Nordic Perspectives Symposium

November 11 – 13, 2011
Scandinavia House
New York, NY

On November 11-13, 2011, the Child Development Institute (CDI) collaborated with the American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) to hold a symposium entitled Nordic Perspectives on Caring and Teaching in Early Childhood:  Implications for Success in School. Leading childhood experts including professors of education and practitioners/teachers from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland presented at the symposium and facilitated discussions. This symposium is believed to be the first of its kind and magnitude on this topic in the United States.

The symposium began with welcoming remarks by Edward Gallagher, ASF president, and Monika Heimbold, Co-founder of the World Childhood Foundation and Child Development Institute Professional Advisory Board member. The keynote address for the evening was given by Ingrid Engdahl, Professor of Early Childhood Education, University of Stockholm, Sweden and President of OMEP-Sweden, the national chapter of a world-wide organization advocating for the rights, education, and general well-being of children. An overview of the weekend’s events and speakers was given by Sara Wilford, Director of Sarah Lawrence College’s Art of Teaching program  and member of the Child Development Institute faculty group and psychology faculty.

The next morning kicked off with a keynote address given by Judith Wagner, Professor of Child Development and Education and Director of Broadoaks Children’s School at Whittier College and President of OMEP-USA. In her address, "Fishing Naked: Nordic Ideas about the Good Childhood," Dr. Wagner presented images and Nordic perspectives on childhood through an American lens. Nordic countries place great importance on what they call en god barndom (the good childhood), a good childhood in which play and exploration are at the center of the learning experience. In Finland, for example, school does not begin until the age of seven, there are no standardized tests, homework is minimal, and children spend more time at school playing outside than inside even in the depths of winter.  In Sweden, music, dance, and poetry are central to the curriculum. In Denmark, preschoolers climb trees, build towers with shaving cream, learn to fish in their birthday suits (to avoid the constant changing of wet into dry clothes), and learn to whittle with sharp knives because "dull knives are dangerous."

Following the morning keynote address, Ingrid Engdahl, moderated a panel on Teacher Perspectives from Sweden presented by educators Yvonne Hall, Bibi Karlsson, and Elisabet Nyleus. The Nordic educational systems share a high regard for the teaching profession where teachers are trusted to know their job, where classroom sizes are small so children receive individual time with teachers each day, and where children, when they are learning new concepts, are encouraged to "play more."

The afternoon featured a panel moderated by Judith Wagner on language, communication, parent perspectives and development in play featuring Vibeke Grover Aukrust, Stig Brostrom, Johanna Einarsdottir, and Pentti Hakkarainen. As part of creating a good childhood, Nordic schools create an atmosphere of inclusiveness where children are given opportunities to learn their physical limitations while developing social skills.

The last day featured a keynote address by Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson, Professor and Coordinator for Early Childhood Education, Department of Education, Gothenburg University, Sweden and OMEP World President, on "What Can We Learn from Nordic Theory and Practice?"  Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson addressed the importance of learning as a process and meaning-making. The keynote was followed by break-out sessions in which participants were involved in more intimate discussions on topics such as "The Role of Imaginative Play in Development and Learning," "Policies and Practices: Implications for Early Childhood Education in the United States," and "Finding their Voices: Children as Active Participants in Democratic Environments."

At the end of it all, participants walked away as global partners with a renewed sense of energy and inspiration.