Early learning in a peer group – developing togetherness and the joy of learning

Early childhood education and care
Key for a child’s learning and participating is to feel that he or she belongs to a peer group and a community.

A group of children clapping

The quality of interaction is one of the most important  indicators of the quality of early childhood education and the well-being of children. It is also one of the most central factors influencing a child’s learning and development, Maritta Hännikäinen writes in her research.

The National core curriculum for ECEC builds on a concept of learning according to which children grow, develop and learn from interaction with other people and their environment.  Positive emotional experiences and interaction relationships advance learning. Positive feelings toward learning also affect the child’s positive experience of him or herself as a learner.

Key for a child’s learning and participating is to feel that he or she belongs to a peer group and a community. At times, functioning in a peer group may seem to an adult like aimless wandering about. However, children who are skillful at interaction are able to examine the situation and seek to go where they feel they can find the kind of activity that pleases them most. Social competence, that is, social capacity or intelligence, is a social skill for using available resources to reach personal or social objectives. The child is able to adjust his/her actions according to the context to make interaction as smooth as possible.

In a peer group, social competence can be understood as the ability to cooperate with other children and, for example, as good and timely skills for entering an ongoing game. For the adult, it remains to make observations, taking into account the child’s age and developmental stage, on to what extent the interaction between the children should be carried and supported. A pedagogically sensitive adult is able to adjust the group’s atmosphere to be positive by noticing the children’s initiatives and messages, and by responding to them in a way that is pleasing to the children.

Wondering together and investigative learning create the joy of realization

Vantaa early education runs a two-year project called the Experimental Learning Environment Goes Forest to develop the learning of science and mathematics in a natural environment. The purpose is to expand the concept of a learning environment to the surroundings of the day care centers, with an emphasis on playfulness and going on an adventure. In the Goes Forest project, the children are inspired, in accord with the national core curriculum for ECEC, to learning through action and community. The children’s natural curiosity and desire to explore are taken into account and strengthened in the teaching.

The children’s questions function as a good basis for learning

Investigation as a working method emphasizes the act of wondering together and appreciating questions. Children present questions most before school age. It is for the adult to see – or hear – behind the children’s questions and to understand what the child really wants to know. The personnel can use these questions as the basis for planning learning situations, and by doing so, tie the learning situation to the children’s everyday reality.

It is possible to learn investigative skills together, such as observation of things and phenomena, forming hypotheses, reasoning, and drawing conclusions, writes Jenni Vartiainen in her research. vIn different investigative small groups, the adult is part of the investigative team – a fellow learner, who wonders with the children and encourages the children to taking initiative and to looking for answers. The role of the adult is to verbalize the learning process and carry the progress of learning and the group dynamics forward. Experimentalism and doing things on one’s own strengthen a child’s learning process. Times of learning and discovery offer opportunities to be happy together.

In investigative learning with small children, it is important to remember the presence of playfulness. Children learn and remember things best through playing. Through playfulness, the optimal level of interaction between the child and the adult and the presence of positive emotions in a learning situation are achieved. A playful world does not rule out looking for facts and scientific knowledge, which are important elements in learning science and mathematics. These can manifest in a playful framework, however. The frame for a learning situation may be formed by means of different skills, such as drama, art, and music, writes Jenni Vartiainen in her research.

The functioning culture of the early childhood education unit draws on the values that are realized in the everyday life of the unit. A strong functioning culture for its part builds up a strong social base. When a child feels that they have a say in the things that involve them, they have more confidence in presenting their own opinions and taking initiative, and may truly start learning with joy. The vision of Vantaa’s early childhood education, “happy, learning, and participating children grow into a sustainable future,” describes well the way we in Vantaa approach learning. The joy of learning and the participation of the child come true in Vantaa’s early childhood education. Let’s continue with the same kind of tone for learning, joyfully, and share what we learn  at the Children First conference in May!

Blog authors

Early childhood education experts Elli Kiisto and Tiina-Liisa Åkerfelt
Project planner Marika Latva-Kyyny

The City of Vantaa
Education department

See also:

Vartiainen, J (2016). Kehittämistutkimus: pienten lasten tutkimuksellisen luonnontieteiden opiskelun edistäminen tiedekerho-oppimisympäristössä. Helsingin yliopisto. (In finnish)

Hännikäinen, M. (2017). Kasvattajan pedagoginen herkkyys ja pienten lasten emotionaalinen hyvinvointi päiväkotiryhmissä. Oppimisen ja oppimisvaikeuksien erityislehti : NMI-Bulletin, 27 (1), 54-63. (In finnish)