by Anke Cadoni
(At the end of this article you can look at the complete picture book.
By clicking on them you can enlarge the individual pages. Use the back-arrow at the upper left in the toolbar to return to original size.)
In the preceding art project Jonas and David had made friends. The two of them still meet outside of kindergarten quite regularly. Jonas’ and David’s families also spent the evening of St Nicholas Day together.
… in a nutshell …
When realising that Jonas has been spending the past couple of weeks occupying himself with scary figures, his kindergarten teacher decides to work on the topic with him – in a way he is familiar with from an earlier project: They create a picture book.
This also enables Jonas to involve his mother in the topic of Perchten (scary figures) after she had been strongly opposed to him dealing with the topic.
More about Jonas:
Late in the evening David’s mother told a story to David and Jonas about the “Perchten”. What are Perchten? I was wondering myself when Jonas’ mother told me about this incidence on a parent-teacher conference.
They are scary figures which are to scare the winter away, in some regions they have a similar role to that of Servant Rupert on St Nicholas Day. In order to get more detailed information I researched the internet. (See: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perchten)
At any rate, Jonas was really scared of the dark during the first few nights following that evening, he did not want to stay alone in his room, let alone sleep there by himself. His mother said: “He doesn’t really admit to it but it shows in his behaviour.” Now the mother is worried that Jonas gets carried away with his fears! She is insecure about how to deal with the whole situation.
In kindergarten I had recently been observing David and Jonas playing ghosts and devil on quite a few occasions.
Comment by Hanna Vock:
This means they are dealing with the horrible and evil in the world – possibly for the first time I their lives. That is what fairy tales and myths have served for all along. It is at the same time an occupation with their own fears and with the eerie and sinister. The more imaginative a child is, the more it likes to reflect and the more sensitive it is, the more intense this occupation will be, even if it is the first time in its live.
Jonas has problems
He is now 5;0 years old. And he is in a difficult phase. Lately he has repeatedly shown negative behaviour: he disturbs the morning round, he often does not abide by the rules, and it seems to me that he does so intentionally.
Last week, for example, everybody in the morning round got jelly babies, two packs were left over and I put them on the kitchen cupboard. After most of the children had been picked up by their parents and I came back from the corridor I saw Jonas stealing the sweets. This is a kind of conduct I do not know of him. He used to show a good sense of justice.
I suspect, he is presently trying out his limits, and maybe he is also trying to draw attention. Sometimes I wonder whether he is showing this behaviour because he wants to be like his friends who are frequently up to all kinds of practical jokes (adjustive behaviour). If so, I understand that he wants to be working with me more often now. That way he can hide his special abilities and his sometimes extraordinary ideas and fantasies from the other children.
See also: Concealing Abilities and Interests
Jonas’ misbehaviour makes me think. I wonder what it is that makes him act so untypically. During the last project (art project) he was mad at his father because he had not bought a picture at the exhibition, which meant so much to Jonas. And on top of that he was also mad at his mother for not being able to show up. It is possible he does not feel appreciated by those who are closest to him.
What it needs now is something that represents a serious challenge to him, something that turns into a complete success, accompanied by me and appreciated by his parents.
To top it all off he is now interested in a topic which his mother looks at with great scepticism if not rejection. His current problem is that his mother forbids him to play Perchten. With this she may hope to do away with the topic.
Comment Hanna Vock:
That does not usually work with gifted children. There is even the danger that they will internally turn away from their parents.
I am under the impression that the prohibition makes the topic even more exciting in kindergarten. Jonas keeps telling me about the Perchten, he explains to me who they are what they look like, and what they do. He is convinced that the Perchten are real, while his mother keeps saying they are not.
Jonas has come up with rather differentiated ideas about these creatures. Some things he has been told by his mother, I suppose, some things he is only imagining, and I suspect that his vivid imagination gets out of hand sometimes.
Jonas still likes playing with David. Even more so now, because the two of them are the only ones who know about the Perchten. In role playing games they often set traps for the Perchten, and they involve other children in the activity like Felix and Sven.
Aside from that, Jonas presently will not take interest in much else.
These days we are dealing with the topic “air” in our group. Jonas does join in on some of the experiments, oftentimes giving good input, yet he does not ask any productive questions, which is unusual for him.
Apparently Jonas is not through with the topic of Perchten and therefore he is still preoccupied with it.
Foregoing Considerations and Aims
I would like to to create a picture book on Perchten with Jonas. And I would like to go about it a little more professionally with him, at the end the book is to be structured just like a real picture book.
I promised Jonas I will spend more time with him and that is why I have decided in favour of a one-on-one scenario where I can focus on him only and meet his wishes and ideas without having to compromise.
Another aspect is that I hope to find out more about the Perchten myself. I want to know what it is that fascinates him so. And maybe there is a chance that factual knowledge, for instance, from the internet, will reduce his fears.
When taking a deeper look into the topic it gets really interesting. One discovers a part of ancient German traditions. These might be valuable insights for Jonas in his effort to eventually come to positive terms with the whole topic.
What I would like to achieve is …
- that Jonas uses his good vocabulary and his eloquence to tell a good story about his Perchten, which I will then put down in writing for him,
- that Jonas will show the finished book to the other children without any inhibitions,
- that Jonas is proud of his good ideas and abilities and that he learns not to conceal them,
- that Jonas comes to know more about the Perchten and that this knowledge helps him dispel his fears and temper his imagination,
- that Jonas feels like he is taken seriously by me as well as by his parents.
From now on, I’ll try to spend at least 15 – 30 minutes with Jonas on a daily basis (depending on the daily situation). I’ll withdraw to the Dream-Island-Room or the room next door with him, so that we can work without being disturbed.
First thing, of course, is a talk with Jonas to see whether he likes my idea and whether he wants to do this. Maybe he has got entirely different ideas and desires, which I will then certainly try to take on. In that case I’ll have to reconsider options. Then I’ll plan further steps.
I took Jonas to the Dream-Island-Room, because this room is well separated from the group room and we can be undisturbed here. For motivation I told Jonas that I had brought my own picture book, which I had created as a project during my own vocational training. Jonas was quite amazed to hear that and was really curious.
He took a good look at everything; he noticed, for instance, that there were empty pages at the beginning of the book. He wanted to compare it to a real picture book. I thought that was a good idea. He also noticed that the story does not begin right on the first page, but that the title and the author are mentioned first.
The actual story itself was not so much in the focus of his interest, it was much more the overall form and aspects of the layout.
At the end of my book there was a dedication. Jonas wanted me to tell him what it said and what the idea of a dedication was.
Then he said:
“So when are we getting started?”
I said: “What do you mean?”
I had checked in advance whether Jonas would go with my suggestion at all by just mentioning it casually, while not really expecting him to accept it. Usually he insists on his own ideas.
“Do you have any idea what the Perchten are? Let me tell you about it and you write it down.”
I had paper and pencil ready and started writing. He was just bubbling away until suddenly he ceased and said:
“But mum actually doesn’t want me to talk about the Perchten any more.“
Comment Hanna Vock:
This shows the inner conflict raised by the beloved mother’s rejection of the topic: I am not allowed to deal with the topic that has been captivating me the most for a long time.
I replied: “She really only wants you to lose your fears, and maybe talking about it will help you with that!”
“I’m not afraid of them. I laugh at them when I see them!”
Eventually he gave me an account of his adventures involving the Perchten, where they live, what they do and so forth. Suddenly his voice lowers again:
“The more I’m thinking about the Perchten, I get afraid again.”
I asked Jonas to try and explain why he is afraid, and he told me that the Perchten wanted to catch him and that they only appear when it is dark.
For this alleged behaviour of the Perchten I tried to give him a positive explanation:
“Maybe they just want to get in touch with you, maybe they’re looking for a friend who would play with them!” That did not really convince him but he did think it possible that they were not necessarily evil.
Jonas then went on to tell me a story of the Perchten which had a positive ending and I was rather glad about that. At the same time I promised Jonas that I would do some research and find out who the Perchten really were, since Jonas was firmly convinced that they were real – and, in hindsight, he was not entirely wrong there.
What really got to him though, was, that his mother did not believe the Perchten existed. One time when we were working on the book he uttered:
“Mum doesn’t believe there are any Perchten at all!”
Comment Hanna Vock:
His mother’s opinion is of course of great importance, but Jonas is at a point where he does not uncritically believe everything she says, as do most children for a long time. He is at a point where his intellectual development distinguishes between the opinions of important adults around him and truth itself.
This was when I told him that they were real but that they were human beings in costumes. They would dress up as Perchten and dance around a fire at night to scare away the winter, that it was just like Carnival when everybody goes out in a costume and that in some regions people still stuck to the old traditions.
I was not going to show him the corresponding Wikipedia page since the pictures on that page really are scary, and I just was not sure if they might scare him even more. I suspected he had already seen some images of them because his accounts of their looks and his drawings of them had contained some of their actual features.
Nevertheless he seemed quite excited about my idea of writing a book and he really enjoyed the times we spent together: Whenever other children incidentally entered our room he immediately told them to leave.
“I need my quiet and I have to work here.”
I did explain to some of the children what I was doing with Jonas and he did not disapprove of this, which I found very important.
In the mornings I would give him time to play with the other children or do something else first. I found that important because the individual advancement he received was not to get in the way of his regular everyday activities in kindergarten. Some time during the day he would approach me and ask:
“Ms Cadoni, when are we going to get together today?”
“Can we draw the next picture now?”
In the week before our exhibition (the art project) he wanted to do a lot of work. I told him: “As you can see, creating a picture book is quite an effort, it takes its time!”
I was not expecting this and unfortunately I had to put him off, telling him we would not be able to make it in time. I assured him that he would still get a perfect opportunity to present his book to the children and the parents.
Jonas drew one or two pictures for the book almost every day now. In this endeavour he showed great perseverance and focus. He paid special attention to making the same figures and places look alike on the different pictures. Repeatedly he would go back to already drawn pictures to make sure same things looked the same.
He was always perfectly aware of which part of the story he was going to illustrate. Every once in a while I had to read a part of the story to him because he had a lot of different versions of the story and was not always sure which one we had written down. Sometimes there were new insights he incorporated in the story and I would make a note of it and integrate them in the story.
What did represent a problem for me was the fact that he did not want his mother to know about the whole project. Since I did not want to jeopardise his trust in me I did keep it to myself for a while.
His mother was aware that I was currently spending more time with him and that I was aware of the issue they had about the Perchten. So I simply hoped that she trusted me with it and that at a later point, when she would come to know about the project, she would understand that it was a well considered and positive pedagogic intervention of mine.
After about two weeks of work the time had finally come. I overheard a conversation between him and his mother. He was telling her that the next day we would draw the last picture for the picture book. So the mother asked what picture book that was. Jonas said:
“I’m making a picture book on the Perchten with Ms Cadoni.”
Jonas’ mother responded with a simple: “Aha.”
I did not want to interfere in that situation as I was not sure if this might not make Jonas feel awkward. But the next day I talked to the mother and told her about my intentions. She did understand my pedagogic approach and was actually glad that I dealt with the situation the way I did: after all she had noticed at home that it was no good telling Jonas the Perchten did not exist and that he had got into the whole thing even more anyway.
She intended to bring it up with Jonas once more and show genuine interest in the topic so that he might be able to open up some more in front of her and maybe even reduce his fears yet some more.
It is so important for Jonas that his ideas and thoughts are taken seriously in his family. The parents, more than anybody else, can give him the necessary backing and support him in his endeavour. Rejection and suppression are the wrong approach here.
This communication with the mother was important for Jonas and for my work. Now I was able to involve the parents in the process and it turned out that this was exactly what was needed. Jonas was now much more at ease with the topic and he could really enjoy the remaining steps in the making of the picture book.
Some time later Jonas told me:
“You know, now mum believes that there are Perchten, we looked them up on the internet and found that a lot of the things I had told her about them were on the internet, too, so I was right!”
The most important thing for Jonas was, as I believe, that his mother finally understood him.
After Jonas had finished all his drawings we went to the computer in the office, typed the texts and printed them out.
The next day I brought my laminator. First we laminated the individual pages, which was not all that easy as we had to make sure the pages were laminated in the correct order for the book.
Yet Jonas mastered the situation with brilliance. He found it exciting to watch the technical procedures of the device and examined it closely. He had not imagined laminating to be so simple.
The only thing left was to bind the book. Unfortunately I could not get a device for this but one of the mothers in our group had a book binding device at her job. She offered to bind the book at the office. I was glad about this but Jonas was not so excited because that meant he had to wait another day before the book was finally finished. He actually got a little touchy and stubborn:
“But I want to show the book to mum!”
I replied: “You can have it your way, but then the book won’t be bound at all, because Ms such-and-such doesn’t have the time every day to get this done at the office!”
I assured him that he would be able to show it to his mother the next day and that was acceptable for him.
This showed how very proud he was of his work and that he just could not wait to show it to his parents.
When Jonas was being picked up by his mother the next day after lunch it was finally time and he was able to hand over the book to her. He insisted that she read the book immediately together with the group, which is what she did. She really took her time and sat down at the table with him.
“I turn the pages and you read out the story!”
It was not long before a whole bunch of children stood around the table listening to the story. It felt so good to be part of the scene and see how happy mother and son were. Jonas was all smiles and happy that his mother was praising him. His mother was, as I believe, quite proud of her son’s achievement and also glad that I had worked so intensely on the topic with Jonas. She thanked me for it several times!
Afterwards Jonas said:
“Right, now I’ll have to show the book to dad and to the others, too!”
On the whole, I think, I have reached my goals. There were times when I thought: I just hope this all comes out positively! After all, it was quite tricky to manoeuvre between mother and child. That is why I was just the happier that the mother had eventually agreed to my approach.
I believe that Jonas enjoyed the time we spent together. He was extremely communicative and even trusted me with things he would otherwise only share with his parents. I think he was quite glad to have found somebody who took him seriously in his occupation with the Perchten, who listened to his stories and gave them some thought.
Jonas is not always an easy person to deal with, he has a strong will and can be rather hard-headed. But I believe he understood that I am serious about him and his wishes and ideas, and that I always give it my best to try and respond to them.
Unfortunately I do not always succeed in this effort but it seems Jonas understands it when I am stressed out and the workload is overwhelming. He does understand that sometimes things just do not work out the way we wanted them to. At the same time he knows that I keep my word and my promises. I think that we have mutual trust and thereby a good base to work on.
Jonas has shown that with his good verbal expression and his imagination he can tell wonderful stories. His drawings were always well adapted to the corresponding parts of the story and never missed the important details. He was working with great perseverance and focus all throughout.
Since I was working with him alone it was up to him to decide on the pace, and most of the time it was quite fast. I noticed that he likes to set goals for himself like having the work done by the day of the exhibition. He also does not like to be disturbed when working, nor does he like telling anybody else about his project. However, in the end he is keen on presenting his work.
This time around he showed his picture book to his parents first, which was, of course, important to him. Yet, in a next step I would like to see him present the book to the children, too, since many of them are playing Perchten in role playing games, but they do not really know what or who these Perchten are.
Besides, some children did notice that lately I have spent a lot of time with Jonas and some children have become quite curious to know what we were doing there all that time.
I think, Jonas also learned a lot of things about the Perchten, he did not know before, and that he can now tell what is real and what is not. When we first started out he was being imaginative to the point where he lost track of what was real and what was only imagined. And it is precisely this, which I think scared him in the end.
Now he has been assured by me and also by his mother that the Perchten are real people who dress up as Perchten (just like at Carnival) to scare away the winter. They are not really evil figures who want to harm people. I think he finally understands this. His mother confirms that at home he does not show those fears any more. He sleeps in his own room again and is not afraid to go into his room before the lights are on.
Since his mother has changed her view on the Perchten and Jonas can now talk to her about them, he now feels like he is being taken seriously. In addition to that his mother is really proud of his picture book and she praised him a great deal for it. I believe, he has matured quite a bit through all this and is much more self-confident now.
It has also been a positive experience for him to see that the other children showed interest in his book and listened attentively. Some children said they want to make a picture book, too. This means that they liked Jonas’ book and thought it was a good idea. This showed him that the other children appreciate his ideas.
One thing I still find hard to deal with is his stubbornness. This sometimes gets in his way and ruins things for him. Unfortunately I have not been able to find out why he gets so carried away with this behaviour sometimes. By the same token I have not found out what caused him to behave untypically in the two situations mentioned earlier. This will have to be observed further by me and his parents.
Right now I do not know where the journey with Jonas will end.
In any case I want to continue having spontaneous one-on-one sessions with Jonas to give him the opportunity to tell me about his current concerns and to help him realise his ideas and wishes. In a one-on-one situation he opens up more and shows more commitment and focus.
For now the next thing is Carnival. That is something Jonas loves and he is already beginning to occupy himself with it. We, that is the children of our kindergarten, will participate in the Carnival parade dressed up as clowns. Who knows, maybe something new is going to come up, that captivates Jonas’ interest. Whatever it is, I’ll be keeping an eye on Jonas.
The Picture Book
“How the Perchten Turned into Friends”
A Picture Book illustrated and narrated by ……
This book belongs to … Jonas
In the night of Halloween Jonas is playing by the camp fire with his friend. It is very late and rather dark. David is having a great time and dancing around the fire like Rumpelstiltskin. Jonas has a weird feeling though, he is on the lookout standing on the bench. Suddenly he sees a mask looking at him from behind a bush.
Jonas thinks to himself: Those must be the Perchten David told me so much about.
Without David noticing it, Jonas sneaks off to follow the Percht. He wants to catch the Perchten, because they often tease Jonas and David and laugh at them.
One Percht runs directly towards a cave in the middle of the forest.
Jonas discovers that behind the mask there is a real human being.
He keeps observing the Percht but stays in safe distance to watch what is going to happen.
The Percht disappears into the cave.
Now Jonas works up all his courage and sneaks up to the cave. Through a small hole he can see what is happening inside.
One Percht is holding his mask in his hands and wears a broad smile.
Jonas wonders: What might this be all about?
Unfortunately he can’t make out what he is saying.
Jonas makes a plan.
“I’ve got it! I’ll change into a Percht, then they’ll think I’m one of them, and then I can easily catch them!”
It was said, it was done! Quickly Jonas gets on his way home. All the while Jonas is thinking about the things he will need to look like a Percht. He is quite confident about his plan and feels proud of it.
Having arrived at home, he immediately withdraws into his room.
He gets plaster, pens, scissors, glue and everything else he needs and gets started making himself a mask.
Since Jonas is a good artist he has no problems. An hour later the mask looks great and Jonas is on his way back to the Perchten.
As he reaches the forest it does not take long before a Percht crosses his way. At first Jonas hesitates but then he walks directly towards the Percht and tells him his name: “My name is Jonas!”
The Percht immediately realises that Jonas is new among them, but he is glad that finally someone does not run away from him and he offers his friendship to Jonas.
Jonas is flabbergasted. He had always thought that Perchten were evil creatures. Now he changes his plan. Instead of catching the Percht he makes friends with him. Then he wants to show the Percht his home.
Together they run to Kommern, Jonas’ home town.
They realise that, actually, they do not live all that far apart and they decide, that from now on they’ll meet more often to play together.
But, since the Perchten only go out after dark, they decide to meet at Carnival the next time.
As everybody masquerades on that day, the two of them will go unnoticed during those days.
Jonas walks the Percht home. He lives right next to the cave in a beautiful castle nearby Metternich. They wave good-bye to each other and look forward to the Carnival.
They celebrate through all the days of Carnival and have a lot of fun together.
In the evening, just before they are about to go home, the Percht tells Jonas the true story of the Perchten.
“Jonas, listen up now:
Perchten, that is what real people call themselves, when they put on masks and dance around the fire at night to scare away the winter. That is just what I do with my family!
Nobody needs to be afraid of us.
It is the same thing you do on Carnival. It’s a big masquerade and you’re having all kinds of fun without being afraid!”
For my mother Marita.
Published in German: January 2012
Translated by Arno Zucknick
Copyright© Hanna Vock, see Imprint
The translation of this article was made possible by
Konny Eppmann and Maike Saidler, Cologne, Germany.