Gunilla Dahlberg
Gunilla Dahlberg

“Our starting point is that children are exploring the world and trying to create meaning. Being attentive to their creation of meaning creates desire, and when children have desire, they also learn other factual knowledge.”

Gunilla Dahlberg is a professor of pedagogy at the Department of Child and Youth Studies and an internationally recognised researcher. Her ideas have made her a frequent lecturer in “early childhood education”. She believes that traditional teaching ignores the children’s full potential. Changing this requires a new view of the child, and also of the role of teaching.

“A teacher does not possess all knowledge. A learning teacher must listen to the child with all senses.”

Gunilla Dahlberg knew early on that she wanted to work with small children and the conditions of their upbringing. Already at the age of 14, she got a job at a preschool. Later, she trained to be a child psychologist, but only worked as a school psychologist for a couple of years before applying for a position as a research assistant in 1971at the then Stockholm Institute of Education. Throughout her career, she has devoted much time to epistemological issues. With the help of thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, she has tried to deconstruct and challenge dominant conceptions of children and knowledge. Gunilla Dahlberg is also influenced by the Italian Reggio Emilia approach and its founder, Loris Malaguzzi.

For more than twenty years, Gunilla Dahlberg has been involved in creating several networks of preschools. In these networks, she and her colleagues – in collaboration with preschool teachers – have experimented with new ways of thinking and acting by using pedagogical documentation of children’s learning strategies.

“We have tried to challenge our own thinking as researchers, and together with the preschool teachers we have challenged the preschool pedagogy both theoretically and philosophically, as well as use creative and artistic processes.”

Gunilla Dahlberg is currently leading the research project “The Magical Language” (Det magiska språket). The project expands on decades of work in the network of preschools. The focus is on young children’s reading and writing in a society marked by globalisation, multicultural encounters, and visual languages. Among other things, the project explores which strategies children use when they read and write – without focusing on the alphabet.

“We have seen that when children have access to transdisciplinary learning environments through different media, such as music, images, light, sound, and movement, there is a greater vitality, intensity, and joy in the children’s learning. This also leads to a more complex and creative way of learning how to read and write.

One of Gunilla Dahlberg’s favourite subjects concerns the notion that preschool is the cradle of democracy. She loves to talk about the need to increase democratic ideas “in a world that is remarkably individualistic”, as well as the need to resist the powerful (economic) interests that push the idea that all school and preschool activities should be quantifiable and comparable: “the entire testing industry is a gigantic burden on teachers and pedagogues all over the world today.” The latter is a development that Gunilla Dahlberg and two other researchers have studied in-depth in the book Beyond Quality – Languages of Evaluation. To Gunilla Dahlberg, it comes natural that her research also has a political dimension, “and in order to change the world, we have to start with the smallest children”, she says.

“We live in a time with a number of important issues, such as climate change and migration. In order for our children to understand the contexts we are all a part of, we have to provide them with more detailed and expansive learning, so that they can contribute to a more sustainable world and peaceful coexistence.”


Interviewed by Henrik Lundström

Portal for the Teacher Education