by Hanna Vock
Who are the heroes and role models for many children and young people these days?
Quite often they are those who score two goals in a soccer match or who post a new „style“ on the internet every day or who race down a snow-covered slope at crazy speeds or who achieve the impossible in video games and fantastic films. Much rarer, unfortunately, are those who achieve an amazing scientific or technical performance. Parents, teachers and the media are largely responsible for choosing the „heroes“ of young children by introducing them to these or those „heroes“.
On public television, there are more and more good, exciting science programmes that many young viewers can also understand and that (could) show them the people who in reality achieve or used to achieve scientific and technical feats. How many parents and teachers make targeted and intensive use of this opportunity for themselves and, above all, for their children or pupils?
For gifted children, such programmes are particularly valuable.
But even in everyday kindergarten life, it is not so much people like the astronaut Alexander Gerst (who can explain things wonderfully), but rather people like soccer goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (whose achievements I also find great) who are present as admired persons.
Gifted children also deduce mentally what is worth a lot and worthy of admiration and what is rather secondary.
Technicians have developed a solar lamp in a canning jar that makes it possible for many people in remote regions in Africa or India, for example, to study even after sunset (after all the necessary everyday chores have finally been done). Wow! But this news is rather not the talk of the day for the older children in the kindergarten. The gifted child is (once again) left alone with his enthusiasm, i.e. with his insights and feelings. After a few such experiences, they learn in many kindergarten groups that they don’t need to come up with „something like that“ at all.
But it is not only about the appropriate appreciation of the intellectual achievements of possible adult role models. Children often experience first-hand that cognitive achievements are of less value in their environment than, for example, sporting achievements.
Cognitive achievements are seemingly not that important in kindergarten.
A regular „aha“ experience for me occurred in further training courses when the kindergarten teachers were asked: „When you last praised or acknowledged a child because
- it drew a beautiful picture,
- it made a clever tinkering,
- it expressed a clever thought,
- it drew letters or numbers.
The first two situations were easily remembered and were regularly in the last week before the training.
The latter two situations were not remembered at all by some kindergarten teachers, others with difficulty, and only a few could recall a recent episode.
Children whose strengths lie in sharp and/or creative thinking or whose interests relate to supposedly „school contents“ such as reading, writing, arithmetic rarely or even never receive confirmation for their activities, according to the kindergarten teachers. The activities are, if not criticised or rejected, then largely ignored.
For the children, this sends the message: these things are not so important or they are not worth so much.
These signals reach the whole kindergarten group and slow them down cognitively. For the gifted children, their self-esteem and motivation is exacerbated because it is precisely their particular strengths that are held in low esteem. If, in addition, they do not like to do tinkers, paint and are perhaps not conspicuously athletic, they can easily „sink“ in the group.
The reason for this de facto undervaluation of cognitive abilities is again partly to be found in the training of the kindergarten teachers. Under the correct and important claim of educating and raising children holistically, cognitive promotion has often been neglected.
Children with emphatically cognitive interests, abilities and needs are easily suspected of being too one-sidedly developed and interested, too „cerebral“.
Out of concern not to educate them even more one-sidedly, their cognitive needs are overlooked and put on the back burner. They should „first of all“ develop their fine motor skills in cutting exercises or develop their social behaviour by entering into conflicts they do not want to enter into at all. Or they are supposed to learn discipline and perseverance – on things that do not interest them.
This approach is oriented towards actual or supposed deficits, which promises little success in contrast to an approach based on the strengths of the children.
Another fear behind ignoring, expressed by kindergarten reachers, is the worry that the children might learn too much of what is not „their turn“ until school – and they might learn it in the wrong way. This would exacerbate the expected boredom at school.
Fortunately, however, more and more primary school teachers and headmasters are willing to engage constructively and in a differentiated way with children who enter school already with advanced literacy or numeracy skills. It is to be hoped that more and more teachers will see the problem that arises when a child enters school already fluent in reading, for example, as their problem to solve and not the problem of the child or its parents. They recognise the child’s right to learn anything he or she wants, even at an earlier stage than the school curriculum requires.
Too many negative signals for gifted children
Without specific knowledge on the topic of giftedness, kindergarten teachers intentionally or unintentionally give many negative signals to children. For example, children experience time and again through reactions of kindergarten teachers that their knowledge and also their thirst for knowledge are misplaced.
In the circle of chairs we talk about animals on the farm. The three to six year old children all want to have a turn and say something about it. Some of the younger children are just learning the names of the farm animals and the corresponding animal sounds. Some children want to tell what they have seen on a farm or on television. Their stories are exhausted after two or three simple sentences. Malte (5;10) has never been on a farm, but he knows a detailed picture book that he has looked at closely.
He wants to discuss the fact that the animals in the picture book run around outside in the meadow, but that most of the eggs you can buy come from battery hens. He engages the kindergarten teacher in a dialogue about this and explains to her what this means for the happiness of the chickens and what „species-appropriate“ means, namely that animals can live according to their instincts. He wants to know how it is with the other farm animals…. He is far from finished presenting his knowledge and asking his questions, but the other children become restless, stop listening and make nonsense. The kindergarten teacher is impressed, but also disgruntled because the circle of chairs is „getting out of hand“ and because she can’t do Malte justice either. She stops him: „Yes, Malte, that’s fine, now we want to sing the song about the chicken yard.“
Malte’s need for longer conversations, which he seeks with the kindergarten teacher because the other children are not listening to him, is enormous, but there is very rarely time for it. He is often „turned away“ or put off.
He gets the message,
that he is being annoying and behaving insubordinately.
Often such a situation of negative signals persists for years without the child receiving any outspoken positive response from the kindergarten teacher.
See: Custom-fit Cognitive Advancement (The examples of Malte and Daniel. There the example is repeated and an approach to pedagogical action – making a contract – is explained in more detail).
Date of publication in German: 2021, February
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint.