Engaged preschool children find it easier to learn and develop

Children with behaviour difficulties need special support already in preschool. In a new thesis from Jönköping University, Madeleine Sjöman concludes that children actively engaged in preschool everyday activities increase their learning, development and wellbeing.

Madeleine Sjöman is a lecturer and special educator at the School of Education and Communication. Her study comprises more than 800 preschool children from 92 preschool units in six Swedish municipalities.

For two years, the preschool staff was asked to rate the children’s engagement, social interaction and behaviour difficulties – and in which ways those difficulties have affected activities. The staff also reported on the provision of special support.

“The material showed that 63 percent of the children in need of special support did not receive it. This result aligns with a national report from the Swedish School Inspector,” says Madeleine Sjöman.

Her conclusion is that children that are often actively engaged in everyday activities in preschool have better opportunities to develop and to learn new skills. They also experience a higher level of wellbeing. The levels of engagement and behaviour difficulties were related both to the particular preschool unit and to the child’s own abilities. Children with behaviour difficulties, such as lacking concentration, do often show a lower engagement in everyday activities, which tends to have a negative effect over time. A lower level of engagement in activities and interaction with other children may over time result in the child experiencing itself as unable to participate and alienated.

“By providing special support to those children already in preschool, we can contribute to an increased engagement, which in turn might reduce concentration difficulties and facilitate learning. Today interventions are usually made too late, just before the transition to preschool class,” says Madeleine Sjöman.

“Most important is to improve positive aspects of the children’s behaviour and everyday functioning. Measures should focus on increasing the time that the child is engaged in the everyday activities in preschool, instead of focusing on reducing and trying to counteract behaviour difficulties. In Sweden, we are fortunate to have well-educated and competent staff in our preschools. I hope this thesis can contribute to the preschool staffs’ knowledge of children’s need of special support, focusing on increasing their everyday engagement and giving the staff an opportunity to develop their competence in meeting and supporting children in need of special support due to behaviour difficulties.”

Madeleine Sjöman successfully defended her thesis ”Peer interaction in preschool: Necessary, but not sufficient: The Influence of Social Interaction on the link between Behaviour Difficulties and Engagement among Children with and without Need of Special Support” at the School of Education and Communication on March 16th.

For more information you are welcome to contact Madeleine Sjöman directly. Telephone +4636-101783 . E-mail: madeleine.sjoman@ju.se