Results from the research project
Kindergarten as an arena for cultural formation

From 2009–2014, a research group attached to the Teacher Professionalism research programme at the Centre for Educational Research, Bergen University College (Høgskolen i Bergen), studied the kindergarten as an arena for cultural formation. The project was co-financed by the Research Council of Norway, with a total budget of approx. NOK 9 million. The key questions were:

  • How is the content of kindergarten shaped and determined?
  • What characterises the content of Norwegian kindergartens today?
  • How can we research the concept of cultural formation on the context of kindergarten?

To understand more about the way in which the content of kindergarten is defined, the project worked from different angles: how small children participate in shaping the content; what characterises the kindergarten tradition in Norway historically; and what insight can we gain by looking at it from another perspective – the Chinese tradition.

The initiative has helped to build know-how, participate in new projects and expand the research group; and, last but not least, the group is now able to contribute fresh knowledge to the kindergarten sector. Almost 50 academic articles have been published, providing new knowledge of what characterises the content of kindergarten and what a study of the concept of ‘cultural formation’ could mean.

Through working with statistical methods; variance analyses, narrative case-studies, participatory observation, comparative studies, discourse analyses and student projects, and obtained input from trainee teachers in the form of personal accounts and participatory observation, an architecture for studies of the kindergarten as an arena for cultural formation as a socially complex field is proposed.

Aspects of such studies may be habitus (ways in which people behave, feel and think), hexis (habit-formation), dynamic mechanisms (time/place/situation/relationships), perspectives of the players, and the arenas (rooms/places), artefacts (things/signs/models), themes (play/learning/meaning creation/democratic education), outcome (overall plans/curricula/ethos of teacher training), and the scope of the field (branches and interfaces to other players, local and global aspects).

Cultural formation (danning) is in this project regarded as human experience, in which children’s play and learning, the formation of identity and meaning creation, are different avenues to understanding more about how people are shaped and shape themselves. Following a European tradition, ‘danning’ was understood as a process whereby a person is enriched through education and life experience in order to become a critical and constructive citizen and an active participant in a democratic society. The researchers studied how kindergarten creates the conditions for such processes. Studies in China and cooperation with Chinese colleagues enabled to project to explore, understand and create new knowledge with a broader global perspective; how philosophical and political ideas conditions kindergarten practice.

In all, 26 Norwegian and 4 Chinese kindergartens were involved in the project, and 14 researchers observed over 1,200 lessons. Students and trainee teachers in kindergartens also contributed observations. The research group has an inter-disciplinary composition. Three postgraduates were employed on the project: Åsta Birkeland, Liv Torunn Grindheim and Ida Marie Lyså. Other researchers were: He Min, Anne S. Ekrene Hammer, Ida Margrethe Knudsen, Randi Moe, Grete Nordvik, Svein-Ole Sataøen, Jan-Helge Kallestad, Tiri Bergesen Schei and Thorolf Krüger, and Elin Eriksen Ødegaard (project leader).

New projects
The research project was finished with a research conference in March 2014 where the main findings were presented. However the research project has given birth to many new research projects based on the findings and huge data collection during 2009–2014. To signify the connection with this research project and research area, the new research group called Kindergarten as a an arena for cultural formation develops the work further for the period 2015-2018.