The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence is framed, without visible theory, in language embedding the value of childrenâ€™s experiences. In association with a policy encouraging practitioners to develop healthy home/school links, early childhood practitioners develop pedagogical practices in support of this curricular language of experience. One aspect coming into focus is childrenâ€™s experiences in general rather than only those which take place within institutional walls. One way children introduce their out-of-school experiences into classrooms is by voluntarily bringing treasured objects from home to early childhood setting doors.
By jointly engaging with John Deweyâ€™s view that worthwhile educational experiences are developed through interactions and continuities, the pedagogic practices of twelve early childhood practitioners and the view that each child-initiated object episode could be viewed as part of a childâ€™s experience this research aims to better understand practitionersâ€™ development of educational experiences through their responses to the objects forty children voluntarily brought to school. In support of this aim three research questions focused on 1) what objects children brought? 2) what practitioners said and did with the objects? and 3) what practice similarities and differences were visible across two consecutive age groups: 3-5 year olds in a nursery (preschool) and 5-7 year olds in a composite Primary 1/2 class (formal schooling)?
During an eight month period in 2009 data were collected by classroom observations, collection of photographic images and practitioner interviews in a government-funded, denominational, early childhood setting in a Scottish village school. Data were analysed for the physical and social properties of childrenâ€™s objects, practitionerâ€™s pedagogic practices when engaging with the brought-in objects and similarities and differences in object-related classroom behaviours as epitomised in the relationships in each classroom.
The findings were that practitioners made use of three main pedagogical practices when engaging with childrenâ€™s brought-in objects: transforming objects into educational resources, shaping in-school object experiences and building a range of relationships around these objects. While the broad patterns of practice used in both classrooms were similar the details of practice showed underlying framings of children and their futures were different in each classroom.
It is argued that what Deweyâ€™s views offer, in the context of these findings, is a theoretical framing of experience that opens new possibilities for practitionerâ€™s individual and group reflections on their current practices and collaborative practice development. His is one of the languages of experience available as practitioners and policy makers around the world grapple with educational questions.