A day in the life of ... Petra Petersson

In Eksjo, southern Sweden, the snow lingers and the lakes are thick with ice. But for this early childhood teacher, the great outdoors is fertile ground for learning

It's 6am and it is my turn to open the preschool. The first children arrive shortly after me and, one by one, the others drop in throughout the morning. At breakfast, my colleague and I eat porridge with 14 children; lit candles are on the table because it is not yet full daylight.

I can sense that it is going to be a nice day, despite the bitter cold and the snow that lingers on the ground. I tell the children that, today, we will do an outdoor experiment. We will go down to the lake, where we went for a swim last summer.

The children are keen. "Are we going to take a bath?" some three-year-olds ask. Other children explain that it is winter - too cold for outdoor baths.

When we arrive, a blanket of snow is covering the ice. The lake looks more like a field and it is difficult to see where the shore ends. We decide to walk on the ice. It has been cold all winter so it is thick. The children tread carefully, as though the ice might crack at any moment.

Fishing won't be easy, I tell them. The younger children look amazed: surely there can't still be fish under there? You can drill a hole in the ice and catch fish through it, a six-year-old tells us. He gets to go first.

The children gather around the drill and take it in turns to measure with a stick how deep we have managed to bore. They use their hands to show how thick they believe the ice is; guesses range from a couple of centimetres to a metre. They discuss where they think the fish are now. Some believe that they have frozen to death but the older children say that the fish are still there underneath the ice. Suddenly, water splashes out of the hole: we have succeeded in drilling through the ice. It turns out to be 45cm thick.

Some children expect fish to peer up at us through the hole. We measure with a long stick and find that the water is deep beneath the ice - the fish have a lot of space. We mark the hole with a stick and decide that we will return to see what happens to it. During our walk back to preschool, the children talk about our experience: imagine that we could walk on water!

This exercise is one of our experiments in natural science. We are trying to get the children to understand different forms of water by allowing them to explore; we act as their co-researchers. As an early childhood teacher, my most important role is to turn the children's thoughts and questions into a learning situation. I want them to maintain their curiosity and to believe in their capacity to learn new things.

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