by Claudia Flaig
Alena came to our kindergarten at the age of 2;6. Already on her first day she sent her dad directly home. (The father who works at night looks after her during the day, while the mother works full time during the day).
Alena showed very good language skills and was remarkably interested. She had a comprehensive view of the kindergarten teachers and the children as well as their activities. Since she was quite tall, she looked older than two and a half.
From the very beginning, we noticed a certain sadness in her, a sense of being introverted. A loud, childlike or silly laugh, for example, was extremely rare in her case – and when it did happen, we would be delighted to draw each other’s attention to it.
In her first kindergarten week she tried twice to run away from the public playground. When asked about it, the parents told us that Alena regularly tries to leave playgrounds as soon as possible and with pleasure alone „after work“.
…in a nutshell…
This first observation includes some situational observations as well as several questionnaires. Two of the questionnaires are filled in in the dialogue between child and kindergarten teacher. This shows that the four-year-old can already handle this very well.
The results are discussed in a parent-teacher interview.
At her young age Alena already showed a pronounced social behaviour and a high sense of justice. She always had an overview of the group events, settled disputes, picked up the babies‘ toys (at that time we worked with two kindergarten teachers and a child care worker in a mixed-age group with 12 children from 0;8 to 5 years). Alena helped children get dressed and assisted each caregiver.
Later, after her 3rd birthday, the positive social behaviour deepened further: Alena now commented on the whole group life and has been in constant contact with us kindergarten teachers ever since, which unfortunately annoys us again and again. We accept her high need for communication, but admittedly we sometimes show ourselves impatient as well. She comments on this wordlessly with the typical „Alena look“, which should tell us: „I think you have explained this rule to us. She gets hurt here, I report about it and you reject me?“
Alena always feels that she is being approached when it comes to employment offers of any kind. She would like to participate too gladly always and is then attentive and concentrated with the thing, calmly, often in itself turned. Her attention seems untiring at the same time. With her quick comprehension, the realization of tasks is no problem at all.
Even these general observations from Alena’s first year at kindergarten led me to the idea that she could possibly be a child with far above-average talent.
Alena inspires with many play ideas
Shortly after her 4th birthday (at the age of 4;1 years), a more intensive observation begins with the eight older children in the group, with Alena quickly assuming a leading role.
My colleague Kathi is in the gym where she is in charge of a lot of large egg cartons („boards“ for 30 eggs each) – I observe Alena in detail and take notes about her.
What should happen to the unusual game material?
Alena immediately has many ideas, which she announces loudly and clearly, according to which the other children actively participate:
– Ice skating,
– Elephant ears,
– Balance the cartons on your feet first in the prone position and then in the supine position,
– Clamp the cartons between your legs and
– in the partner game, clamp the boxes between the buttocks and the back.
Then my colleague starts a stop dance: When the music stops, each child looks for a box and sits down on it. Alena develops a new play idea: „Look at Kathi, I’m building a bed for myself“ and she takes a box for her head and one for her feet. All the children build it like her. „We can also make a road, Kathi. All the children help her immediately. Alena enjoys her role very much and sometimes says where to put the boxes.
Finally „fire, water, earth“ and „pulling carrots“ are played, both very popular. Alena also takes part with great joy. „When do we go gymnastics again, Kathi“ she asks while dressing.
Note from the course director:
Could Alena organize and carry out a gymnastics offer for four three-year-olds? Do you trust her?
The author took up this suggestion, see: Alena (4;6) Leading a Small Gymnastic Group.
Language test „Dolphin“
The dolphin test for „Diagnostics, parental work and promotion of language competence for four-year-olds“ was mandatory in North Rhine-Westphalia at the time and I took part in a training course.
My opinion on it:
The test situation overwhelms most children and does not allow a realistic test result with inhibited children. It is precisely this problem that prompts me to document this test as an observation.
(Editor’s note: The language test was highly controversial among experts and was abolished again in NRW in 2015.)
Four children took part in our test, including Alena with 4;1. The others are: Mariana (4;4), Frederik (4;1) and Amar (3;10). Since Alena has a remarkably good speech behavior, she is used by me as the first player (dolphin). She loves unknown challenges, so I hope that she will motivate the other children to get in easier.
During the test, a school teacher unknown to the children sits at the next table. Since she makes no effort to introduce herself, let alone to smile, I introduce her to the children. The day before I played the game in the office with children who didn’t take the test. Since then, Alena has asked me five times when she could finally play the new game. She is now absolutely in joyful expectation, she shines with big eyes and nibbles at her fingernails.
The first five tasks (mark certain picture contents with a play figure) are done by Alena fast and correctly. She is excited to take part in the activities of the other children, who are given other tasks. Surprisingly for me she doesn’t interfere and doesn’t even talk for other children.
The next task is to repeat meaningless artificial words, which Alena succeeds in doing flawlessly. Equally without mistakes she repeats meaningful and „nonsense sentences“ (so literally in the test text!) and is concentrated and full of verve.
At the following request to tell what can be seen on a zoo picture, Alena speaks fluently, beginning with the climax, in complex sentences about all the events depicted. When asked about her favourite animals („Monkeys, because they are so funny…“) she can hardly be stopped. The school teacher gives me a sign that it is enough, because she does not follow with her notes.
The other three children find it difficult to cope with the test conditions, as was to be expected. Mariana refuses the majority of the tasks, probably because she finds the artificial situation very strange: an unknown school teacher, the familiar kindergarten teacher, who – according to the detailed behavioural guidelines – explains each task only once, offers no encouraging motivation and continues without explanation in the material.
Amar, a boy with a migration background, is expected to have the biggest problems and Frederik „passes“ the test, but is very excited because of his previous experience with speech therapy.
A worksheet makes fantasy blossom
Shortly thereafter Alena (now 4;2) and two other girls (Jenni, 5 years old, and Mariana, 4 years old) deal with a worksheet in my presence: on it there are two rows of houses to be seen as a line drawing, most of the roofs are only sketched with dots and mostly the chimneys are missing. At first I don’t explain anything.
Alena says immediately: „The roof here (she points to the first house) has a chimney, the others do not. And she paints the chimneys in the lower row of houses.
Now I give the instruction that the children at the houses, which do not have roofs yet (which are marked only with dots), should paint these please in addition. Alena starts to paint in the lower row. Then she paints some roofs. „It is like writing, isn´t it?“ she says, „Here I did not hit the line,“ she points to the spot.
„Now you can paint the chimneys“, I say to the children and Alena now paints them in the upper row of houses and evaluates her result: „I missed a bit here. I paint a window here (she points to the last house in the upper row), then you can also look out. There are curtains on it, they are always closed.“
Then she says to me: „Claudi, people don’t want the house painted.“ – Why not?“ – People say: No, we don’t want that; we find that ugly. They want a white house. This sheet goes into the school folder, doesn’t it? May I paint a sun? The pencil is broken, but you can sharpen it again.“
Jenni says she will paint a moon; it is blue. Then Alena: „But the moon is yellow“ – Jenni: „I paint a round moon“. – Alena: „That’s a full moon then. Then you have to paint everything.“
Again and again Alena scratches her head: She writes „MAPA“ and „APA“. She points to the A. The horizontal bar protrudes beyond the side lines. „That’s a little wrong, isn’t it?“ I reassure her that anyone who can read will recognize this letter. „I am finished, Claudi. Can I put the sheet in the folder?“ She punches the sheet radiantly and staples it in.
Observations during free play on the playground
We want to go to a public playground. The group puts on shoes and jackets in the wardrobe. Lina (2 years old) goes back to the group room with the doll buggy without permission. Alena (still 4;2) is putting on her jacket just across the hall. She runs after the two-year-old and shouts: „Lina, Lina, come here! I’ll dress you. We go to the playground. You can’t go back to the group, and the buggy has to stay here.“
On the playground, Alena immediately climbs the climbing frame: „Claudi, Claudi, look!“ A woman walks past the edge of the playground with a baby carriage. Alena runs to her and shouts: „Frau Meister, where are you going?“ – „Home.“
Alena jumps into the sandbox. „Claudi, look, the sand is soft. I collected sticks. And a friend of my mother’s just passed by here.“
Alena continues playing in the sand, ten meters away the two-year-old Justus cries. Alena pauses and looks. „He just squabbled. He didn’t hurt himself. He has to learn that.“
Alena goes to Jenni and calls to me: „Claudi, we have a pen here. Jenni paints with it.“
She points to thin sticks collected by Jenni.
Then she asks: „Claudi, where is Frederik actually? I answer that he is with the speech therapist. Alena: „Why?“ – „He practices speaking there.“ – Then Alena immediately: „I can speak.“
Note from the course leader:
This good self-confidence must be maintained.
Alena takes a thick stick and drills it round in the sand: „Tax, tax, tax.“ (joystick) Then she notices: „I have to get the sand out of my shoe. But I won’t do that until we leave.“
Meanwhile Jenni has sprinkled a cuboid wooden block with soft, dry sand and now paints with a stick as a pen on it. Alena: „That’s not possible. You can’t really write on it.“ She looks very interested at the wooden block. „Come, let’s make some cake!“ She builds a mountain and puts sticks in the sand cake. Alena laughs: „Look, Claudi. These are candles. I’ll get some flowers.“ Jenni and Alena keep wordless eye contact all the time. Alena fetches daisies from the meadow and holds them out to Jenni wordlessly. Jenni, who otherwise also talks a lot, hands her the coveted block of wood without saying a word. Very social, I think. Alena beams, plays with the block for a moment, then goes back to the climbing frame.
Interim evaluation of the observations
During these intensive observations, deeply buried knowledge from my training in psychology came back to my spiritual surface.
Although the observations did not actually bring any new knowledge about Alena, I was very surprised how concretely the theses (about early giftedness) that had only been suspected until then can be proven.
I noticed this above all when I spoke with my colleagues about the occupations with Alena. I find it very positive that this has made giftedness an issue in our group and in the entire kindergarten and sensitised our colleagues to it. In any case, I plan to keep offering Alena challenging and long-term tasks and record how she deals with them.
Gaining knowledge through questionnaires
In order to further deepen the already gained knowledge about Alena, I went through different questionnaires together with Alena (aged between 4;2 and 4;7 years) or conducted formalized interviews accordingly. These are in detail:
– the Gelsenkirchen Development Companion
– the IHVO Questionnaire on the self-assessment of the child, how it experiences communication in the kindergarten group,
– the IHVO Questionnaire on Child´s Interests for the kindergarten.
In preparation for an evaluative interview, Alena’s parents also used the
– IHVO Questionnaire for Parents for 4- to 6- Years Old Children in Kindergarten completed.
One more important preliminary remark.
At the time of this survey a large-scale restructuring is taking place in the kindergarten, which leads to great unrest among the kindergarten teachers and the children as well as the parents:
– The concept of mixed-age groups is partly abandoned,
– A new group is formed with numerous children from a kindergarten that was closed,
– The management of the entire facility changes.
In Alena’s group, however, little is changed so that the continuity of observations can also be maintained.
The evaluation of the IHVO communication questionnaire shows that Alena’s self-assessments roughly agree with my findings.
As expected, Alena names Jenni as a particularly popular play partner and sees herself in good contact with the younger ones in the group. But Alena also likes to listen to Mariana, who is a clever, imaginative child and certainly an interesting play partner.
Although Alena comes up with many good play ideas, she has the feeling that she can’t always bring them into the group. This could be due to her decisive nature.
Antipathy, she feels towards two boys, Amar and Jeremy. Nevertheless, she has chosen Amar in her gymnastics group „so that he learns some things better“, as Alena says. Here her strong social behaviour becomes visible. About another boy, Frederik, she positively points out that you can learn something about football from him.
Alena answers the interest questionnaire with interest and speed. The longest (6 seconds!) she thinks about when asked what she doesn’t like about kindergarten, and then this comes: „The older children don’t take good care of the babies, because something bad can happen to the babies“.
As already in the IHVO questionnaire, she again names Jenni and Mariana as her dearest play partners, in addition she mentions Frederik – even in the first place.
When asked what she „would like to be able to do a little better“, Alena emphasizes: „I would like to be able to write“.
When asked what she would like to learn, Alena answers: „To drive an airplane, to turn a Giant Ferris wheel. When I asked her about the Giant Ferris Wheel, she explained that she wanted to learn how to set the technology in motion and to understand what happens there.
She finds it difficult (but probably quite positive) for herself „when I have to look at things on my own – for example, new games that I explain to the children“.
And what annoys her so often? „If the children don’t listen to me, for example when I tell them to be quiet. They have to learn that, but they don’t understand. The children also often take away something that belongs to others – and then they take it home with them or to grandma.“
She also has this fear for her favourite toy, a cloth monkey: „It’s lying on the doll’s cupboard. I’m afraid of losing it here. It’s so beautiful.“
When asked about her favourite book, she says: „Cinderella. My mother likes to read it to me – my dad doesn’t, because it’s only for women.“
Alena gives a complex answer to this question: „You meet an old woman who knows everything about the world and life. What would you ask her? What else?“ –
„I wouldn’t ask anything because my mom says that strange women steal dogs. – I’d ask her how to steer a car or a rocket.“
I was astonished that she ended two answers with the sentence: „And done!“ Obviously Alena is not ready for any further statements.
After first stating „painting“ as one of her favourite pastimes, she later suddenly explains what she is „really proud“ of: „I only paint Krickelkrakel because: if I paint beautifully and something goes wrong, then I get angry. Because then I don’t paint what I want. I can’t do it then.“
This shows me Alena’s high demands on herself. Now it is essential to take care to avoid excessive demands. We have to let Alena learn to patiently implement her ideas in fine motor design and also to allow imperfections.
(See also the article: Drawing course with Linda)
Her social responsibility goes beyond her own interest in flying a helicopter herself. This shows her answer to the question of a possible career aspiration. O-Ton Alena: „Emergency doctor – ambulance and helicopter drive to save people“.
On a final list of a total of 17 offers (from theatre games to reading, computers, writing and arithmetic to solving riddles) Alena crosses everything as particularly interesting without hesitation – this is also evident in everyday kindergarten life.
Note from the course director:
Amazing that she likes to do everything. We rarely see such sheets.
Alena’s manifold interests and abilities, which are often only expected at an advanced age, are also reflected in the Gelsenkirchen Development Companion, which I went through with her at the age of 4;6. Here I could mark 26 of 28 items of the age group 5 to 5;6 for her. In the age range „5;6 until school enrolment“ the four-and-a-half year old reaches 40 of 54 requirements, all of them in the subject areas „Language“, „Cognitive Development“ and „Social Competence“. Only in the areas of „fine motor skills“ and „gross motor skills“ does she „only“ reach the level of the age group 5 to 5;6 years.
Talk with Alena´s parents
For scheduling reasons, we only manage to have the parents‘ talk about our collected observations at the third attempt. Alena is now 4;7 years old.
When I arrive, the parents are embarrassed because they are still busy filling out the parent questionnaire. I show understanding and say that it is no problem not to answer some questions – we can now talk about it in peace. They are relieved and I suggest to start with the conversation about the (Gelsenkirchen) development companion. With this I would like to give them self-confidence, because we already talked about this half a year ago – about our findings at that time.
The development sheet shows only a few requirements to be fulfilled by children to be enrolled in school – although Alena is much younger. For Alena, the skills still to be acquired are exclusively in the fine and gross motor area, which I find age-appropriate.
According to Alena’s previous development, I assume that she will meet all requirements by her fifth birthday. Alena can thus be described as ready for school in the coming school year. Immediately the parents say that they have been occupied with this idea for some weeks. The primary school is opposite her house. Alena looks out of the window every morning longingly and says that she would like to go to school now.
Alena’s interest in numbers, letters, questions from nature and subject areas and her search for older children led us in the course of the conversation to register Alena for next year’s primary school (then she is 5;5). In the kindergarten we want to let her participate in the preschool program „Schlaufüchse“ (clever foxes).
However, the decision to let her go to school early will only be made before the summer holidays, after trial lessons in the primary school in cooperation with Alena. If she doesn’t want to go to school prematurely, the decision would of course be against enrolment.
Now we look at the communication questionnaire. Our common conclusion: Alena is oriented towards Jenni and Mariana, the oldest children in the group. At the same time, she likes to take responsibility for younger children and unfortunately can only learn from adults.
Conclusions from the interest questionnaire
The conversation with the parents about the interest questionnaire for the kindergarten brings a number of new insights.
The parents of Alena’s choice of words are positively surprised. They are amazed at Alena’s report about her toy monkey, who is always lying on the doll’s wardrobe. Although they know him, they don’t know how well protected and observed he is yet.
Alena’s description that the father refuses to read to Cinderella makes us all laugh. The father confirms that he refuses to read the story – he hates it.
Warning against perfectionism
In response to Alena’s explanation that she only does „Krickelkrakel“ because she (supposedly) can’t paint well enough, her mother says that she herself is very perfectionist and demands the same from Alena. She even improves Alena’s mandalas!
Fortunately, she shows herself to be self-conscious about it. So it’s easy for me to convince her that this behavior can do a lot of damage. I suggest that she tell Alena when she’s painting that she can paint and colour really well for her age. Even parents can admit mistakes. And children must not be underestimated, as if they could not understand behavior corrections of the parents.
Both parents say for themselves that they now also see that they praise Alena far too rarely. This could also be the cause of Alena’s often hectic and unfocused way of working. From now on they want to give her more courage to make mistakes. How could this be better than when they are a good role model for Alena.
The parents confirm many findings from the Kindergarten
When we looked through the parents´ questionnaire together, some of which had been completed in the meantime, we found agreement with the questionnaires we had collected in all areas.
The parents confirm our observations about Alena’s particularly pronounced independence and her large vocabulary. They also observe that Alena prefers to play with significantly older children and can concentrate for a long time („approx. 1 hour“) on activities such as painting and looking at books. They also see their interest in numbers and letters, in learning to read and write. They also know that Alena „prefers to go to school now“.
In particular, the parents emphasize Alena’s strength in dealing with other people. They call the strengths of their daughter „understanding, empathetic“. In addition, I tell the parents in detail about Alena’s gymnastics group.
In this context we talk again about Alena’s self-confidence. She naturally has self-confidence in things she masters. She is also always open-minded about learning new things. If this doesn’t work out right away, however, she becomes nervous and loses her self-confidence.
The parents don´t answer in the questionnaire on whether Alena would like to have a kindergarten child as a friend. They say that they have been thinking for some time about who might be eligible. They have the impression that Alena is looking for a friend because she complained at home that she still do not know the elder children from the new group.
Here I see a weak point of our kindergarten work: All children are allowed to join the other group at any time if they’ll just let me know, but they don’t. Here we urgently have to work up.
Note from the course leader:
It’s a good thing that this self-critical assessment took place just a few weeks after the above-mentioned restructuring of the kindergarten – with Alena’s support!
The parents do not know the answer to the questionnaire question „What does their child like to laugh about? But we quickly find out that Alena is rather the type who smiles. I try to explain to the parents that not every person who does not laugh loudly and heartily is an unhappy person. Alena is serious, but not unhappy, even if sometimes a little bit melancholic.
I then ask how Alena is behaving at home in general, because she seems a little stressed to me at the moment. The parents are indeed quite finished moving, renovating and opening their café. Alena is mothering her parents, she seems to have the right idea about the situation. She sends her parents on the couch to rest, makes them salad and cleans up – luckily everything is not perfect…
Note from the course leader:
A clever, dear child – but who urgently needs something inspiring of her own!
We agree that Alena should urgently find her own needs in order to be able to pursue her areas of interest. I ask about possible musical interests – and lo and behold: Alena has wanted to learn the violin for a long time – but she probably means cello. The mother wants to inquire at the music school about appropriate possibilities. In addition I point out the activities of a local association for parents of highly gifted children and to the Internet address of the IHVO.
At the end of the almost three-hour conversation, we agree on a protocol and I give the parents information material about giftedness and early school enrolment.
You can follow Alena’s support, as far as it is documented in the manual contributions, chronologically over almost two years:
Date of publication in German: April 2018
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint