Patterns of Variation: A Way to Support and Challenge Early Childhood Learning?


The purpose in this article is to elaborate on how the use of patterns of variation designed by variation theory can challenge and develop the early childhood education (ECE) practice. The analysis is based on six learning study (LS) projects conducted in Swedish ECE. A LS is a systematical, theoretical based development of teacher professionalism, often in close cooperation with researchers. The projects included 17 teachers, 140 children and 7 researchers. The video documented empirical material consists of 16 analysis meetings, 14 interventions and 407 pre-, post-, and delayed posttests. Each project is a concrete example of the use of patterns of variation to increase early childhood learning. In all cases a tendency of qualitative changes in children’s ways of discerning the object of learning could be noticed. The purpose is to search for how this can be understood from a variation theoretical perspective. The main focus is on changed ways of performing the interventions to search for how patterns of variation were used to create and capture the learning situations throughout the projects. One of our findings is that we have seen that it takes more than one intervention for the teachers to capture which aspects of the object of learning are critical in the targeted group, but as the iterative process allows them to try out the design more than once, they manage to find them. The second finding is that the teachers changed focus from taken for granted assumptions of each child to focusing on their own design to facilitate the child’s learning. Finally, the aspect supposed to be discerned has to vary against an invariant background to be discerned by the children, and to separate the principle from the representation is needed to be able to generalize their new knowledge.

Share and Cite:

Ljung-Djärf, A. , Brante, M. & Brante, E. (2013). Patterns of Variation: A Way to Support and Challenge Early Childhood Learning?. Creative Education, 4, 33-42. doi: 10.4236/ce.2013.47A1005.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Doverborg, E., & Pramling, I. (2000). Att forsta barns tankar: Kommu nikationens betydelse [Understanding children’s thoughts: The sig nificance of communication]. Stockholm: Liber.
[2] Ds (2009). Den nya skollagen: For kunskap, valfrihet och trygghet [The new Education Act—For knowledge, choice and security].
[3] Frobel, F. (1995). Manniskans fostran [Human education]. Lund: Stu dentlitteratur.
[4] Haggstrom, J., Bergqvist, M., Hansson, H., Kullberg, A., & Magnusson, J. (2012). Learning study—En guide [Learning study—A guide]. Gothenburg: Gothenburg University.
[5] Holmqvist Olander, M., & Ljung-Djarf, A. (2012). Using learning study as in-service training in preschool. In J. Sutterby (Ed.), Early education in a global context: Advances in early education and day care (Vol. 16, pp. 91-108). Bingley: Emerald.
[6] Holmqvist Olander, M., & Ljung-Djarf, A. (2013). Theoretical appro priation in pre-school teachers’ expressions after in-service training. Creative Education, 4.
[7] Holmqvist Olander, M., & Nyberg, E. (in press). Learning study guided by variation theory: Exemplified by children learning to half and double whole numbers. International Journal of Research in Early Childhood.
[8] Holmqvist, M. (2011). Teachers’ learning in a learning study. Instructional Science, 39, 497-511. doi:10.1007/s11251-010-9138-1
[9] Holmqvist, M., & Tullgren, C. (2009). Pre-school children discerning numbers and letters. Forum on Public Policy.
[10] Holmqvist, M., Brante, G., & Tullgren, C. (2012). Learning study in pre-school: Teachers’ awareness of children’s learning and what they actually learn. International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, 1, 153-167. doi:10.1108/20468251211224190
[11] Holmqvist, M., Tullgren, C., & Brante, G. (2010). Using variation theory to analyze what preschool children experience exemplified by wholes and parts as the object of learning. In J. V. Carrasquero, M. Holmqvist, D. McEachron, A. Tremante, & F. Welsch (Eds.), Proceedings (Vol. 1, pp. 8-11). Orlando: International Institute of Informatics and Systemics.
[12] Landgren, L., & Svard, H. (2013). Larande for de yngre barnen [Learn ing activities for the younger children]. In M. Holmqvist Olander (Ed.), Learning study i forskolan och forskoleklassen [Learning study in early childhood education]. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
[13] Lewis, C. (2002). Lesson study: A handbook of teacher-led instruc tional change. Philadelphia, PA: Research for Better Schools, Inc.
[14] Ljung-Djarf, A. (2013). The learning study process: A collaborative way to develop the use of contrast of critical aspects in preschool educational practice. Journal of Studies in Education, 3, 33-47.
[15] Ljung-Djarf, A., & Holmqvist Olander, M. (2013). Using learning study to understand pre-schoolers’ learning: Challenges and possi bilities. International Journal of Early Childhood, 45, 77-100. doi:10.1007/s13158-012-0067-9
[16] Ljung-Djarf, A., & Magnusson, A. (2010). Pre-school children’s sustainable thinking: The organic decomposition process as intended object of learning at pre-school. Paper Presented at the World Association of Lesson Studies (WALS), Brunei Darussalam.
[17] Ljung-Djarf, A., Magnusson, A., & Peterson, S. (submitted). From doing to learning: Changed focus during a pre-school learning study project on organic decomposition. International Journal of Science Education.
[18] Lo, M. L. (2012). Variation theory and the improvement of teaching and learning. Goteborg: Acta Universitatas Gothenburgensis.
[19] Lo, M. L., & Marton, F. (2012). Towards a science of the art of teaching: Using variation theory as a guiding principle of pedagogical design. International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, 1, 7-22. doi:10.1108/20468251211179678
[20] Marton, F., & Booth, S. (1997). Learning and awareness. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
[21] Memorandum U2008/6144/S (2008). Uppdrag till statens skolverk om forslag till fortydliganden i laroplanen for forskolan [Assignment to the national agency of education on proposed clarifications in pre school curriculum]. Stockholm: Ministry of education and research.
[22] Ministry of Education and Research (1998). Curriculum for the preschool, Lpfo-98. Stockholm: Fritzes.
[23] Olteanu, C., & Olteanu, L. (2010). To change teaching practice and students’ learning of mathematics. Education Inquiry, 1, 381-397.
[24] Pramling Samuelsson, I., & Asplund Carlsson, M. (2003). Det lekande larande barnet i en utvecklingspedagogisk teori [The playing and learning child in a theory of developmental pedagogy]. Stockholm: Liber.
[25] Pramling Samuelsson, I., & Mardsjo, A.-C. (2007). Grundlaggande fardigheter och fardigheters grundlaggande (2nd ed.) [Basic skills and the base of skills]. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
[26] Pramling, I. (1994). Kunnandets grunder. Provning av en fenomeno grafisk ansats till att utveckla barns satt att uppfatta sin omvarld [The basis of knowledge. A phenomenographic approach to develop children’s conceptions of the world]. Gothenburg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
[27] Pramling, N., & Pramling Samuelsson, I. (2011). Introduction and frame of the book. In N. Pramling, & I. Pramling Samuelsson (Eds.), Educational encounters: Nordic studies in early childhood didactics (Vol. 4, pp. 1-14). Dordrecht: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-1617-9_1
[28] Pramling, N., & Pramling, Samuelsson, I. (2008). Didaktiska studier fran forskola och skola [Didactic studies in pre-school and school]. Malmo: Gleerups.
[29] Runesson, U., & Mok, I. A. C. (2003). Discernment and the question “What can be learned”? In F. Marton, & A. Tsui (Eds.), Classroom discourse and the space of learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
[30] The Swedish National Agency for Education (2004). Forskola i bry tningstid. Nationell utvardering av forskolan. Rapport 239 [Preschool in transition: A national evaluation of preschool. Report 239]. Stockholm: Fritzes.
[31] The Swedish National Agency for Education (2010). Curriculum for the pre-school, lpfo 98/2010. Stockholm: Fritzes.
[32] Tolchinsky, L. (2003). The cradle of culture and what children know about writing and numbers before being taught. NJ: Lawrence Erl baum Associates.
[33] Yoshida, M., & Fernandez, C. (2004). Lesson study: A Japanese ap proach to improving mathematics teaching and learning. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.