A film is playing on Tünde Puskás’ computer in her office at Campus Norrköping. It shows a preschool, with a group of children who have jumped up onto a sofa. One of them has just arrived in Sweden from Syria, but catches on quickly – she holds her hands together and sings as they practise for Lucia, a Swedish wintertime tradition.
“She knows how things work,” says Tünde Puskás, smiling.
Tünde Puskás is a senior lecturer in pedagogy. Together with three colleagues, she is working on a study of religion, traditions and cultural heritage in Swedish preschools. They will follow two preschools for one year, using a videocamera. One school is public, the other is run by the Swedish Church.“We will film two days a month during periods when the school is in session, and by agreement with the staff. We want to see which traditions are observed, and how. We also want to see how the staff relates to, and possibly uses, different forms of religion in their work,” explains Tünde Puskas.
DilemmaLucia is a common tradition at many preschools. Many children like getting dressed up, singing and performing together – no matter what their heritage.
Few people reflect that the tradition got its name from a Christian saint. Similarly, many traditions around Christmas and Easter have Christian origins.
This puts preschool teachers in a dilemma.
The curriculum says that preschool teachers should impart a cultural heritage that is about values, traditions, history, language and knowledge, to foster the children as democratic citizens. At the same time, the instruction should be free from religious elements.
Where are the boundaries between religion, tradition and cultural heritage?
“They aren’t fixed. Religion, tradition and cultural heritage are in a state of flux, they’re constantly being reinvented. We want to see how the preschool teachers handle this,” says Tünde Puskas.
“Previous research shows that the religion of the majority population is often described as part of the cultural heritage, while the cultural expressions of minority groups are seen as religious.”
Many preschools use wheels of the year, with different traditions inserted. These include autumn festivals, sporting events and the disposal of the Christmas tree, alongside traditions of a more religious nature. Some preschools make use of a multicultural almanack.
The matter of religion often emerges at mealtime.“Some children don’t eat certain types of food for religious reasons. An interesting question is how the teachers explain this to the other children.”
Using the video recordings they will produce a short film showing how religion is “done” in the two preschools. This will be the starting point for focus group interviews with twenty staff groups in different preschools. The researchers will also do a large questionnaire study, to determine the extent to which various traditions are celebrated.
“Some preschools consistently omit traditions with religious links. For instance they celebrate a festival of light, instead of Lucia. Others go to church and talk about how different traditions are observed there.”
“We know that the variation is huge. What we’re most interested in is studying common practice, not the extreme or highly divergent cases,” Puskas says.
Data collection continues until late 2016. After that it is time to see what patterns emerge.
“We hope to eventually be able to give preschool teachers better tools for working with these matters.”