Nature kindergartens inspire students from China

Chinese students are taking their practical training through an international project about early childhood education, and have spent a semester in Norway.

'We have started to think that children benefit from spending more time outdoors,' explains Chen Ying, who, along with her fellow students Chen Siyao, Cao Yi and Huang Yanyan, is among eight Chinese students who recently completed two weeks' practical training in Norwegian kindergartens, more specifically in the city of Bergen, on the western coast of Norway. 

Curious about Norway

East China Normal University (ECNU), one of China's leading universities in teacher training, has cooperated with HiB on preschool teacher training since 2004. An important part of the cooperation is student mobility with practical training in kindergartens.

'Student exchange is a mandatory part of my studies in China. I thought that Europe seemed exciting, and since Norway is a beautiful country, I really wanted to spend my exchange period here,' says Chen Ying. 

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Chinese students take their practical training through an international project about early childhood education. They take their experiences back home to China to enhance their studies and future work. Photo: private

'We were also very curious about what preschool teaching was like in Europe and, in particular, outdoor teaching in Norway,' adds Cao Yi, and refers to the differences between Norwegian and Chinese kindergartens. 

'Children spend a great deal of time playing outdoors in Norway, whereas they are more often indoors in China. Preschool teachers in China usually make a timetable and organise playtime that has clear learning objectives. For example, you have classes in which art, maths, reading and science are taught, and the preschool teachers spend a great deal of time planning and following up these classes. This is often what Chinese parents want. If the children do not start learning from their time in kindergarten, it will be hard for them to keep up with the other pupils when they start primary school,' says Cao Yi.

Valuable work experience

Chen Siyao explains that there is a big difference between the way kindergartens are designed in China and Norway.

'Our teacher took us to a kindergarten situated in the forest on Mount Fløien. I was really surprised that this was actually a kindergarten. In China, the rooms are normally decorated for children, but in Norway, the kindergartens are very simple and more like normal classrooms.'

Cao Yi thinks that gaining relevant work experience during the study period has been very valuable.

'Although our textbooks also contain pictures which give us an insight into how things are done, this cannot be compared to practical experience in a kindergarten. If I had not participated in this practical training, I would not have experienced the great atmosphere when the children sit in a circle around their teacher and sing happy songs. This is something that the textbooks cannot portray and as future preschool teachers, it is something that is very important to learn while we are in Norway. I learned a lot through observing and asking the preschool teachers and heads of the kindergarten.'

New knowledge

In addition to taking their work experience home with them, the student teachers have also become more acquainted with Norwegian students' day-to-day life.

'The courses in Norway are quite flexible, which we are not used to. There is always a great number of students in China, and everything has to be very well organised. We also have weekly assignments to be handed in, while in Norway we only have a reading list which we have to complete and then take the final exam,' answers Li Yue.

'In China, we have three or four classes every day from Monday to Friday, while in Norway we only have three classes that last all day. We can use the other two days to study at home,' adds Chen Ying.

Both Chen Ying and Huang Yanyan have nearly completed their degrees and will try to use the experience and knowledge they collected from Norway when working as preschool teachers in China.

'I am going to work as a preschool teacher when I complete my degree, but I don't think that I will continue in that line of work for the rest of my life. My dream is to work as a preschool teacher first to gain experience from kindergartens, and then to take a master's degree or PhD, since I hope to contribute to further developing preschool teacher education in my country,' says Huang Yanyan.

  • The project 'Field work and research approaches in international early childhood education' is a cooperation between HiB and ECNU
  • 30 students have participated
  • The project is supported by the UTFORSK programme