Hale H, Callaghan J, Gada A & Bellussi L (2020) Open Kindergarten: Improving Family Support Provision in Scotland. Crisp S (Research Group) Children in Scotland. Stirling. https://childreninscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Open-Kindergarten-University-of-Stirling-Final-Report-June-2020.pdf; https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.28462.08006
Open Kindergartens (or Open PreSchool) are an approach to family support in the early years that originated in Sweden and has been widely used in the Nordic countries since. A number of organisations worked together to pilot this approach in Scotland to explore whether it could work in this context.
A wide range of research and evidence emphasises the importance of the early years and this has been recognised by Scottish Government in a range of policies including the Early Years Framework, the National Parenting Strategy, the Universal Health Visiting Pathway and the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare. The Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland ‘the best place to grow up’ and acknowledges that what happens to children in their first few years of life is a key determinant of children’s future health and employment outcomes.
In the early years, parents receive a baby box and then a schedule of visits from health visitors. However, until they are able to access ELC at age three, there is very little family support which parents and carers can easily access. One model that offers promise in providing good quality support for parents, carers and children is the Scandinavian ‘Open Kindergarten’ model, which offers accessible, low-threshold support to all families. Open Kindergartens are drop-in open sessions for parents, carers and their preschool children staffed by early years practitioners and non-statutory social workers. Open Kindergartens offer parents and carers peer-to-peer interaction and
professional support in a relaxed, unstructured, parent-led environment. The sessions provide a space for children to play and interact and for parents and carers to build their parenting networks
and develop new skills.
This project considered whether there was a need for this model of low-threshold family support in Scotland and how such an approach might be implemented. This evaluation applied an intersectional lens to gain insight into how the Open Kindergarten model was taken up and experienced in a pilot at two early years settings in Edinburgh and Midlothian. In addition to providing twice weekly drop-in sessions, practitioners at both sites attempted to make home visits to parents and carers to build relationships in the local community.
The feasibility of the Open Kindergarten model was looked at in an earlier project which conducted a literature review as well as interviews with practitioners, parents and carers. (see Gadda, 2018). The current report evaluates the implementation of the model, assessing its adaptation and impact. The following research questions were central to the evaluation aims:
1. What are the needs of parents and carers and babies/children and what are the prominent issues that they contend with?
2. How can the Open Kindergarten approach address the needs of parent and baby/child?
3. How can staff/allocated practitioners best support the needs of parents and carers and babies/children attending the Open Kindergarten?
4. What aspects of the Open Kindergarten approach were found to be most useful/least helpful?
5. How can the Open Kindergarten model influence the likelihood and utility of parents and carers seeking interpersonal support?
6. How can the Open Kindergarten approach be up-scaled and what contextual factors need to be addressed in doing so?
parent support; parenting; early years; kindergarten; early education; education