“Preschool – an arena for children’s learning of social and cognitive knowledge”.

Williams, P.
Sheridan, S.
Sandberg, A.
Early Years: An International Research Journal, 34(3), 226-240


The purpose of this study is to examine how teachers at Swedish preschools describe children's learning in relation to the goals of the Swedish preschool curriculum. The research question answered in this article is as follows: What do teachers view as fundamental aspects of learning at preschools?


The interviews show that the teachers view social skills as the foundation for children's learning at preschool. The teachers describe in the interviews how practice can provide a communicative learning context, in which children can gain social skills and practice cooperating with their peers and adults. Moreover, the teachers stress how social knowledge and cognitive knowledge are inseparable in children's cooperation and learning. The results are a continuation of Sheridan et al. (2011) which distinguishes between teachers who use social pedagogic approaches and teachers who use learning-oriented approaches. Sheridan et al.'s study shows that teachers who use social pedagogic approaches place greater emphasis on teaching the children social skills and play. This is in contrast to teachers with the learning-oriented approach, who believe that children's learning within mathematics and science, for example, is important. This study finds the same distinction between teachers' view of learning. However, the study also shows that preschool teachers consider that the optimal frameworks for children's learning includes both approaches and they perceive this as one of their responsibilities.


The teachers interviewed believe that, for children to acquire social skills, they need to develop skills such as confidence that enable them to listen to, and respect, other people and their attitudes. Moreover, the preschool teachers stress that the children learn to play and resolve problems through cooperation. Finally, the teachers interviewed consider it important that children's learning within mathematics, reading and writing, for example, be integrated with children's learning with regard to listening, understanding and dealing with other people's attitudes; i.e. social skills.



The study includes 15 preschools from the metropolitan regions of Stockholm and Gothenburg and 15 preschools from the rural district of Mälardalen. The manager of each preschool was asked to appoint a teacher for an interview. All the teachers, except one, were women and had different seniority within the preschool teaching profession. Data was collected through individual, semi-structured interviews with the teachers.


The study draws on an interactionist perspective in which learning environments are considered as a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon. In this perspective, learning environments involve comprehensive interaction between societal and educational goals for preschools, pedagogical approaches as well as children's learning and development in a preschool context. The interactionist perspective builds on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory.



Williams, P., Sheridan, S. & Sandberg, A. (2014). “Preschool – an arena for children’s learning of social and cognitive knowledge”. Early Years: An International Research Journal, 34(3), 226-240

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