DeBord visits Sweden's early childhood learning centers
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DeBord visits Sweden's early childhood learning centers

In Sweden, children spend a lot of time in outdoor play, Karen DeBord learned. DeBord used the experience in Sweden to test the assessment instrument for outdoor spaces she and colleagues have been developing. (Photo courtesy Karen DeBord)

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t was a golden opportunity — a chance to travel to Sweden with other child development professionals to get a firsthand look at the country’s early childhood programs. Dr. Karen DeBord, Cooperative Extension child development specialist, felt the trip would give her a chance to see how Sweden utilizes outdoor spaces to educate young children.

With the help of a $5,000 scholarship through North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Charles M. Brickhouse Development Award, DeBord was able to make the trip. The N.C. Center for International Understanding and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute organized the trip that drew 20 professionals.

DeBord is working with a team of professionals specializing in early childhood education and outdoor environments to develop an instrument for evaluating outdoor play environments for early childhood education centers. A wealth of playground regulations in North Carolina and the United States has turned many outdoor spaces at childcare centers and preschools into less-than-creative environments with anchored play equipment, but no spaces for creative play.

In September, DeBord and the group visited a number of Sweden’s early childhood learning centers in Gothenburg and Stockholm. They also talked with faculty at several universities to better understand the country’s approach to early childhood education.

DeBord said spending time outdoors is an important value in the Swedish culture. “It is an accepted thing for a child to spend 80 percent of his or her day outdoors,” she said. Sweden is not burdened with the overwhelming safety regulations of the U.S. that may inhibit learning, she said.

DeBord used the experience to help test and adjust the assessment instrument for outdoor spaces, which she and her colleagues have been working on for more then two years. She will use photos she took in Sweden to help American educators and parents understand the value of outdoor play.

“How do you communicate to parents the value of outdoor play?” DeBord said. “In Sweden, they just know.”

Sweden recently adopted a state curriculum plan for preschool education, which is similar to developmentally appropriate practices used by many U.S. early childhood centers. Group members were anxious to see how the curriculum, which is a framework for educating young children, compared to U.S. practices and whether it could help improve early childhood education in this country.

—Natalie Hampton

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