by Hanna Vock
Where in the world does an idea like that
Even some good friends and pedagogues still think it is a crazy and exaggerated idea to deal with the advancement of gifted children in kindergarten.
But it did come to me in 1999 – and now the idea is here to stay and it is spreading (very) gradually.
… in a nutshell…
In the beginning there was the realization that kindergarten teachers ought to be familiar with the phenomenon of giftedness. In the meantime, many trained pedagogues have received further training in this field at the IHVO. Children and parents are content, there is the IHVO with its advanced-training programs, the certificate courses and an online manual.
This article describes, how it all came to be.
Prehistory and preliminary work
Many conversations with parents, children, school teachers and kindergarten teachers made it clear to me that there was a big gap in the educational landscape: In teacher training as well as in kindergarten teacher training, the prospective teachers learned nothing about giftedness and the developmental needs of gifted children.
My personal experience was also negative: The school psychologist who was consulted in 1991 about two high school students only raised his shoulders and said that he had no idea and no experience with gifted children (in the big city of Düsseldorf!); he only ever got to deal with the opposite, he explained himself. The only thing he could do was to give me a letter of acknowledgement stating that I had sought advice …
I wasn’t really surprised. In the 1970s, when I was a student of educational science and sociology, I myself had learned absolutely nothing about the phenomenon of giftedness. After I had attained my academic degree, in 1991 I completed a formal training as a kindergarten teacher while already as the head of a kindergarten. Here, too, the issue of giftedness was never brought up.
Later this would give me the idea to ask the participants in my training courses from 2002 to 2006 whether they had heard anything about giftedness in their training as kindergarten teachers. The result: Only 8 of the more than 1,500 kindergarten teachers surveyed had heard the term „giftedness“ or synonyms in their training at all – and always only casually; only in three cases without a negative rating. Then I gave up the surveys and put just the more energy into the further training courses.
At the beginning, in 1999, I began to sort out and evaluate my own experience in order to develop a training concept. From the very beginning thought it important to create a close and meaningful interlocking of theory and practice, which according to almost all participants was a success and was considered to be very helpful.
In addition to my work in kindergarten, I began to reevaluate and deepen my ideas about young gifted children.
I carried out three projects: In 1998/99 a „Why Club“ with gifted primary school children, in 2001 a playing and learning group with presumably gifted children aged four to five and also in 2001 a theatre project with highly gifted children aged four to eight.
(See also: A Hen’s Egg and Theatre Play with Gifted Children and Theatre Adaption – Tale of a Princess Whom Almost Everybody Considered Too Smart.
The „Warum-Klub“ (Why-Club), which took place weekly for about three quarters of a year, and the theatre project, which ran for eight weeks with weekly dates, were organised by myself. I led the play and learning group on behalf of the Volkshochschule (Adult Education Centre) in Düsseldorf.
In 1999 I began to give lectures in kindergartens and adult education centres. When lecturing kindergarten teachers I benefited greatly from the fact that I myself was working in a kindergarten at the time and was therefore able to illustrate my teachings with real-life examples. From the beginning I almost always experienced great interest among my colleagues, and this encouraged me to take the plunge, to give up my job in kindergarten and to start my own business in 2001 as a teacher in further education. I was lucky to be well-prepared for this as I had already done this work of training kindergarten teachers – albeit on completely different topics – for several years in the past.
Right at the beginning of my self-employment a serious traffic accident slowed me down – but the idea of offering a whole range of further training courses on the subject of „Gifted children in kindergarten“ was later implemented.
In 2001 and 2002 I gave many training courses, mainly in North Rhine-Westphalia, and even beyond. These were 3-hour on-site events and also 1- to 2-day seminars for various institutions.
In this context, my experience as a kindergarten teacher were invaluable.
From 1991 to 2000 I had been working as a kindergarten teacher in a kindergarten group with 20 all-day places, six years of which I was the head of this kindergarten. From my family background I had a heightened sense for particularly gifted and gifted children, and I did discover and support several gifted and several particularly gifted children over several years at my kindergarten. I made notes about many situations as well as utterances of the children immediately or later that same day. I also made detailed notes on the parent-teacher talks.
The gifted children in my kindergarten group challenged me pedagogically very much, so that I got more and more into the theory of giftedness, which in turn enhanced my perception of the particularly gifted and highly gifted children, it became sharper and more differentiated.
It was fortunate that during the 10 years I worked in kindergarten I was able to look after 13 presumably or tested gifted children over the years. In addition, there were many children with clearly above-average talents. I owe important experiences and insights to these children, who, despite their great individuality, showed patterns in their psychological (especially cognitive and social) needs. Certainly my university studies (educational science / sociology), completed in 1978, were helpful to me in this field research.
Parallel to the further training courses, in 2001 parent consultations were taken up – another source of valuable experience that flowed into the concepts. From these conversations I learned a lot about the difficulties the children had in kindergarten. My understanding of gifted children and their families also benefited from a discussion group of the DGhK (Deutsche Gesellschaft für das hochbegabte Kind e.V. – German Society for the Highly Gifted Child) in the town Kaarst near Düsseldorf, which I launched and directed together with my husband in the late 1990s.
Parents whose children behaved differently because they learned much faster and quite differently than other children hardly ever found any support or guidance with respect to their questions and the whole, comprehensive and exhausting task of advancement. This is still the case for many families today – but at least in the vicinity of the IHVO and the other institutions that have been established in the meantime, a lot has happened.
Beside many positive also negative experiences
I developed these concepts, keeping in mind a critical evaluation of the few other early attempts to cater more adequately to gifted children’s needs in kindergarten. I attended a kindergarten in Hannover, which belongs to the Christophoruswerk and which was built with endowments and received continuing support. Being the first German kindergarten to address the issue of the advancement of gifted children, this kindergarten has lasting merits, but I did not conform with the pedagogical concept and the pedagogical practice I observed there.
I was also not convinced of the ECHA (European Council for High Ability) course for teachers, which I took in Münster in 2002/2003 to learn more. It did not meet my expectations in terms of content nor of teaching methods. The title of my final thesis was: „Aspects of Advancement of Gifted Children in Kindergarten“ (Aspekte der Hochbegabtenförderung im Kindergarten).
I felt that the progress of my aim to create an additional vocational training for kindergarten teachers was lacking momentum. I found no competent and committed partners for this project and I was left all on my own with the work I had set out to do. What’s more, no financing could be found for such an extensive venture.
The fact that neither suitable partners were to be found nor funds could be tapped into for two years was owed to the fact that absolutely new ground had to be broken. No earlier than 2002 did the 2nd German advanced training course for school teachers (conducted by ECHA) take place. I attended and completed it, as otherwise I could not discover anything else on this topic in the way of advanced training. Since this ECHA Diploma Course did not correspond to my ideas regarding contents and methodology, this, too, was of little help for my project.
At least the contact to Prof. Dr. Franz Mönks gave me the opportunity to present the idea of a vocational training for kindergarten teachers at the conference „Früh fördern“ (Early advancement) in Bensberg near Cologne in March of 2002.
(See: Training Programme for Kindergarten Educators …(1)and Training Programme for Kindergarten Educators …(2)
Following the Bensberg conference, I successfully submitted an application to the Imhoff Foundation Cologne for funding of the planned first of my courses. At the request of Prof. Mönks, the further training was to be carried out as an ECHA certificate course for kindergarten teachers. In the following time, however, it turned out that my ideas and those of the responsible ICBF leader were far apart. Thus the 1st German Certificate Course for kindergarten teachers in Germany (2003 – 2005) was organised by the ICBF – and conceived and carried out by me (see the Final Report– German version), but afterwards I ended the cooperation. Already in 2003 I founded the IHVO (Institute for the Advancement of Gifted Pre-School Children).
The recruitment of participants for the first course in Cologne was – new territory! – still very laborious. But the very committed participants made up for all the effort. This first certificate course again provided plenty of new insight and, above all, proved the worth of the cooperation with my new colleague Barbara Teeke, who has since then worked part-time for the IHVO. (See: About Us (German version.)) She contributed additional expertise that I do not have: She has plenty of experience and a huge background in the testing of young children for intelligence and giftedness.
In 2003, the project „Schwerpunktkindergärten für Hochbegabtenförderung (IHVO-Zertifikat)“ (Integrative Focus Kindergartens for the Advancement of Gifted Children), which goes beyond the certificate course in terms of content, entered the pilot phase in Remscheid (town in North-Rhine-Westphalia) thanks to the pedagogical foresight of the Remscheid Youth Welfare Office.
In autumn 2004, the Imhoff Foundation transferred the funding from the ICBF to the IHVO’s Förderverein (sponsoring association), so that the work for the gifted preschool children in Cologne could continue under good financial conditions until the funds provided by the foundation expired in 2009.
In 2007, I succeeded in obtaining a foundation grant for the IHVO from the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft. („Stifterverband is a joint initiative started by companies and foundations – the only one in Germany to be devoted entirely to consulting, networking and promoting improvements in the fields of education, science and innovation.“ – from the Website of Stifterverband).
This grant had the advantage that it could be used throughout all of Germany, whereas the Imhoff Foundation’s funding was limited to the city of Cologne by its statutes. Unfortunately, this funding ran out in 2011 in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
To a large extent, the foundation funds were used to keep participation fees for the IHVO Certificate Courses low, so that they were affordable for kindergarten teachers.
Before all this could happen, I had a decision to make:
I gave up my secure employment in kindergarten in autumn 2000, fully aware that nowhere in Germany could one apply for a position where one could advance this topic with full force. So I became an independent education consultant again and turned my attention completely to the topic of promoting gifted children in kindergarten.
Finally: The first certificate course starts
The first certificate course was a milestone. It started in March 2003 and ran for 2 years. At the graduation ceremony in the banquet hall of the Chocolate Museum in Cologne, the first 11 kindergarten teachers in Germany received their certificates as „Expert on the Advancement of Gifted Children in Pre-School Education“.
Since then there have been 20 IHVO Certificate Courses and 14 kindergartens have become „Integrative Focus Kindergartens for the Advancement of Gifted Pre-School Children (IHVO Certificate)“.
These kindergartens act as beacons radiating their expertise into their surroundings. They independently (and initially also with the support of the IHVO) carry out collegiate consultations and further trainings as well as parent consultations.
In 2009, Arno Zucknick was found as another suitably qualified part-time employee who conducts certificate courses and on-site seminars and has also translated large parts of this online manual into English. (See: About Us (German version.))
From the very beginning it has been my intention and part of the concept that the written papers submitted by our attendees are to be incorporated into an online manual. For the publication I edit the work in close cooperation with the authors. It is a huge pool of experiences and descriptions of what the advancement of gifted children can look like in concrete terms in kindergarten. I am still amazed at the creativity of my colleagues, because the reports are very varied and always „close to the child“.
Many of such treasures are still stored in my cellar and I hope that I will be able to put a lot of them into the manual – in addition to my own contributions, which outline my pedagogical ideas.
What about today?
When I started working intensively on the topic, I was 50 – a prime time in life to get something new started. Now 20 years have passed and I understand very well a sentence that I heard from Prof. Franz Mönks at that time: „You will need great tenacity for this topic“. And that’s how it was. Much has been achieved by the IHVO and many others in the meantime; and yet parents still, to this very day, experience astonishing things when dealing with institutions that – by their own declaration – feel committed to the topic of the advancement of gifted children. Only three selected examples:
The school Psychological Servie for schools in Cologne keeps declaring (parents have reported this): We do not conduct testings „for the fun of them“. Only if problems at school occured, the children will be tested there, thus not before the beginning of school and once the child’s development has already been impaired.
In March 2013 a mother wrote to me:
„I have contacted the Kooperationsverbund Hochbegabung (in Braunschweig-Brunswick-HV), the statements there have shocked me very much: High Giftedness was NOT a criterion to get admission to a kindergarten of the cooperation network, because
1) there were 1000 parents with test results standing in line. (With 2-3% „genuinely“ gifted children per year hardly imaginable…)
2) Tests could easily be misinterpreted (or render false results).
3) What did a positive test result prove, after all? It might just as well be be no more than a development boost.
(By the way: My son was tested for the first time at the age of 3;8 years, then twice again, the result was always the same …You should introduce the Braunschweig (Brunswick) area with to your further education programme :-)“.
And in 2018 (!), a psychologist working at an institution for the gifted wrote a report after testing an almost 6-year-old girl with percentile rank (PR) 98 (see: Gaussian Distribution of Intelligence):
„There’s no acute need for action … The girl won’t be bored in 1st grade.“ This girl nevertheless dares to be persistently bored a great deal.
There is still a lot to be done …
But the fascinating contacts with gifted children and their parents are worth it.
Goals and Services of the IHVO.
Date of publication in German: March 2019
Translation: Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.