching' in kindergartens, even though doing so may pain many early childhood educators in Sweden', says the researcher Pia Williams.


Photo: Freddy Wike


Learning, care and play are and will continue to be equally important aspects of early childhood education. However, this means that early childhood educators must feel secure in their roles. They don’t necessarily feel secure today.

‘Many feel insecure and unprofessional as the call for more teaching gains momentum in Swedish preschools’, Williams states.

The Swedish researcher has studied early childhood educators at 30 different Swedish preschools for children between one and five years of age.


Williams finds that the tradition of social pedagogy stands strong in preschools. This tradition attaches great importance to the development of a child’s personality and character, as well as to care, play and everyday activities. The early childhood educators in the study believe it is important that children develop democratic values, listen to each other and show each other respect. All other learning is secondary to that.

‘Preschool traditions still rest heavily on social values. This is closely related to the attitude that children should be spared instruction at preschool level’, says the researcher.

There are also preschool teachers who make no distinction between social and cognitive knowledge. They are of the opinion that when interacting, children can take each other into account and work together to solve problems in mathematics and language, for example. They see no conflict in this context.

‘Using everyday situations for learning and for combining social and cognitive skills means that the preschool teacher needs several skills’, continues Williams. ‘Teachers must have expertise in different subjects, such as mathematics and science, but they must also have skills to translate that knowledge in a way that can stimulate children’s curiosity and wonder.

‘I believe that the preschool teachers educated in Sweden today are competent in social as well as cognitive terms. At the same time, there are many who find it difficult to fulfil the requirements in the revised Swedish curriculum.’


‘Those who do not meet the new requirements experience this as stressful.
They have high aspirations and genuinely want to contribute to smooth operations. However, if their knowledge is deficient, they need to supplement it’, continues Williams.

‘Today, there is a gap between the curriculum and the knowledge possessed by many who work in preschools. This gap has to be closed, and that can best be done through continuing and further education’, she adds.

‘Many find it difficult to use the term teaching in connection with preschools. But by talking about teaching, we can promote the further professionalisation of preschool teachers. This can also improve the quality of extremely critical institutions like preschools’.