English at Forest Kindergarten

Adéla Othová

Before choosing this topic offered by Ms Oaklandová, I did not have any idea what field I wanted to cover in my thesis. However, English at forest kindergarten soon became the main interest of my Erasmus stay in Sweden in terms of teaching practice. After I slowly got into the topic, I soon realized how much I am enjoying working on it and I am pretty sure my master’s thesis will focus on a problem from a similar field.

The choice of this suggested thesis topic has its roots back in the spring semester of 2015 when I had an opportunity to experience teaching practice in the Swedish forest kindergarten Utelek as a part of my Erasmus study exchange. This experience became an encouragement and a starting point for my interest in forest kindergartens and outdoor education in general. The idea of comparing a Swedish forest kindergarten with a Czech one in terms of English learning was supported by my finding of Mgr. Ludvík Kalibán’s thesis, which describes an English course at the Bažinka forest kindergarten. To sum up, Czech Bažinka and Swedish Utelek naturally became the forest preschools I chose to compare in my thesis. The aim of the thesis is to describe and compare the ways English is taught at both kindergartens. The theoretical background provides a basis for further research by presenting key information about outdoor education, forest kindergartens and English in terms of preschool education. To conduct a qualitative research, I have used the method of case study implemented by interviews and observations. Interviewees were teachers at both schools and English native speakers who had experienced working in the kindergartens under investigation.

English learning in forest kindergartens is not commonly considered more effective than in any other type of preschool institution, although facts given in my theoretical background show that connecting English learning with outdoor education corresponds with the ways preschool children learn. In concrete terms, all five senses are engaged and the learning is realized by experience, features correlating with the main ways preschool children learn as described in the theoretical background. My thesis examines the relation between approaches towards English learning and the cultural and historical context of Sweden and the Czech Republic. This relation is an influential factor in terms of ways of including English in the curriculum, and it may be considered in further research. The thesis provides an overview of the differences in approaches to English learning and teaching in Sweden and the Czech Republic, although only two forest kindergartens were examined owing to limited observation time and interviews. Due to this fact, the thesis is intended as the commencement of a research which may be continued in this field.

In my thesis I aimed to compare the separated English lessons implemented in a Czech forest kindergarten with the free use of English in the everyday program of a Swedish forest kindergarten. Another goal was to describe the influence of legislation on ways of including English in the curriculum of each of the forest kindergartens and explain the objectives mother tongue usage while teaching English in the forest kindergartens. Cultural and historical context influences the choice made by each kindergarten to include English in either structured or free language acquisition. By cultural and historical context I mean the fact that English is taught as a second language in Sweden and a foreign language in the Czech Republic. What’s more, while Czechs were obliged to learn Russian in the second half of the twentieth century, approaches in English learning were evolving in Sweden during that time. Legislation can be regarded as a part of the cultural and historical context. The status of forest kindergartens in the Czech Republic and Sweden also influences ways in which English is included in the programme. The commitment of the Swedish forest kindergarten to include English every day may be implemented naturally through the presence of an English native speaker at the forest kindergarten, while implementing a lesson plan once a week, as it is done in the Czech forest kindergarten, where including English is voluntary, gives children the opportunity to choose whether they want to join an English afternoon. Differences in the ways of including English in the programme of each forest kindergarten notwithstanding, research conducted at each kindergarten has shown that both use mother tongue to maintain motivation, attention and security.

I believe that there is a wide scope for further research of this issue in order to prove the advantages of including English in the curricula of forest kindergarten. Regarding any further research in this field, I would recommend an  investigation of the advantages of English at forest kindergartens, which, I believe, are numerous. I would also suggest doing further research in other kindergartens in Sweden and the Czech Republic and potentially other countries where English is considered a foreign or second language.

While working on my thesis, I realised most notably how naturally pre-school English teaching and forest kindergartens in general are embedded in the Swedish system of education. In my opinion, the advantage Swedes have in this case is that forest kindergartens and including English in the curriculum have evolved slowly and naturally. In the Czech Republic, however, this trend has been occurred spontaneously, and it still needs space and time for evolution.

Link to the thesis archive: http://is.muni.cz/th/383233/pedf_b/