Some years ago, when researcher Anette Boyer Koch carried out a study in Denmark about what promotes children’s well-being in kindergartens, not a word was said about adults. Their absence from the list of what makes children happy and satisfied in kindergartens was conspicuous.
‘I was rather surprised by this, and it piqued my curiosity. On that account, I decided to ask the children what they really think of the adults’, she explains.
Initially, she planned to ask the children who were attending kindergarten at the time. After further consideration, she found that to be difficult in terms of ethics, because the children are heavily dependent on the adults. Accordingly, she opted to ask children who had just finished kindergarten.
Equipped six-year-olds with cameras
The researcher had a feeling that it might be tricky to get the children to talk about the adults. She therefore equipped the six-year-olds with digital cameras before taking them back to the kindergarten they had left three months before.
The children were asked to take pictures of situations in which they had interacted with adults. A couple of days later, the researcher gathered all the children into a group. She showed them the pictures they had taken, and asked them to tell her about the pictures they had taken.
‘First, I got frustrated. The children seemed to want to talk about everything except the adults’, she sighed. However, when she examined the material more closely, she discovered that they had actually told her quite a bit about their relationships with the adults.
Four different types of adults
The children themselves mainly talked about the “pleasant and funny” adults and the “angry and grumpy” ones. When Koch looked at the descriptions in greater details, it occurred to her that it was possible to divide the employees into four different types:
- The comforter: The one in whose lap you find comfort when you are sad
- The playmate: The one who plays, laughs and jokes
- The master teacher: The one who organises learning activities for the children
- The enforcer: The one who ensures peace and order
Who did the children like best?
Not surprisingly, the children got the most immediate joy from the playmate. The comforter was good to have, too. They also felt that the enforcer is important, especially when they felt treated unfairly. The master teacher motivated them in a rather different way to the playmate.
Koch believes it is important for the children to be able to find all these types among the employees. ‘Capable kindergarten staff members should master all of these roles’, she adds.
Most of them have assumed a role that they themselves enjoy, but the employees usually alternate between the roles, depending on the situation and which child they are interacting with.
Take turns playing the roles!
Which roles do we play kindergarten? And which roles do we play with the different children?
It is important that staff members discuss this among themselves, in the researcher’s opinion. For example, are some children always met with one particular role? If so, that will impact their well-being.
Koch believes that her research can be used as a tool to benefit personnel.
‘After working at a kindergarten for many years, it’s easy to forget to be a playmate. And when you’re busy, you may forget to be an enforcer.
Take turns playing the roles’, she suggests. ‘Doing so may affect your own awareness of what role you play, enhancing the children’s well-being.’