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Small children have a surprising level of self-awareness

Kindergarten children are good at describing how they feel, and they have a range of techniques to cope with difficult situations. This is the conclusion from new research by child researcher Kim Rasmussen.

Teachers and parents endeavour to ensure that children should thrive as well as possible. But what do the children themselves say about what it means to have a good life in the kindergarten? This has been the subject of a new research project by child researcher Kim Rasmussen.

One of the main points is that young children are very aware of when they are feeling alright.

"The children have some individual techniques to tackle situations where they are not doing well. I was surprised to find that the children have such a high degree of self-awareness, that they know what it is that can help them feel better and handle the difficult situations. A pedagogue in a childcare institution can use that knowledge to support and help the individual child” says Kim Rasmussen.

Children cannot be handled according to a formula

The children that Kim Rasmussen followed in his project displayed a range of techniques for dealing with difficult situations, such as when parents leave the kindergarten. One child said: "I don’t cry very often - only once a week. Then I want to be left alone for a bit."

Another child answered: "I go over to Liva, and then we play with Lego."

In order for the adults to be able to help the individual child, they need to understand the child's way of dealing with difficult situations.

"Children are just as different as us adults. We need to give children space to go away, if that's what they need, or to be available and comfort them if that's what they need, and we need to be aware that the children are actually quite self-aware” says Kim Rasmussen.


In his field study, Kim Rasmussen has also focused on what children do specifically when they feel good, and they have shown him places where they like to be. Some general themes are the movements of the children, their body control, the places and spaces they enjoy being, and their freedom to move between the inside and outside, and up and down. One example he emphasizes from his research is when a boy shows that he feels alright when he climbs up onto a large ship in the children's playground.

"He crawls up to places where I would think it's difficult to get to. But it gives him a form of feel-good-body-feeling when he masters an obstacle and has a specific technique for getting up” the researcher says.

The physical challenge of moving to selected places plays a vital role in feeling alright, according to Kim Rasmussen's research.

Problematic curriculum approach

In his actual field study, Kim Rasmussen has observed a daycare centre where they have managed to make their everyday work function in a good way. Nevertheless, he points out that there is a risk of the well-being of the individual child coming into conflict with the way curriculums, curriculum approaches and documentation are practised in many institutions today:

"The form of day-to-day management, listening to each other and trying to understand each other, can clash with the curriculum policy and other issues that arise from new public management approaches, where there is more focus on leadership, performance management and adult rationality. My research shows that, for many children, feeling alright is associated with being able to participate in deciding what activities they will engage in, so that when, for example, the pedagogues are instructed to follow six specific themes in the curriculum throughout the year, a fundamental mismatch can occur between what the adults want and what the children would prefer to do” the researcher claims.

He believes it is important to investigate the consequences that new public management can have for the children, compared to institutions where more efforts are made to observe the children, empathise with them and try to understand their world:

"I worry sometimes about the consequences of this way of running a kindergarten as if it were a business" concludes Kim Rasmussen.

Kim Rasmussen is an associate professor at the Department of People and Technology. He teaches the subject Educational Theory and Educational Studies, including on the module “Education, institution and society”.

Field studies in kindergarten

Kim Rasmussen carried out his field studies based on observations and interviews in a kindergarten in Roskilde from April 2016 to May 2017. Among other things, he asked the children to follow him to the places where they feel alright. The children have also photographed where they feel alright.

"I'm interested in getting as close to the children's world as possible. The two most important things in this respect are the words the children use and what they do with their bodies. These are the key factors of the field work” explains Kim Rasmussen, who is interested in moving away from the use of the adults' concepts and allowing the children themselves to express their experiences.

"There are still some methodological difficulties, because it is still me who interprets what I see. But I can try to do so as sensitively as possible, in an effort to get as close as possible to what the child feels", he explains.

The analyses from the kindergarten will be published as a book in 2018.

Children’s enjoyment of nature

Kim Rasmussen's studies, where he asked the kindergarten children to photograph things and places where they felt alright, show that many of the children associate feeling good with being in touch with nature and natural objects.

"It was a common feature that the children went and photographed bushes, flowers and trees. I know that children of school age are very interested in nature. But I did not expect that 4-year old children would also be so interested in it. It is unbelievable how important sensual and aesthetic features are for kindergarten children's’ well-being” says Kim Rasmussen.