Not Babies Anymore: Young Children’s Narrative Identities in Finnish Day Care Centers

Abstract

With the aim of deepening understanding of young children’s identity construction, the study explores small stories produced in a Finnish day care center context. Small stories are understood as identity-constituting social practices that occur and recur in day care settings. Taking ideas on narrative ethnography as starting point, research material was collected by participating in the everyday life of children, as well as observing and listening to children. This paper draws on small stories, co-constructed over the course of 6 months in Violets, a group of children ranging between 1 and 3 years old. The findings of the study illustrate the dynamic and multiple nature of children’s narrative identities. Identity construction emerges as a process involving age, social status, emotions, peer relationships, and gender. In this paper, we reflect on our findings by retelling the story of one child, Joni. The study highlights pedagogical practices, the material environment, and the quality of interactions as important elements of children’s identity construction. It calls for critical reflection on how children’s sense of who they are is supported in the pedagogical practices of day care centers.

Résumé

Dans le but d’approfondir la compréhension de la construction identitaire des jeunes enfants, l’étude explore de petites histoires produites dans le cadre d’une garderie finlandaise. Les petites histoires sont considérées comme des pratiques sociales de constitution de l’identité qui se produisent et se reproduisent en garderie. À partir d’idées provenant de l’ethnographie narrative, le matériel de recherche a été collecté en participant à la vie quotidienne des enfants, ainsi qu’en les observant et les écoutant. Cet article se base sur les petites histoires co-construites pendant une période de six mois au sein des Violettes, un groupe d’enfants de un à trois ans. Les résultats de l’étude illustrent la nature dynamique et variée des identités narratives des enfants. La construction de l’identité émerge en tant que processus impliquant l’âge, le statut social, les émotions, les relations avec les pairs et le genre. Dans cet article, nous reflétons nos résultats en reprenant l’histoire d’un enfant, Joni. L’étude souligne que les pratiques pédagogiques, l’environnement matériel et la qualité des interactions sont des éléments importants de la construction de l’identité des enfants. Ceci appelle à une réflexion critique sur la manière dont les pratiques pédagogiques des garderies soutiennent la perception des enfants d’eux-mêmes.

Resumen

Con el objetivo de profundizar la comprensión de la construcción de la identidad en los niños de corta edad, el estudio explora pequeñas historias surgidas en el contexto de una guardería finlandesa. Por pequeñas historias se entienden como prácticas sociales constructoras de la identidad que se dan y son recurrentes en entornos de guardería. Tomando como punto de partida algunas ideas sobre la etnografía narrativa, se recogió material de investigación a través de la participación en la vida diaria de los niños, así como mediante la observación y escucha de estos. Este documento se basa en pequeñas historias, construidas en colaboración a lo largo de seis meses en «Violetas», un grupo de niños de entre uno y tres años. Los resultados del estudio ilustran el carácter dinámico y múltiple de las identidades narrativas de los niños. La construcción de la identidad emerge como un proceso en el que participan la edad, la condición social, las emociones, las relaciones con los iguales y el género. En este documento reflexionamos sobre los resultados que hemos obtenido contando la historia de un niño, Joni. El estudio hace hincapié en las prácticas pedagógicas, el entorno material y la calidad de las interacciones como elementos importantes para la construcción de la identidad infantil. Llama a la reflexión crítica con respecto a cómo se apoya en las prácticas pedagógicas de las guarderías el sentido de la identidad de los niños.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    TelLis (Children tell of their well-being—who listens?) is funded by the Academy of Finland (Project No 21892).

  2. 2.

    All names are pseudonyms.

  3. 3.

    Excerpts from Anna-Maija’s field notes are mentioned in brackets after the excerpt. All other excerpts are from Eila’s field notes.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the TelLis-research project funded by the Academy of Finland (Project No. 21892) for making this study possible. Special thanks to Professor Leena Syrjälä and the research team of Susanna Kinnunen, Virpi Louhela-Risteelä, and Elina Viljamaa for their cooperation during the project.

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Correspondence to Anna-Maija Puroila.

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Puroila, AM., Estola, E. Not Babies Anymore: Young Children’s Narrative Identities in Finnish Day Care Centers. IJEC 46, 187–203 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13158-013-0096-z

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Keywords

  • Narrative
  • Identity
  • Finland
  • Small story
  • Day care center