A visit to Aspen Preschool in Norsborg
In April 2018 I made a visit to Aspen preschool in Norsborg in Botkyrka, part of the greater Stockholm area. Botkyrka is also an area in Sweden that houses the most newly arrived refugees, but most that attend this preschool tend to be second generation.
Soledad is the director of the preschool, and I have worked with her before and is one of the people who have had great influence on how I am as an educator. I remember so well the meetings where we discussed pedagogical documentation, the children, our roles... and for the first time felt truly liberated in exploring these ideas... for the first time felt it was allowed not to have to agree with the others, but to be encouraged to have your own opinions and to understand them and to share them with others. To connect theory to practice. To connect practice to theory. To explore.
She is now six years into to her role as director at Aspen... a place that strives to create a democratic approach to learning... and is on their journey to that. As Soledad says, we want to be more than just beautiful environments - we need to connect the third teacher to the teachers - the outcome, the aims and the projects etc...
it is a preschool with ambition.
Here are a few of the photos from the preschool to inspire you.
challenging the idea of what materials can be made available to the very youngest children in preschool (1-3yr olds)
a low table filled with loose parts to tantalise the senses
Introducing colour to the the youngest children... not too many things to overwhelm. This is the beginning of their adventure with colour.
I think too often we present too much to young children and things can be overwhelming or they get lost, or there is too much for the children to process and master. Slow down. This can also mean slow down the process of introducing materials to children. Select materials intentionally so that they expand on the children's own experiences.
One of the construction areas for the youngest (1-3 year olds) A selection of levels, a good amount of resources that allows play and sharing without overwhelming... and of course things can be added or taken away to enhance, challenge and enable positive and creative play processes.
Clay area for the 1-3 year olds... clay was accessible for all age groups. Not something that was brought out as an activity but an area where the children could play and explore. Laminated images were on the table to inspire creation and exploration based on the children's interests.
Digital and light exploration area for 1-3 year olds. Here they were exploring nature.. Indoors and outdoors can be connected... digital tools and lights can be used outside to explore nature (torches/flashlights and digital microscopes etc)
Nature atelier... ateliers do not just have to be about paint and pens... they can also be about the art of nature...
Another construction room/area. I really enjoy seeing preschools where they do not have each area set up in the exact same way, as if this is to ensure equality. The beauty of creating construction areas with different looks and different resources is that children can visit each other's areas when they are not in use, for extra inspiration... do they use the skills they acquired in their own space in new ways when the resources are slightly different... do they gravitate to materials they already know... does the visit create a sense of wonder (the new factor) that re-ignites a new interest in construction and play? I understand that in many settings in pandemic/post-pandemic times that visiting each other's spaces is not a possibility, as children are being confined to their "bubbles" a limited social group so that they are limiting any potential spread. But there will be a time when there is more freedom again...
another set up for clay - this time for 4 year olds...
As you see above, the four year olds have access to more materials
A light shadow and UV exploration room. This was an old walk in store cupboard that was converted into an exploration area... as complete darkness could be achieved here allowing the children and educators to have control over the light and what kind of light and how much light...
a detail from the digital atelier... a space shared by the four and five year olds - small world story making... using film camera, stop-motion etc... depending on how the child wants to tell/communicate the story. Space for active storytelling, and also listening.
another detail from the digital atelier... the idea is to explore the world by mixing digital and analogue
here you can see how the small world area connects to a screen - so that the children's filmed stories can be shared live if they want to
a panorama of the room... it also includes a shadow puppet space and also a stage with the possibility of a green screen - the idea is that story telling and exploration can happen in many ways
Clay atelier for 5 year olds. Here you can see there is more space for more children at a time and also access to more materials that they have been learning how to use over their years attending preschool.
the fabric atelier... to explore and create with fabrics... there are many materials that can help a person explore and express their ideas and theories...
paper, paint, pens and scissors etc... the more traditional kind of atelier that most are used to seeing... here in the process of exploring papier maché
Nature atelier for the 5 year olds...
two small low tables set up with magnetic sculpture and also temporary art with loose parts... this is a part of a larger room, where the children were busy and I did not want to photo them, but these are tables that activities could be placed on and changed more regularly than the ateliers..
part of the dinosaur project. It was clear what the children were exploring in their project by looking at the documentation... the walls were a reflection of the children's processes.
nature atelier for the 4 year olds...
The construction area for the children involved in the dinosaur project as you can see allows them to construct and play with the theories that they are developing in the ateliers, through books, visits, dialogues etc... There needs to be a balance between teaching and learning and play... where the children have time to play to process the learning and not simply racing through facts where there is a risk that there is not the time to transfer learning into the long term memory (this can be done though play and also rest/sleeping - so we really should see rest/sleep as part of the pedagogical/cognitive processing day). I am quite sure that if I was to visit Aspen preschool in 2020 that it would look different... responding to the interests and needs of the children and teachers that are there now... but the journey of the inclusive democratic preschool with a focus on language (as many of the children come with their family language) will still be visible. The respect for the child, their play and their way of learning and exploring the world.