by Hanna Vock
Individual support has been available in kindergarten for a long time. Especially in the case of children with developmental delays, committed kindergarten teachers try to organise the time that is necessary to adjust precisely to the individual child, to „pick it up where it stands“. Many kindergarten teachers would also like to do more. But due to the group size of 25 or more children, educational policy sets narrow limits to this commitment.
Nevertheless, in order to be able to learn joyfully and effectively, every child needs stimulation and opportunities for a variety of activities that correspond to its developmental profile and the learning interests that arise from it.
The article advocates reflecting on the meaning of individual support for gifted children. Concerns about singling out individual children from the group are addressed.
The benefits of temporary individual support in the kindergarten are elaborated – for the self-esteem of the gifted child, for his trusting relationship with the kindergarten teacher and for his integration into the group.
Outside the kindergarten, the gifted child needs mentoring, which means permanent individual support tailored to his or her developmental level.
Encouraging parents to engage in this mentoring can be a task of the kindergarten.
It is a plausible thesis that the personal interests, the current „curiosities“ of the child lead to the next learning processes, to the next „stages“ that are meaningful and „pending“ in her or his individual development process. There is much to be said for this thesis, especially the educational successes achieved on the basis of this assumption. The idea of the child’s self-educational powers belongs in this context.
We call these current „curiosities“ of the child its special playing and learning needs. It is one of the most important tasks of all kindergarten teachers to recognise the child’s current playing and learning needs, to take them seriously and, ideally, to be guided by them when planning the educational work.
How can I plan for a group of 25 children while taking into account the playing and learning needs of each individual child? Here we have a political problem (see above: group size, staffing ratio), but also a methodological one.
In Finland it has been like this for a long time:
„With the youngest up to three years, a maximum of twelve children are looked after by four adults, in the second group we have 21 four- and five-year-olds.
They are looked after by three educators or teachers and a social year graduate. Often there is also a trainee. So there are five people. The ten pre-school children have two carers.“
(From: „Stern“, 23/2009 from 28. 5. 09)
Even with such good conditions, the question of supporting gifted children still has to be solved pedagogically.
It is obvious to assume that gifted children also need and want intensive individual support in order to satisfy their developmental urge – and to develop extraordinary abilities corresponding to their giftedness.
The individual support of gifted children will be considered here in relation to two areas:
- Individual support outside the kindergarten,
- Individual support inside the kindergarten.
Individual support outside the kindergarten
It exists in various forms: Circus artists, for example, take their children into „apprenticeship“ at an early age, provided they also show special artistic talents.
Musically highly gifted children often (if they grow up in an appropriate environment) receive intensive individual lessons at an early age. Example: the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, who received piano lessons at preschool age and at five and a half was allowed to play the violin. She had her first concert performances at the age of seven, and at 13 she successfully played for Herbert von Karajan. For decades, she, mother of two children, has been touring the world with great success and seems very happy with her music and her social commitment.
Behind every happy and successful highly gifted person, in whatever field she or he has developed exceptional abilities, there is at least one person who has dealt very intensively with the potential of the gifted child – and who has supported the child wisely and sensitively – a mentor.
Often it is the mothers, also fathers or grandparents who do this in the early years, and later, in fortunate cases, teachers at school or else music or dance teachers, sports coaches, visual artists, chess teachers, etc., who are ready to respond sensitively to the special talents of the child.
Help and guidance in learning and thinking
But what about children who are cognitively gifted? Who strive from an early age to gather an immense amount of knowledge and recognise what holds the world together (physically, chemically, astronomically, philosophically, socially, etc.)?
These talents also require accompaniment and, from a certain, very early point in time, individual support (mentoring) if the learning and development processes are to succeed satisfactorily for the child itself (and for society).
Otherwise, there is a danger that at the age of 6 or 7, children will have a large amount of knowledge in their heads, only part of which will stand up to scrutiny – and the whole thing will seem as chaotic as a child’s room that has not been tidied up. The untidy children’s room is harmless compared to the chaotic head.
It is true that learning and thinking can in principle only lead to an ever stronger approach to reality and truth, but it is just as important that this approach is creative and disciplined.
An example will illustrate this:
Beate Kroeger-Müller reported about a four-year-old boy from her kindergarten who told her in a long monologue something about insulin and blood sugar and how they work in the human body.
The example is also meant to show that here the possibilities of the kindergarten reach their time limits and that someone else has to take over the role of the „thinker educator“ – just as it is undisputed in the promotion of musical and sporting talents.
Quite abruptly, without this topic having been in the room, Anton (name changed) began. Here is the verbatim transcript of the conversation by Beate Kroeger-Müller:
„Shall I explain to you how insulin works in your body? Insulin transports blood sugar into the blood. That means that if insulin is missing in the body, you have too little blood sugar.
(Here, for example, the little boy is twisting the facts…)
That’s why you shouldn’t eat a lot of fat. Because the fat blocks the way to the insulin. Then the body thinks: >Oh, there’s no more fat<, and then the body secretes even more fat. Then all the other factories in the body that process blood sugar are closed down. Then the body can’t process blood sugar at all!
I suspect that the new factories take a while and have to re-acclimatise until they can process the fat. If you take too little insulin, then there are too few keys, but too much blood sugar.
The consequences are then: a feeling of floppiness and tiredness and listlessness, because the muscles can then no longer work properly. The muscles become so compressed. The muscles cannot produce white blood cells.
You can then get all the illnesses that are caused by bacteria. So cough, cold, hoarseness, everything you know.
For example, a bottle of ketchup contains 13% pure sugar, so you should only eat a little ketchup. Or another example. Half of cold-pressed honey is just pure sugar and the other half is honey, which is also very sweet and actually contains sugar. At least that’s what I assume.
Or did you know that sugar doesn’t float either? So if I throw a bottle filled only with sugar into the Sieg (river near Bonn, Red.), the bottle will sink. But if I throw a bottle full of water, i.e. without sugar, into the Sieg, it will float. And so I could tell you about many more experiments, but I want to continue playing with Marco now.“
If you take a closer look at this lecture, which is quite astonishing for a four-year-old, you will discover a number of interesting things:
1. Anton was very interested in a scientific and medical topic.
2. he has memorised many technical terms.
3. he has understood some connections, others not yet (see example above).
It is to be hoped (and in this case assumed) that Anton has someone in his family environment who picks up on his interests, deals intensively with his ideas, so that he can progress and become even clearer.
Kindergarten teachers can recognise giftedness at an early stage
Because of their professional experience, they are particularly well placed to recognise giftedness early on and to draw the parents‘ attention to it. Often, parents do not consciously start thinking about the promotion of giftedness until the kindergarten teacher has shared her observations and assumptions with them. Some parents need encouragement from professional staff so that they dare not to slow down their child in its development and in its thirst for learning and knowledge, but instead to support it appropriately.
(This includes, for example, support in learning to read at an early age).
Most kindergartens offer a wide range of „basic subjects“: Social studies, language, religion and/or ethics, communication, sports, music, theatre, visual arts, dance, handicrafts, technology, maths, all sciences.
This makes it possible to gain a holistic picture of the child and to recognise where her or his exceptional interests and strengths lie. Hints to parents can then lead to the search for mentors: This task can be taken on by older pupils or students, for example, who are themselves particularly gifted and want to share their enthusiasm for their domain to some extent with the younger child.
It makes a lot of sense to encourage parents to look for mentors; because alone they can hardly do justice to the thirst for knowledge of a highly gifted child in the long run. Often, the child’s interests and talents also differ significantly from those of the parents: Parents who are rather unmusical themselves can hardly support their highly musical child themselves. Or if a child is very interested in computers at the age of five, but the mother is not at all, then a good fit cannot be achieved, and thus also no good support.
When is individual support in kindergarten feasible and meaningful?
Is the targeted advancement of an individual child in kindergarten sensible, and is it possible at all? It is often said that the team deals with each child individually anyway. That is good, but not what is meant here.
What is meant here is that
- special attention is paid to a child who is suspected of being highly gifted,
- special considerations are made in the team with regard to this child,
- special stimuli and challenges are offered to the child,
- a particularly intensive exchange is sought with the child’s parents – just as is done for children who are far below average.
However, kindergarten teachers cannot be expected to know the intricacies of blood sugar metabolism.
A mentor is needed here.
The goals of such temporary individual support should be
- to establish a relationship of trust with the child that enables the child to reveal his or her special playing and learning needs in the kindergarten,
- to build a stable self-concept with self-confident inclusion of her or his special interests and playing and learning needs,
- to gain an appreciation of the child’s potential.
See, for example: Jasmin (4;7) Is Writing a Story.
Individual support is only one method of supporting gifted children. In order for integration into the group and the development of teamwork and other social skills to succeed, other methods must be added: Support in small groups and support in (possibly group-wide) projects.
The possibility of individual support is severely limited by the prevailing working conditions in the kindergarten (group size, staffing, lack of space). (See: Improving Framework Conditions.)
Some IHVO Course participants describe their discomfort, which arises when the task is to observe one child particularly intensively, which includes dealing with it more intensively than with the other children.
In the course progress, reports of numerous positive effects also on other children and the whole group predominate, proving the value and benefit of temporary intensive occupation with the one child.
Often, though not always, the successful advancement of gifted children takes place in three successive steps, which overlap in time and finally continue side by side and intertwined:
- Individual observation and support,
- support in a selected small group,
- integration into the support of the whole group.
In this way, the gifted child – in addition to the cognitive content – learns better and better how to play and work together with others without becoming habitually frustrated and having to deny her or his high claims of play.
For the time being, this is about individual support.
Many kindergarten teachers find it difficult at first to decide to give their „observation child“ a special role: to have longer conversations with him or her, to play with her or him alone without letting other children play along, to do something special with this one child.
There is always the need to do justice to all children equally, although one adult is responsible for 10 to 27 small children at the same time.
It is clear that because of the scarcity of opportunities, the children are always competing for the kindergarten teacher’s attention and often pay close attention to how the kindergarten teacher distributes her time and attention. The better the educator-child ratio, the less this problem occurs.
(See the figures for the German federal states in the section „Time is becoming increasingly scarce“ in: Improving Framework Conditions!)
This difficulty to concentrate on one child is formulated again and again by IHVO participants at the beginning of the course, for example by Margrit Bernsmann:
„One danger I see, however, is that Mario (name changed) gets into a special position because of my currently very intensive contact with him. Other children must not be disadvantaged and must of course receive the same opportunities and offers as Mario.
I already notice that Mario is aware of his special position and the special offers that go with it and that he sometimes tries – even if rarely – to make use of the offers for himself. For example, he asks to go to the office alone with me, so that I don’t have to share my time with other children when the door is closed.
However, I hope and believe that I am aware of the danger of removing or alienating him from the other children. And that this will lead to me hopefully acting professionally and finding a good balance between personal one-to-one support and integration into the group.“
Despite such understandable concerns, it turns out in the further course of the two-year training course (IHVO Certificate Course) that in many cases it is worthwhile (for the whole group) if the kindergarten teacher spends some time intensively with the highly gifted child.
Thus Arno Zucknick writes:
„In the recent past the occasions on which other children wanted to join in on a session have become fewer, which has had a positive impact on Jerome’s concentration. I assume that those who had joined in realised that it just was not for them to be working on letters all the time and to be so focused.
At the same time, the tensions that had begun to emerge in the group regarding this special attention, as well as the attitudes on Jerome’s part, receded completely. The strategy of opening up the offer to the other children – but only one other child at a time per session – combined with making offers to the group in the area of cognitive enhancement, obviously worked here.“
(See also: Jerome Practices Writing)
Here the goal of building a trusting relationship with the child has been achieved.
Now it has to go further.
Individual support cannot be a permanent solution in kindergarten. However, in some cases it is necessary for a while in order to establish a „connection to the child“. It shows the child that his or her difference is taken seriously.
Often, the next sensible step is to integrate the child into a small group with only a few cognitively strong children, where she or he can learn to show her or his difference, her or his other needs for playing and learning more and more openly. By getting the opportunity to communicate with other cognitively strong children undisturbed, the gifted child learns to see a purpose in revealing itself.
It is important to make what happens in the small group transparent to the whole group. In this way, the gifted child can gain an appropriate standing in the group and feel comfortable in it.
Once he or she has bonded more closely with the children from the small group, he or she often succeeds in integrating into the whole group as the next step – without having to hide his or her uniqueness and his or her interests and cognitive demands.
See also: Concealing Abilities and Interests
See also: Picture Book About the Perchten
See also: Jasmin (4;7) Is Writing a Story
Date of publication in German: February 2018
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint