by Claudia Flaig
Alena is now 5 years old and regularly takes part in the activities of the „Schlaufüchse“ 〈Clever Foxes〉 (the group of the preschool children). There is the „philosophers‘ circle“, a discussion group on general questions of life, for example about feelings such as grief, loss, tears.
However, the discussion group often has to be cancelled due to a major renovation of our kindergarten. Then there are other preschool and gymnastics activities. The reason for the renovation is a restructuring of the kindergarten triggered by a change in the law: no more admission of children under one year old, increase in group size, reduction in staff – but also additional space.
More about Alena (in chronological order):
Alena likes to come to the Schlaufüchse
Alena always seems joyfully excited and immediately drops everything when the opportunity arises to engage the Schlaufüchse (preschool children). She also never forgets to emphasise loudly that she now has to go to the Schlaufüchse.
Alena, who has just turned 5, is getting to know letters. In a „letter group“ she shows that she is eager to learn. Nevertheless, she does not want to enroll school, but to stay in kindergarten for another year. This decision is made after a meeting with the parents and in cooperation with the school, which is pleasantly flexible.
Alena is very much oriented towards Jenni, who is one year older, and always seeks eye contact with her. When general instructions are given to the whole group, she does not feel addressed at all; she observes the other children with fascination. When it comes to the required work, Alena does not know what to do. After repeated individual instructions, however, she solves her task well.
Since it is not yet clear whether she will start school early, Alena also participates in the activities of the 4 to 5 year olds („Blue Club“) who will not start school until next year. Alena knows that the decision has not yet been made for her. But she says that she will already go to school this year. However, when she recently had an interview at school, she sat motionless and seemingly emotionless in front of the headmistress and did not speak a word. The parents were absolutely stunned. So was I! On Monday, the father told me about the „conversation“ on Saturday. I went to the office with Alena and interviewed her about what had happened.
A revealing conversation with Alena
Bright-eyed, Alena tells me she drew dice there at school and even made a cube. She also painted a house. She sticks to this even as I ask her once more. If it hadn’t been for my conversation with her father, I really would have believed her! So I ask her emphatically if she is quite sure that the teacher now knows that she can count to 10. After all, a teacher has to know that before she starts school.
She immediately says, „My dad was angry because I didn’t tell the teacher.“ And counts to 20 without being asked.
„I couldn’t. I didn’t think she was nice. The fact that I can count is my secret.“ – Pause – „I had seen a teacher before who was nicer.“ – Pause – „I had only seen her once. I thought she was bad.“ With that, it’s out.
I explain to her what impression the teacher must now have of her. Alena looks quite contrite. She tells me that the teacher called home again in the afternoon – and she talked to her! She was very proud of that, as her father then told me. The teacher asked for a release from confidentiality and for my phone number.
Alena and I spontaneously played a role play: me as a grumpy teacher.
(Note from the course leader: Great idea!)
I suggest to her that I could have a chat with the teacher.
Alena’s kindergarten teacher talking to the school teacher
The very next day, I have an open conversation with the teacher about Alena’s behaviour, about the reasons for a possible early enrolment and about gifted preschool children in general.
The teacher can understand that Alena has refused to contact her because of her own too high standards. (Alena still tells me later that she thought she had to write down numbers too).
We agree that Alena will come to the school again soon. This time we will prepare her emotionally and mentally through a conversation to reduce her own high expectations. The teacher is also positive about a trial lesson after a successful interview with Alena.
Early enrolment or stay in kindergarten?
As Alena tells it, her parents are currently in favour of her staying in kindergarten for another year. The parents confirm this. However, as agreed, they will contact the school again. Should Alena stay with us for another year, she will then be in a Schlaufuchs group of 13 children – including some very clever children and three particularly gifted children. Alena will certainly be able to contribute well to this group and with interesting projects, she should feel at home there.
(Comment of the course leader:
Then this is a good decision and speaks for the quality of your work).
In the kindergarten, Alena is constantly open-minded and always likes to come. She is absolutely oriented towards Jenni, who will start school this year, but also towards Mariana, who will not start school until next year. Of course, this is favourable, even though they will all be going to different schools. I explained that to Alena a long time ago – and she accepts it.
Alena has recently started attending dance classes, which makes her very happy.
To learn to write, do you have to go to school?
(A dialogue“ between course leader and author)
Alena repeatedly expresses her need to go to school to learn to write.
(Course leader’s note: It seems as if Alena believes she has to go to school because she can only learn to write there).
Therefore, my goal is to give Alena the opportunity to learn many letters of the alphabet through a variety of activities that appeal to all her senses.
My goal is not that Alena learns to write or read.
(Note from the teacher: Why not? Note the difference between „getting to know“ and „learning“).
Through varied offers that can be developed through her engagement and creativity, if she feels the need to do so, Alena can engage in it in a self-determined way.
(Course leader’s note: This is a good approach. But: Do you have enough time to follow Alena’s pace if she wants to learn quickly)?
In this project, Alena gets to know her limits. Some children, even younger ones, know many more letters than she does. She will learn to accept these differences and be satisfied with less of her own performance.
(Note from the course leader: Attention: girl trap!).
Alena will learn to accept the discrepancy between the cognitive area and fine motor skills. An excellent preparation for school!
(Comment by the course leader: But we don’t want to slow her down?! Rather, the consideration should be how she can playfully come closer to her own performance standards, shouldn’t it? Does Alena even realise that she doesn’t have to be able to write the letters herself in order to read – which is far more important for inquisitive children than writing? That her fine motor skills, which are not yet so well developed, are not an obstacle to learning to read)?
Alena will enjoy the contact with other children who are interested in letters. At the same time, frustration tolerance is tested, because Charlotte can almost read already.
(Note from the course leader: But only as long as the frustration doesn’t become too great).
I would have liked to have a permanent place in the house for the „letters club“ to meet, but the renovation work and staff changes do not yet allow this.
(Note from the course leader: What a pity! Don’t lose sight of this for later and for the next Buchstabenclubs!)
The „letter club“ is founded
I approach Alena (5;1), Charlotte (3;5), Finn (4;0), Hannes (3;8) and Enno (4;7) about the project and ask them if they would like to get involved with letters. I know from all of them that they are interested in letters.
(Note from the course leader: It’s good that you address such young children).
The five children enthusiastically come along to our learning workshop and we talk about what they already know about letters. Charlotte and Hannes have letter games at home. Finn and Enno talk about computer learning games (both have older siblings). At first, Alena thinks she also has such an educational game. But then she admits that she would like one.
(Course leader’s note: So all except Alena are presumably encouraged in this area at home. No wonder they are further along. Good thing you discovered Alena).
Magazines and cardboard already lying on the table let Alena immediately explain what can be done. She gets scissors and glue and spreads everything out.
(Note from the course leader:
She wants to learn and does something about it).
The children now cut out randomly selected letters. Then each child decides on a particular letter and glues it on to make it into a poster. They use upper and lower case letters.
For example, Alena makes the N poster. All the children give each other letters. Alena leads the word and is highly motivated, although or because (?) she has the least knowledge.
Searching and finding words that begin with selected letters playfully comes naturally. With the exception of Charlotte, all the children still find this difficult and it causes a lot of laughter.
Additional one-to-one support
Days later, Alena cuts up the posters created in the club and hangs them up with me.
I keep doing individual activities with Alena so that I can talk to her in peace. I want to know how Alena feels and what she feels.
To „B“ she thinks of „ball“, to Sssssss the buzzing of the bee. „A“ – „That’s my name“ or also „Apple“ and „Aa“ 〈Children’s word for bowel movement〉, „U“ is „Uhu“ 〈eagle owl〉 – that’s baby, I can do that already.“
When Alena doesn’t know something, like the „E“ over and over again, she distracts in conversation, loses interest without me expecting her to know. I explain to her again and again that she doesn’t have to learn the letters, that she will learn this at school after all and that now it’s just about getting to know the letters.
(Note from the course leader:
This might not be of much use if she wants to learn the letters. Of the double message: You don’t have to be able to do it, but I’ll show you what you can do – the second part is enough!
Remember: Especially with girls, never play down! Never appease and preach renunciation of their own goals! – Others do that enough!)
Because she keeps forgetting the letter E, I suggest that she draw it on a small piece of cardboard and put it into her pocket. When I ask her to remember a word with an E – I actually thought she was drawing the word – Alena says „Esel“ 〈donkey〉 and puts the stupid E in her pocket. Two days later she gives me back the E – she can do it now.
(Note from the course leader:
A great support. Alena proves once again that she is serious about learning).
Lots of ideas for playing with letter cards
I write letters on cut-out cardboard with the children – this time there are also others – which the children tell me, using black felt-tip pens. The children cut the cards and find words to go with the first letters. With a selection of the letters, we play Memory according to the classic rules.
Then the children choose the letters of their name. Then each letter is only on the table once – everyone takes one and finds a corresponding word. In this way, there are always more ways to play. For example, as Kim game variations: Put letters on the table, let them take one away: Which one is missing? Or put down words, children’s names, remove a letter: Which one is missing?
These game and learning ideas can be supplemented very well with the picture cards of the Würzburg Language Programme. Here you will find cards with objects to which the individual letters can be assigned.
Our self-made letter cards are available for free use during the kindergarten day, leave a lot of room for new ideas and are used with pleasure, even by the little ones.
(Note from the course leader:
Everything is so simple that you can always repeat it with „new“ children – it’s easy and great! This way they grow into the world of letters).
„Little Raven Learns the ABCs“ (game introduction)
Taking part in the introduction are: Amar, whom Alena had guided in her gymnastics classes, Charlotte and Alena. Amar amazes Alena very much, because he already knows some letters! Since Alena learned a lot of consideration during her gymnastics lessons with Amar, she now learns that Amar has a high knowledge of letters. She reacts with genuine joyful surprise, completely without envy!
Charlotte already knows the game, she has played it at a friend’s house.
In our group, the different levels of knowledge
about letters and numbers
have become normal everyday life.
The children have enough experience that Charlotte and Hannes can already write, count and read a little.
They are considered very smart by the children, they are our experts, they help us, we can learn a lot from them. But we are not stupid either. We learn all this too! And actually, you don’t have to know these things in kindergarten yet.
(Note from the course leader:
This is very important for the children whose interest in letters has not yet awakened).
Charlotte and Hannes, on the other hand, hold back their knowledge with shining eyes until they are signalled that we would now like to have their help.
During the introduction to the game, we take a close look at the cards: Everyone takes a letter and looks for the matching object.
Alena’s comments: „It’s a bit difficult – With the strokes it’s quite easy – I know one thing: Elephant starts with E – I forgot I.“
Alena seems restless.
(Instructor’s note: Or „excited“, „agitated“ ? If applicable, choose the more positive description).
Again and again I give Alena the same explanations, again and again Charlotte helps, slowly Alena calms down. But she puts herself under pressure, she doesn’t have the time to put the cards down properly, like Amar does.
(Course leader’s note:
She has probably already developed a sense for the fact that the support units she seems to covet so much are quite rare strokes of luck – measured against her total time. So it has to be quick and no time must be wasted. She must make the most of the time and not dwell on non-essentials. – Of course, these are only attempts at interpretation.)
However, Alena finds all kinds of words to go with the letters, although finding them is not required in this game. I think she wants to show the group what she can do.
(Note from the course leader:
Yes. And maybe also – felt, not clearly known : what she could actually do if she also got a lot of encouragement. Cf. your assessment in: Alena, 4;1 Years Old)
To Amar she says, „If that’s the cloud 〈Wolke〉, you know that’s a W.“ – „I know,“ says Amar. To which Alena replies tonelessly, „Yes.“
Letters are formed from plasticine
New, brightly coloured modelling clay (for once not the homemade kind) always attracts immediate attention in the group. If it is not „freely given“, special interest arises. Hannes, Mariana and Alena come to the learning workshop as the „chosen ones“ – later, other children are also allowed to form letters out of modelling clay.
Our letter cards (Memory) are on the table. Alena immediately says, „We’ll knead things that start with letters!“ After I cradle my head, she thinks for a while; Hannes and Mariana can’t think of anything either. Then Alena beams: Letters are being kneaded! This is what happens in the following quarter of an hour:
Each child chooses a letter and shapes it. Together we think about which words begin with these letters. This is not easy for all three – Charlotte is on holiday.
When Hannes says H, Alena says HAHA 〈onomatopoetic for laughter〉. To Alena’s A, Hannes thinks of MAMA. Speaking clearly, he recognises the initial letter M.
Alena chooses an O as her card and has suddenly kneaded an E. When I look at her questioningly, she says that this works better. Together we roll and shape the O.
Mariana kneads a K and it happens to be in cursive – a great opportunity to talk about cursive and print.
Alena, who is once again the spokesperson for this activity, suggests writing their names. The idea is gladly accepted. Mariana’s name is a lot of work, Hannes and Alena each take on one letter. I ask the children to find identical letters of their names in each other’s names. They swap the letters and get colourful names.
The following further activities with letters are planned:
- We walk through our town with our letter cards, looking for words with corresponding letters.
- Gymnastic ABC: We form letters from ropes, sticks, cloths or with our bodies.
- We form letters at our sand table in the hallway.
- We write with Russian bread 〈kind of biscuit〉 and eat letters.
- Game introduction: „Lesehexe“ 〈Reading Witch〉 from HaBa.
- We print letters.
- We visit a print shop.
We write a chicken book with Hannes‘ mother as our parenting expert.
What did Alena take away from the activities with letters?
Overall, Alena made a balanced, relaxed, happy impression in all activities. Highly motivated, she followed instructions attentively, had many creative ideas of her own and also showed herself to be helpful.
She still makes high demands on herself. It is important to respond to this again and again, to encourage her to take on tasks that seem difficult at first and also to be satisfied with results that do not meet her original expectations.
Exactly: Encourage, give assistance to achieve the high goals. Do not train away the feeling of being dissatisfied with the result! An attitude should be learned to be satisfied at first, but to stick to the goal.
Children who receive good and continuous support can remain calm if something doesn’t work out the way they had imagined at first: „I’ll just learn that tomorrow! Then the support will be there again.“
Children who are rarely supported at their level are impatient with themselves: „Now or maybe never!“ After all, they cannot rely on tomorrow – and yet they have the feeling that they are already behind.
This restlessness cannot be dispelled with appeasement, but only through reliable support. That is why it would be good to get the parents more „on board“. They and Alena should know that she is a particularly gifted child who wants to learn a lot and is able to learn quickly).
She would like to stay in kindergarten
Shortly afterwards, Alena is now (in spring) 5;1 years old, I talk to her again in the office about the possibility of (early) school enrolment. This is what I had agreed on after the first (failed) contact with the school teacher (deputy director) of the receiving primary school.
I put Alena directly in front of the alternative of whether she wanted to go to school already in the summer or whether she would rather stay in kindergarten for another year. Without a moment’s hesitation, she says, „I want to stay in kindergarten.“
When asked, she tells me that she likes to help with the little ones (new U3 group) and play in our group with four-year-old Sina, three-year-old Lina, the two five-year-olds Mariana and Justus, and six-year-old Jenni. The latter, however, as Alena knows, is already starting school this year (but not in the one intended for Alena). Mariana and Justus are in the „Blue Club“ and will then join the pre-school group in the summer. In the current „Blue Club“ she also still likes Amar, with whom she did gymnastics together, and two other five-year-old girls. „I don’t know anyone at school,“ Alena adds. As she has done very often lately, she bites her nails.
„Kindergarten is best,“ she says. I smile at her and support her in this decision. As she was picked up in the afternoon, she tells her parents directly and even immediately fetches her pencil case from the room of the „Schlaufüchse“, the current pre-school group. A sign that Alena is very sure of herself. The preschool programme is not working well at the moment, otherwise she would of course have been able (and probably want) to continue participating.
In the conversation with the parents, two weeks later, Alena’s parents are also very happy with the decision.
I had an excellent telephone conversation with the deputy director of the primary school. She also welcomes the decision and emphasises that they are very open in dealing with particularly gifted children. Many children are already experienced in reading and writing when they start school.
It would not be a problem at this school to jump to a higher class already in the half-year.
Alena could also do a trial class in the coming winter and then enroll at a later stage.
Subsequently, Alena (now 5;4) makes a well-balanced impression in kindergarten: no nail biting, no stomach aches, no infections. She wakes up her dad in the morning and comes to the kindergarten at around 9 a.m., in the past it was often an hour later. She goes to dance classes and to a sports group with her friend Jenni. She is registered at the music school.
The parents confirm my impression: she feels „rounded“.
And so Alena’s promotion in kindergarten continues:
Date of publication in German: April 2018
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint