Children’s grief and grieving in institutional early childhood education

This research project explores children’s grief as a common human experience that is an interactively constructed and culturally mediated normative practice.

The aim of this exploratory study is to investigate children’s grief and grieving in everyday situations in institutional early childhood education and care (ECEC). Instead of studying grief as an individual emotion, we explore grief as an interactively constructed and culturally mediated normative practice. As such, we understand that grief is constituted by the people, artifacts, and other matters that make up cultures and their practices. We approach grief as an umbrella concept or phenomenon for the lived experience of everyday affective and emotional loss. In this way, we think of grief as an emotion closely related to sadness, longing, wistfulness, loss of normality, and connection, and to grieving practices such as crying, seeking closeness to others, and withdrawing from interaction. Thus, grief is here examined in connection to a broad range of situations, and not solely in relation to death, which is the dominant topic of concern in research on grief. Our approach stresses the connection of individual experiences with the cultural sphere, and vice-versa.

In order to study grief in institutional ECEC, we employ research methods inspired by digital and conventional ethnography. We observe grief as a part of children’s everyday life in ECEC, but also in specific life events within institutional ECEC. We ground our observations across multiple ECEC settings and communities in order to understand the complexity of grief as human activity. The data consist of video recordings, field notes, collected artifacts, and interviews of personnel and parents. We also conduct Change Laboratory intervention with the educators of the participating ECEC setting.

The research project is led by Professor Lasse Lipponen (University of Helsinki), and includes four other members: University Lecturer Annukka Pursi (University of Helsinki), University Researcher Saila Poulter (University of Helsinki), Grant Researcher Eija Salonen (University of Helsinki), and Doctoral Researcher Emma Kurenlahti (University of Helsinki). Our national and international collaborators include Professor Asta Cekaite (Linköping University, Sweden), Senior Lecturer Gloria Quinones Goytortua (Monash University, Australia), and Professor Niina Rutanen (University of Jyväskylä). The project is funded by the Academy of Finland and will run for four years, from September 1, 2021, to August 31, 2025.