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School of Education runs a unique exchange programme with Gävle University of Sweden for Early Years students.

swedish students

The exchange programme developed by Helen Sutherland, Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Kia Kimhag, University Lecturer in Education and international coordinator at the department of Education, Gävle University of Sweden offers early years students a wider opportunity of learning.

The programme is an offering unique to the early years’ students at Kingston and St George’s. It was designed to help students who are often unable to take part in traditional Erasmus exchange programmes due to the constraints of family and work commitments combined with rigid and intense national course requirements an opportunity to explore a different educational system in practice.

Helen says “I took our first group of students to Sweden in 2009 and our programme/model has developed from that initial visit. Here are some comments from the feedback the students have given regarding their experiences of the trip in 2009 and 2013.”

“Great opportunity to discuss the differing curriculums and to identify the different cultural practices”
“It was interesting to find how different their curriculum is from ours.”
“I am constantly re-evaluating and trying to improve my practice.”
“This has made a huge impact on my practice, I am constantly reflecting.”
“Three settings visited offered differing perspectives enabling me to consider how ideas may be translated into UK practice”
“The visit to Sweden reminded me of the importance of play, and the importance of following children’s interests.  I was impressed with the potential role of providers in supporting families.  I now advocate of forest schools and the natural outdoors being used to support learning.”
“Can I go and play in the forest again? LOVED it so much and still get excited talking about it! A once in a life time experience which I would like to do again!”
“I think that it was an excellent opportunity to widen my knowledge and understanding of childcare and education.  I feel more open to new ideas and can see that there are many different approaches to what we do as early years practitioners and there is a lot of room for development in the UK system.”

In relation to having lecturers from both countries there to support the students learning:

“Very important. Great to be able to Share good practice; what it’s like in reality working in another country- learning about the philosophy behind the ‘curriculum’; important to network together as professionals; important to be recognised as a professional”
“It was important that certain things were clarified.  It also helped having teachers guide our understanding, making comparisons to practice in the UK.”

This year in October, the School of Education welcomed a group of six students from Gävle University in Sweden, accompanied by their lecturer, Kia Kimhag, for a two-day visit.

The group’s agenda consisted of visiting three different early years’ settings: a large private day nursery, a private nursery school and a children’s centre within a primary school. Alongside this, the students attended lectures on the Early Years Foundation Stage and provision in England and completed a reflective learning journal about their stay.

Helen Sutherland and Kia Kimhag are currently in the process of writing a paper about their model which they expect to be presented in September 2015.

Sophie Beadle who went to Sweden in 2013 shares her memories of the trip and how those experiences shape her practice even today.

What is your memory of your visit to Sweden and what the trip meant for you?

The trip was the first chance I had to broaden my understanding of what ‘early years’ meant on an international level. I had been interested in looking at other settings to get ideas to develop practice, but until the trip I had only compared settings close to me. It inspired me to look beyond what we are doing in the UK to what is going on in other countries and the impact it has on the children there, thinking about what I like (and do not like) and how I can be influenced by the multitude of approaches. I had been learning on the EYPS course about providing children with the skills they need to flourish and in Sweden I was able to see it in practice in a way that really made sense to me.

Now does it still have an impact on what you do?  If so…..

I remember the key features that really attracted my attention or made me question what I do/we as a country do and these are often in the back of my mind when making a decision. For example, seeing how much trust was given to the children, allowing them to be independent and manage risks. I was particularly inspired by the environment, which suited my personal understanding of what an environment should be like and I strive to implement small changes that gradually lead to a more similar space.

How has what you have learnt impacted upon your professional thinking and pedagogical approach to practice?

As I said in the last question, I think of Sweden frequently when making decisions. I try to think (and encourage other staff to think) of the capabilities of the children and how we can support them to be more independent like I witnessed in each of the Swedish settings. When I see a small child show interest in scissors I stop my initial reaction of wanting to take them away in case they hurt themselves and think about what I need to do in order for that child to be able to explore with them safely, just like the children using the saws and tools in one of the settings. As well as this, seeing how valued early years educators are in Sweden reminded me how important this role is and the duty of care and responsibility I have towards the children in my setting. This drives me to continue to learn about the early years field, improving my understanding and my practice.

Please can you give any examples of how this is reflected in your everyday practice?

It has taken a while for some of the ideas I immediately came back with to come into effect, but slowly some changes have been made. Although the changes cannot be wholly attributed to the trip as they were made in discussion with the management in my setting who had their own reasons for wanting them I know that my time in Sweden influenced my decisions.

  1. As previously mentioned I encourage the children to be as independent as possible, whether that is putting on their own coat, serving their own tea or selecting and engaging in their own play. I encourage staff to do the same.
  2. We got rid of all our plastic boxes in the main storage unit and replaced them with wicker baskets, which immediately changed it from looking overbearingly bright and plastic-y to being more natural and inviting. I am hoping that eventually the whole room will be along these lines!
  3. One of the practitioners has gone on forest school training! (I wanted it to be me but unfortunately not this time around, though I still can offer my ideas from Sweden and subsequent research.)
  4. Just the other day I got loads of pieces of wood/tree trunks from a tree surgeon for our garden, which can be used by the children however they like.
  5. We are starting to use natural resources to create artworks and features in the room, like the many beautiful mobiles that we saw.
  6. I am still pushing for ‘projects’. They will not last the whole year like we saw in the creative setting but I am trying to introduce projects that will last for enough time that children can benefit from the process of developing and building on their ideas across all seven areas of learning in the EYFS.