In Iceland, preschool is the first level of schooling even though it is neither compulsory nor free of charge. The preschools are for children between the ages of one to six years old and most children at this age attend preschools up to 9 hours per day. Iceland is one of the Nordic countries which are considered to hold a shared ideology about children and childhood. The Nordic model is famous for its emphasis on the concept of a ‘good childhood’ and is based on a holistic perspective integrating play, care, learning, and development. This is seen in the child-centeredness, where children’s perspectives are highly respected (Wagner & Einarsdottir, 2006; 2008).
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on the countries of the world, and Iceland is no exception, including the practice of preschool. In the first wave of COVID-19, a ban on gatherings was implemented in the country on March 16, 2020. As a result, restrictions impacted on schools and considerably affected preschools.
Researchers responded to this and studied how the first wave of COVID-19 influenced the practice within the schools and preschools, from different perspectives. The findings (Sigurðardóttir & Mörk, 2020) show that school restrictions considerably influenced the practice. The preschool principals found that the practices were of higher quality during the first wave of COVID-19 than previously. They believed this was largely because fewer children attended preschool each day and they were in smaller groups in each play area. In addition, the principals believed that the restrictions had heightened the well-being of the children and the adults, as well as promoting changes in daily schedules that cultivated a more relaxed atmosphere. This, for example, resulted in less sickness within the staff group. Although the restrictions limited children’s access to play and learning materials, it did not affect their play or well-being. Beyond that, educators noted new friendships emerging within groups of children during the period of restrictions, they also observed that some children missed peers who were no longer in their group. Furthermore, some educators reported experiencing loneliness due to being unable to communicate with their colleagues as freely as they had before. And some mentioned that because of more focus on cleaning and disinfection, in line with regulations from authorities, they had less time to take care of the children (Sigurðardóttir & Mörk, 2020).
Findings from another study (Einarsdóttir & Rúnarsdóttir, 2020) show that collaboration with children’s families changed during the first wave of COVID-19. The daily informal discussions between parents and educators dramatically decreased, as did parents’ participation in preschool activities. Moreover, it is worth noting that some parents of foreign background seemed to have relied on information about responses to the pandemic from their home countries, rather than the guidelines of Icelandic authorities. This shows the importance of providing better information to those parents.
Research (Ólafsdóttir, Karlsdóttir & Sigurjónsdóttir, 2020) on preschool children’s perspective on COVID-19 shows that they seem to have considerable knowledge about the pandemic and how it influenced the society. The children experienced limitations in the preschool; limited social relations, limited access to play materials, and less availability to play areas. Some children felt that it was good to have fewer children in the preschool, as there was less noise than before. Other children felt lonely because they missed their friends who were not attending preschool with them. These findings underline the importance of preschool teachers gaining insight into children’s views and including their perspectives when organizing the practice. It is also worth noting that children from countries outside of Iceland were less likely to attend preschools than their Icelandic peers during restriction periods (Einardóttir & Rúnarsdóttir, 2020).
Altogether, these studies make an important contribution to the preschool community by providing knowledge and understanding as to how the first wave of COVID-19 influenced preschool practices and as to how it may continue to change the practices in the future. In that light, the findings can also promote further reflections on how practices at preschools are organized and what is prioritized in preschools. Finally, it is important to continue to study how COVID-19 is influencing preschools, especially since there are now second and third waves hitting society, with different restrictions in schooling. This is the next step. I believe that we should seize the opportunity and emphasise the importance of professionals reflecting on this experience and how it can support them when organizing future preschool practice. Will the COVID-19 influence the preschools for the long term, or will this experience be buried as soon as it is over? I believe that we should highlight the positive aspects that were experienced during COVID-19 and avoid the negative aspects.
Dr. Ingibjorg Sigurdardottir is an assistant professor in early childhood education at the School of Education, University of Iceland. Her research has been in the field of play, preschool teachers’ practice, preschool teachers’ professional development and the process of action research. Ingibjorg has participated in several national and international research projects within different fields in relation to preschool practice, in collaboration with preschool teachers and researchers. Ingibjorg teaches in the preschool teachers’ education program at the School of Education, University of Iceland.
Einarsdóttir, J. & Rúnarsdóttir, E. M. (2020). Skólasókn og samstarf við foreldra leikskólabarna með fjölbreyttan bakgrunn á tímum COVID-19. [School attendance and collaboration with preschool children’s parents with foreign background during COVID-19]. Netla – Veftímarit um uppeldi og menntun: Sérrit 2020 – Menntakerfi og heimili á tímum COVID-19. http://netla.hi.is/serrit/2020/menntakerfi_heimili_covid19/01.pdf
Ólafsdóttir, S. M., Karlsdóttir, K. & Sigurjónsdóttir, D. L. (2020). Sýn barna á kórónuveiruna og áhrif hennar á daglegt starf í Leikskóla. [Children’s perspectives on the Corona virus and its effective on daily preschool practice]. Netla – Veftímarit um uppeldi og menntun: Sérrit 2020 – Menntakerfi og heimili á tímum COVID-19. http://netla.hi.is/serrit/2020/menntakerfi_heimili_covid19/02.pdf
Sigurðardóttir, I. Ó. & Mörk, S. B. (2020). Kófið og leikskólinn: „Þetta var mögnuð „tilraun“ til að sjá gæðastarf verða til við skrítnar aðstæður“. [COVID and the preschool: “This was incredible ´experience’ to see high-quality practice develop in strange situations”. Netla – Veftímarit um uppeldi og menntun: Sérrit 2020 – Menntakerfi og heimili á tímum COVID-19. http://netla.hi.is/serrit/2020/menntakerfi_heimili_covid19/03.pdf
Wagner, J. T. & Einarsdottir, J. (2006). Nordic ideals as reflected in Nordic childhoods and early education. In J., Einarsdottir & J. T., Wagner (Eds.), Nordic childhoods and early education. Philosophy, research, policy and practice in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden (pp. 1–12). Information Age Publishing.
Wagner, J. T. & Einarsdóttir, J. (2008). The good childhood: Nordic ideals and educational practice. International Journal of Educational Research, 47(5), 265–269.