by Jordis Overödder
Adrian (5;9) makes a balanced impression at the moment. He is cheerful and busy all day with his friends. He shows impatience and frustration only rarely, he is also no longer aggressive towards the other children.
With his play partners he has still unusual play ideas. They laugh a lot and like to take the jokes to extremes, so that you have to set limits for them.
The new computer games, which my colleague brought along a few weeks ago, Adrian accepted enthusiastically and immediately tried out. Again, he showed a lot of skill, didn’t need a briefing for the unfamiliar games, but worked out the game possibilities himself. He transferred the experiences from previous games to the new ones or implemented the verbal instructions of the computer voice safely.
His mother is now working as a nurse again. Adrian still doesn’t sleep much, but his parents can accept it better now. They are still in contact with the counselling centre. There the mother was relieved of many of her worries about Adrian. This has a positive effect on Adrian, who seemed to share the mother’s fear.
… in a nutshell …
Some conversations with the five-year-old Adrian are necessary to find out which questions are bothering him. The author knows how to discuss „difficult“ questions, which also involve life and death, with Adrian and other children from day-to-day life at the kindergarten. At the same time, she introduces the children to the medium of the newspaper.
Once the children discovered large bird feathers in the workshop. They immediately had the idea to write with it and tried it out with watercolor. Since it was Friday afternoon just before the pick-up time, they could not experiment for long. They took the feathers home with them.
On Monday Adrian arrived and proudly told us that he had written secret writing with his mother („with lemon juice or milk, and you have to warm it up“). This is a good example of how his parents are now increasingly taking up his interests and topics at home.
Adrian’s grandmother died before Christmas. She fought against cancer for half a year. The parents did not take Adrian to visit his granny during this time. At home, they talked a lot about the death of grandma, also about the grief of Adrian’s father and grandpa. Adrian has been intensively involved with that.
The teachers of his future school were, as every year, in our kindergarten to exchange ideas with us about the children who come to school this summer. They explained that they separate the parents and the children during the initial talk, that the children are in a small group with a teacher and do little games and tasks. The parents are asked to talk separately.
Adrian then had great difficulty separating from his mother so that she first had to go into the room for the children, but was then able to withdraw. The teacher remarked that she had the impression that also the mother was no good separating herself from Adrian.
Adrian was then at first rejecting, sulked, turned away when he was approached. When he then saw what the others were doing, the ice was broken and he solved all tasks well and independently.
The teacher and I talked about Adrian’s development at kindergarten, about his special abilities and his sensitivity. In order to take away his fear of the unknown demands made on him at school, the teachers immediately suggested that he should be invited to a trial lesson as soon as possible.
His old playmates are also in that class, so he has familiar faces around him and gets a glimpse.
In the next days Adrian is invited to the school. „Then I’ll go with Joseph by bus,“ he proudly announces. His mother has a hard time with this, his father supports Adrian’s endeavour to become independent. I also encourage her to let him tackle this adventure alone.
The new year has begun and our group has finally been strengthened by a colleague. I am very happy to have time again for special offers. Since I still have no idea for a concrete objective, I will simply start. It is important for me to start by talking to Adrian.
I hope to come across an area in which I can stimulate his cognitive abilities.
Monday, January 11th
At breakfast Adrian tells me about the wild boars for half an hour. He was in the forest with his grandfather, who is a hunter. There they climbed up Grandpa’s hunter’s seat and Grandpa told him a lot about the wild boars. I take Adrian’s interest in this subject as a starting point to talk to him and find out more about his interests. We arrange to meet the next morning. I promise to bring him something about wild boars.
Tuesday, January 12th
In an adjoining room we sit together. I have pictures of wild pigs from the Internet stored on my laptop. Adrian thinks that’s great. I record on a mindmap what he already knows about wild boars.
(See also: Plans, Drawings, Sketches, Mind-Maps)
Then I suggest that we do a puzzle quiz. First I read him a text about the pictures – with information that goes beyond his previous knowledge. The text is already quite demanding. He listens well.
But with his answers to my subsequent questions I notice that the text was probably too long and he couldn’t remember so many new things. Adrian is sometimes insecure or prematurely says the wrong answer. However, he corrects himself when I ask questions or explains his idea to me.
I ask: „Who are the enemies of the wild boar?“
He answers: „Deer, roe deer and sheep!“
He excludes „bears, wolves and lynxes,“ „because, after all, they don’t exist in our forests.“ That does not lack a certain logic.
I ask: „How do the wild pigs clean their fur of vermin?“
He answers: „They shower – in the rain – or swim in the water.“
He says: „After all, they don’t get clean in the mud bath.“
A discussion arises as to whether one may simply shoot all wild pigs. With „what-if-if questions“ we approach different scenarios:
– if there are too many / too few wild boars;
– if there were wolves again;
– What can the farmer do to protect his corn if there are wild boars nearby?
Adrian takes some new technical terms with him. He has found that wolves are also useful for humans. „But people are also afraid of the wolves“, he concludes.
He enjoyed the meeting. I ask him if he wants to know more about wild boars. No, it is enough for him.
He declares to me that he wants to go to Radio Berg (our local station) to see „how they speak into there, how they do it“. He often listens to the radio at home in the afternoon. He has already expressed this wish in the preschool children’s group, and the preparations and appointments for this trip are already underway.
„And why are there always such bad news?“
he wants to know from me.
His mother told me in the parent-teacher conversation that the news always kept him very busy. Then he often can’t classify what’s said and so makes his thoughts about it.
So he is interested in the news. Spontaneously the idea comes to me that I can bring him a newspaper, which we then look at together. In my opinion, this is an easier medium to grasp than the radio news, but it deals with the same topics that he hears there. He thinks the idea is good, even if he is still a little sceptical about what a newspaper is all about.
I want to pick up his interest in the news.
He has questions about the short sequences he hears on the radio or about pictures he sees on television when he comes back to the living room in the evening. But the questions are too fleeting and are not dealt with sufficiently. His parents try to keep the „bad“ away from him.
In the next step I try out whether the medium newspaper is suitable for a discussion and how he reacts to it. I read the newspaper beforehand.
Reading the newspaper
Wednesday, January 13th
I will add Justin to this meeting. I do not want to give Adrian such a special role. Justin is thrilled. Both are very excited and start to meticulously look at every picture in the newspaper. They try their own interpretations of what they see.
If they are particularly interested in a photo, I read the picture captions to them and give them a short summary of the article. They ask questions about it.
These topics were particularly well received:
„More counterfeit banknotes“ – „Bisons in Yellowstone National Park“ – „Attack on the Togolese national team“.
They ask about the counterfeit banknotes:
„Why does someone print money himself?“ – „Then you get more out of it and you can buy a lot!“ – „But in the shop, there they have such a camera, there they can see who that was!“
They think a lot about the money: „Who makes the money? What if everyone could make money?“ We come to the subject of inflation. I give them food for thought, they pursue the thoughts further. „How do you recognize fake money?“ We look at banknotes from my wallet.
They are very interested in bison. The text says something about „almost extinct“. I tell them in a nutshell that the white settlers who came to Indian land were hunting the bison to make money with the skins. Only a few bison could have hidden themselves. These have reproduced later again and now live there protected in this large piece of land. They want to know more about it. I happened to record a documentary about the National Park which I could show them.
The photo of the coffin, which was unloaded from the airplane, occupies them the most. The report deals once again with the attack in Angola on the bus of the Togolese national soccer team a few days ago.
What happened there and why someone shot at a bus, just like that, and who died there and who was injured and how that happened and whether the police came and who took care of the injured and who put the corpse in the coffin…
A whole bunch of questions storming me. Some I can answer, others I have to ask for more information, because I did not follow these messages very closely in the days before. We write down the questions and think about where you can find answers about something that happened a few days ago: in the old newspapers! We’d take that up tomorrow.
We hang the interesting articles about the theme table in the group.
In my current assessment, questions about death and killing, soldiers and hunters are among the central issues that occupy Adrian at the moment. Questions arise about ethics and morality, what is „allowed“ and what is wrong.
I create a space and time frame for an examination of these topics.
A concrete formulation of objectives is not so easy for me. I could come to results like this:
– Adrian understands the rough connections of one or more events in the news.
– Adrian understands the interactions of living organisms in the ecosystem.
– Adrian knows the possible causes of a political conflict abroad.
Teaching the child the ABC is easier…
Thursday, January 14th
Adrian and Justin are already waiting for me: „Did you bring the newspapers with you?“ I had rummaged through the waste paper and sorted out the relevant pages. I want to deepen this topic first and not present a stack-thick offer of new topics.
So we look at the photos, reconstruct the course of the attack and investigate the motives of the „rebels“. A small article helps us further. For this we look at the country in the atlas.
According to the „rebels“ the exclave Cabinda should become a country of its own. Because the people there are poor. That would be different if they didn’t have to give the rich oil deposits to Angola. „Those are the blue boxes“ Adrian finds in the Atlas. „But that’s why they don’t have to shoot,“ complains Justin.
Adrian and Justin come to the conclusion that this conflict must not be resolved by force. „You must not shoot at people.“ They also see the different interests of the groups and notice that there is not always a simple solution.
Comment by the course instructor:
Those are already many important realizations and thoughts.
Pre-school children’s morning circle
At the preschoolers‘ meeting, we will give concrete form to the children’s wishes for excursions:
„To look at a church.“ They want to go to Cologne Cathedral. On a newspaper clipping you can see the Shrine of the Three Holy Kings (Epiphany Shrine – Dreikönigsschrein). The children are interested, because at Christmas we heard the story of the Three Kings and played it as a shadow theatre.
„Are they in there now?“ – „Can we look in there, I want to see them!“ (I already see myself with the cordless screwdriver…) I ask: „Well, what remains of somebody who died 2000 years ago?“ – „Bones!“ – „A skeleton“ – „and dust!“.
„My grandma has been burned, she is ash now,“ Adrian says. We briefly stick to different burial methods and then find out that today you can no longer tell what the Three Kings looked like.
This morning my colleague has some sad news for the children: Mrs. B., the director of the old people’s and nursing home, died suddenly. For many years our kindergarten had built up a friendship through her initiative. We regularly visited it with groups of children, with the music club, the theatre group, and just a few weeks ago with the preschool children. Mrs. B. showed them very sensitively the care department of the house with its handicapped inhabitants. The children wanted to visit them again soon.
My colleague and I agree that we have to talk to the children about Mrs B.’s death. We look at photos from the last visit and remember the nice trip.
The children wonder how bad this is for her husband and children. All the children were very affected. My colleague and they are making a plaque for the hallway so that we can always remember her.
Death and war are still taboo topics in education. Parents want to protect their children from suffering, feel helpless and are afraid of having to answer the children’s questions. The cut out newspaper articles will probably cause some parents to be uncomprehending and sceptical.
Informing the parents about the project is an important step. I’m mainly looking for a personal conversation, because our parents often stop at the wall of topics and see what’s new there. In addition, I have also written a notice:
In the Morning Circle of the preschool group we discussed the children’s wishes for excursions today. We wanted to question some of the wishes and find out exactly what the children would like to see. This resulted in a varied program, which we will present to you at the parents‘ evening.
Ellen (my colleague) also had very sad news for the children today: Because this week our dear Mrs. B., with whom we had close contact for many years in the nursing home Haus Bergeck, died unexpectedly. Even before Christmas, she had greeted the preschool group so warmly and showed them the care department of the house with its residents and answered the children’s many questions so sensitively.
We would like to create a plaque with the children to commemorate Mrs. B., so that we often remember the beautiful time with her. The children were very affected and touched.
Your team of the preschool group“.
Reading the Newspaper
Friday, January 15th
Adrian and Justin are joined by other interested children. Ronja (5;2) also likes to read newspapers at home with her mother. Today she brings along a „treasure map“ which she cut out at home: a city map of Cologne. Frank (4;4) looks over our shoulder, because he also wants to have a treasure map. Rasmus (4;8) is also very curious.
With the younger children, reading the newspaper is a bit restless at first. Frank finally finds his treasure map in the local section.
Rasmus discovers a big article about the puppet theatre in Bensberg (a nearby town). They are very amused by the expressive faces of the puppets. Mara asks for the puppet stage, whether one could also see the people or only the marionettes and how they speak then. She wants to show it to her mother and go there.
After they have cut out their finds and hung them up at the theme table, I have to read the obituaries to Justin and Adrian. „Is Mrs. B. not there?“ Adrian asks. We don’t find anything in this issue.
Then they turn to the earthquake in Haiti. A picture shows the destroyed houses of the city. Mara in particular takes a very close look.
I say: „Imagine your house is broken and you don’t have anything left to put on, nothing to eat“.
„Then I could live with our neighbours,“ says Mara.
„The people here no longer have neighbours with a perfect house,“ Justin says looking at the picture. …
„The hospitals are also broken,“ says Adrian. Mara: „Yes, and there are far too many injured people. I saw it on Logo (children’s news on German TV channel ZDF), but only the beginning, and then I had to go to bed.“
Another photo shows a man sitting by the fire on the street cooking something to eat. That seems very adventurous to the boys, because they also like to make campfires. The real dimensions of this natural disaster they can not quite grasp. In any case, this news of the day will be attached to the theme wall by them.
Film about the Yellowstone National Park
Monday, January 18th
I offer this documentary film for interested preschool children. The boys and Mara are in. The theme of the film is the ecological balance in the national park. It was out of joint due to human intervention. By the killing of the „robbers“ like wolf or cougar the wapitis increased too strongly. The hunters had to shoot the wapitis again to decimate their number.
I stop the film in between and the children express their thoughts about it. It seems absurd to the children that the hunters have to shoot one species first, then the other. The problem of overpopulation is discussed.
„What happens if there is too much wapitis?“ I ask.
„They eat all the grass.“ – „They trample everything broken.“
Adrian: „Then they starve to death because there is no grass left!“
A five-year-old recognizes how an ecosystem
can tip over!
Then he notes: „We are already many, but we will not be shot!“
I ask him: „Why aren’t we shot?“
Adrian: „Because we are human beings.“
„And what if there are too many people for once?“, I go into it.
Adrian: „They’ll starve to death, just like in Africa.“ I leave that as it is. I don’t know what to do here either.
It is still difficult for me to ask specific questions that continue such thought processes. I have never dealt with philosophical questions, but I am now discovering them as an interesting topic.
Comment by the course instructor:
And as you can see, especially gifted children also deal with it very early on – and are often alone with it … but not with you anymore.
The children are very taken with the „sweet“ bear cubs in the film. When the mother bear then kills a little wapiti calf, they initially find it unfair. „But the bear can’t just eat grass. He needs meat to live.“
Topics such as evolutionary pressure and natural selection become clear. The wolves hunt the weak and sick animals. They can then no longer reproduce and pass on the disease.
„Why do deer fight in autumn? What is rut?“
At the end of the film these questions arise. The concentration of the children is exhausted after three quarters of an hour with intermediate discussions. I write down the questions in order to deal with them later.
Read the newspaper
Wednesday, January 20th
Six children come today to read the newspaper. Ronja is interested in the Opel in the factory building. „We also have such a car! Is that still in the factory?“ Melinda especially likes the horse-drawn sleigh in the snow. She has her own pony and is very fond of horses. Jesper finds a small photo of two bears: „Look: how the bears on TV“, he remembers our film.
Adrian and Justin stay with a photo of German soldiers in Afghanistan. The page of the letters to the editor. I explain to them what that is. „There, they’re sitting in the tank!“ – „Why do they have sunglasses on and up there something on their helmets?“ I describe Afghanistan to them as a country in the south, where the sun often shines.
„Why do they fight in Afghanistan? That is nevertheless quite far away. How did they attack us?“ Justin sees the task of the soldiers as defending against an enemy attack. This picture does not fit in with his image. After a few vague pieces of information, I don’t really know what to do. To explain the causes of the Afghanistan conflict in a child-friendly way is something I have to fit in with. We postpone the topic until tomorrow and I think about it in peace. (I have then read Wikipedia.)
Mara finds another picture of a doctor in the US Army who cares for injured children in Haiti. „Look, there’s a soldier here, too“. They discover that soldiers not only fight, but are also used for relief measures. „My dad’s friend is also a soldier. But he doesn’t shoot, he’s a paramedic and helps the injured,“ Adrian remembers. „The children are all out on the street because there is no hospital,“ Mara remarks.
Thursday, January 21st
I found what I was looking for on the Internet. I bring some photos with me. In a nutshell, I present the history of Afghanistan so far. Now there is no safe government that can take care of the people there. The soldiers from many countries have now helped for a long time to ensure peace and order. For example, German soldiers are helping to train police officers so that the people in the country can provide security themselves. But now it is being discussed how long this will continue and when the people will be able to get along on their own again.
„What does a government do?“ – „Who is doing something bad? Who do you have to watch out for?“ Here also again the „rebels“ appear. They find parallels to Angola. They think it’s good when soldiers help and protect. But they are also worried because they have a dangerous job.
On this day Adrian brings the obituary of Mrs. B. with him. He found it together with his mother in the Handelsblatt (a national business newspaper). We attach it to the plaque in the hallway.
On Friday there is a funeral service in the nursing home. My colleague will go there with two children.
Friday, January 22nd
In order not to hang up the different articles so confusingly, I decide to sort them with the children according to topic complexes:
The younger ones make a poster with their animals and one with the different vehicles and means of transport.
The earthquake in Haiti has already had several stages and will certainly continue to occupy us.
Adrian and Justin want to stick „Rebels in Angola and war in Afghanistan“ together on a poster.
Review and final questions
Monday, January 25th
Our breakfast is slowly becoming a literature café. The preschool children always have breakfast on the gallery. We also hung up the posters there in „their“ corner. At breakfast the conversation comes back to the earthquake.
Adrian saw the news yesterday with his father. (He wasn’t allowed to do that half a year ago). He knows a lot to tell, also about the oil tanker accident and the oil barrier they laid out there. His father obviously accompanied it well and talked to him about it.
In any case, the children want to know how this will continue in the earthquake area. I fetch the newspaper. They are amazed at the little miracle that a man could still be rescued after 11 days. The procedure of the dog squadron is explained. Thanks to his father, Adrian has a lot of knowledge about rescue-technical issues.
Many questions: Why didn’t they dig for the man earlier? And why he didn’t die of thirst. And what about the others who still lie under the stones. What the soldiers are doing there.
I tell them about a report I saw yesterday on TV, about the distribution of relief supplies and the problems of the people there. That’s what they want to see. Unfortunately I didn’t record it, but I promise to look for something like that again.
Over the corpses and the bones we touch the holy three kings again in their shrine, why they would not have three coffins. The interest in the bones is still great. At home I have a magazine about the exhibition „The King’s Tombs of the Scythians“, which I visited once in Berlin. Maybe we can have a look at it.
The children discuss: „The soul is transparent and flies into heaven“. – „The bones are still there. The undertaker puts them in a coffin and then it is burned or comes into the earth.“ – „But that hurts nevertheless!“ means Justin dismayed. Whether one can choose this beforehand with the burning.
Adrian: „Grandma told my dad that.“
I can no longer reconstruct the whole course of the conversation.
Those were the topics in the further course: You can also die as a child, for example in an accident. The paramedics brought one child back to life, dad said. Is it possible to come back to life? That was the case with Jesus. No, he flew to heaven. With God he is now where the souls are. They can look down to us from there. Every evening I still talk to my grandma, she hears me then. And our two dogs, they are also up there. Maybe the soul comes down again into another person. Then one lives again. Maybe I will meet you then! But I do not recognize you then. And you don’t recognize me either, I look different then. Then I will become a soccer player!
It wasn’t a final discussion. If you can close something like that at all.
But this intensive conversation actually lasted
„Will we do that again tomorrow?“ – Why not? Strangely enough, it’s the meal together that is the situation in which the most „heavy food for the mind“ is digested. In any case, our café circle will certainly go on. I will look for a report on television, which I will record for the children. I still have the magazine about the royal graves somewhere.
Already on the second day of my project there was again a problem with time: my colleague, who had been ill for so long, is now out for another six months. The staff shortage has returned after a hopeful week and a half. – Oh no!!!
Once again it means: no time for post-processing, notes about observations and statements of the children. A recording device would be helpful again.
The bad basic conditions make me highly dissatisfied. I know that I could do something completely different. It cannot be changed. We hope for representation.
(See also: Improving Framework Conditions!, German version.)
How is Adrian after this time?
The contact between us has intensified. He talks more often and more openly about his thoughts, he feels taken seriously. His questions were differentiated, but I have also experienced particularly gifted children who have asked much deeper questions. In my view I was able to lead the conversations to satisfying results according to his thoughts. That’s my subjective assessment. Here we are confronted with the problem of target verification. I cannot look into his head.
Moreover, a process of questioning and developing one’s own views and theories is never complete, even for adults. So am I at a goal?
We have addressed and highlighted some „bad news“, and also seen that there is a lot of good news. The parents were surprised that he could handle the topics very well. At home he didn’t say that he can’t fall asleep or something like that. That was one of my fears.
Some questions remained unanswered, or I had the feeling not to be able to answer sufficiently. That was a stupid feeling. But that’s the way it is sometimes. There is no answer to everything.
Justin and Mara showed great interest and curiosity. Mara has also attracted my attention so far. I was glad that I could support her at the same time. So it also did my other „clever heads“ good. Compared to the two, Adrian’s reflections do not show any serious difference.
So I wonder whether there is another area of interest that needs to be promoted. I think I’m gonna have to try to find out some more here. Perhaps his lead in development from last year has simply converged. In this case, I am still very uncertain.
The newspaper also proved to be an interesting medium for younger children. They had other interests, they wanted to cut out especially the animal photos and vehicles. They were very happy to be involved. When they get to the point of asking deeper questions, they will also be interested in the other photos. So they could draw out for themselves what they need for themselves.
Have I left enough space to develop their own thoughts? What would I have to do differently?
It was still difficult for me to have philosophical conversations. Sometimes I had the feeling that I couldn’t improvise fast enough, that I had to ask the right question to continue their thoughts and to stimulate further thinking. You probably just have to practice that.
Comment by the course instructor:
Yes, maybe you can improve yourself through practice. But „difficult“ and/or philosophical topics do not primarily demand quick answers, but honest answers and the raising of new questions that arise from them.
I think you should not be too self-critical, but rather enjoy your visible successes.
I notice that I can still work on my general education, especially political education. Admittedly, I have not been so enthusiastic about this topic so far. However, I recently read an interesting novel („Lautlos“ by Frank Schätzing in German), which dealt with the different aspects and backgrounds of war, politics and economics. It was easy to read, but gave me some food for thought on the subject.
Philosophy is also one of the topics for which I still don’t feel fit enough. I often came up against my limits. The book „Who Am I – And If So, How Many?“, by Richard David Precht, I find quite revealing in this respect. Only the next step remains: How do you bring this closer to the children? I’m sure I’ll find suitable literature here as well.
Due to the lack of time, the newspaper project was less intensive than I would have wished. However, I have the feeling that it could keep us busy for quite some time. The children’s interest is great and they will always be able to discover new topics and events. From this impulses can be taken up well, like watching a film here for example.
The breakfast round with the preschool children is a suitable framework to maintain this ritual of reading the newspaper and discussing. I will definitely strive for that.
Comment by the course instructor:
I would like to encourage you in this very much. A new piece of culture has been created in your already culturally rich kindergarten.
See also: Reading a Newspaper, Making a Newspaper
Date of publication in German: 2015, October
Copyright © Jordis Overödder, see imprint.