Understanding preschool emergent science in a cultural historical context through Activity Theory.

Sundberg, B.
Areljung, S.
Due, K.
Ekström, K.
Ottander, C.
Tellgren, B.
European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 1-14.


The aim of this study is to explore how cultural factors interact with preschool teachers' shaping of everyday activities with science content. Moreover, the study aims to examine whether activity theory as a theoretical framework can be useful for examining interrelations within the preschool system in Sweden.


The study shows that the preschools' diverse approaches were characterised by great creativity, and that this gave rise to experience with and learning about science. The study identified six main characteristics in how the activities were shaped: (1) physical and sensory experiences, (2) creative experiments, (3) aesthetic experiments, (4) imagination, (5) play and (6) storytelling. The activities unveiled scientific methods and ideas such as observation, examination and execution of experiments. Through closer analysis of the individual preschools' stories, the study shows how activities consist of tensions: The children's voluntary participation may collide with the preschool teacher's responsibility for the child's learning, and thus the preschool teacher's experience constitutes a practical barrier. Another tension arises in the relationship between the academic description of these activities and the staff's attitude as to how the activities should be carried out. The study points at a third tension experienced in connection with the dissemination of science, in which the preschool teachers bring life to objects when presenting the objects to children. The dissemination method may constitute a barrier for the actual science experience, which is the objective of the activity, if the children place too much emphasis on the humanisation of the objects. Moreover, the authors find that activity theory is an effective tool to identify elements, relationships and tensions in connection with preschool science activities.



The study builds on a number of observations and discussions with the staff in three Swedish preschools. The study was initiated by a recorded meeting, during which the staff discussed what could constitute science in preschool. Subsequently, observations were carried out 4-7 times in each preschool in order to observe planned science activities. In addition, the activities were recorded on video 2-4 times per preschool and subsequently shown and discussed in order to collect comments from the staff on the relationship between intentions and results. The data collection was then analysed at two levels: Through identification of elements in the individual activity and through subsequent discussion with the staff in which the analysis of the elements were used. This resulted in a revision of the analysis of the activities. On the basis of this, a specific story was written for each preschool describing the time-related and cultural context of the preschool, the identified elements, relationships and tensions between these elements.


Sundberg, B., Areljung, S., Due, K., Ekström, K., Ottander, C. & Tellgren, B. (2015). Understanding preschool emergent science in a cultural historical context through Activity Theory. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 1-14.

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