by Hanna Vock
Every child follows his or her own learning path and needs custom-fit support, also at kindergarten. I would like to throw two spotlights on this problem: The example of Luc and Milena and the example of Frieder.
An example from my daily kindergarten life
It is about two children in my group whose language support at kindergarten has been very different.
had a very good command of both German and French before he started school. This language achievement came about in a family that placed a lot of value on bilingualism and on good speaking in general. There was a lot of talking, telling, reading aloud. There was a high language culture. Both parents understood excellently how to teach the child their respective mother tongues.
showed a great interest in linguistic things, which she learned easily and quickly. At the age of four, she spoke flawlessly and with differentiation. At five, she answered my question whether she would like to learn to read with a clear yes. Milena had reached her high language level although she had little language stimulation at home and did not find a good language model there either.
Both children were linguistically gifted; but it was clear that the language support for both children had to be adapted to their prerequisites.
was naturally saturated with stories and extensive conversations. He sought other fields of learning in the kindergarten. He could be supported linguistically by appreciating his specific ability, bilingualism, in the group. Despite his excellent language skills, he was very inhibited in the group for a long time and avoided talking. Overall, he seemed rather shy and only spoke in one-word sentences in the circle of chairs.
As always, I wanted to build on his strengths. I made his bilingualism a topic in the circle and he listened very attentively. During games, I kept asking for the French word (so he only had to say 1 word) and found admiring words for his special „art“. As the children also became increasingly amazed, he thawed out and was able to work at his developmental level:
He brought French picture books from home, which he told to other children in French and German alternately. It was a further confirmation and strengthening for him that I brought three small picture books from France from my holiday. They remained in the freely accessible book box, and individual children let him „read“ them to them again and again. Luc sang the song „Frère Jacques“ (Brother Jacob), which we had learned together, especially loudly and with pleasure in the French version. He savoured the fact that it was particularly easy for him to learn the French lyrics.
And he had visibly gained in self-confidence.
A comment on the attempts to introduce foreign language teaching in kindergarten:
The most natural method, the least disruptive to everyday kindergarten life and free children’s play, is not to establish courses at fixed times and with extra staff. I find it better and more targeted to use the multilingualism that exists in almost every kindergarten in a way that is appropriate to the situation, for example as described above. Many points of contact and methods are conceivable (and can certainly be found in practice). In their training and in further training courses, kindergarten teachers should be able to acquire methodological knowledge.
(See also: Foreign Languages at Kindergarten).
Unlike Luc, she needed conversations and stories as much as she could get. In addition, her interest in learning to read had to be encouraged. Milena was the first child for whom I was able to jump over my shadow on this issue: I had always allowed and welcomed learning to read before school, even giving small assistance in the children’s reading learning process at times.
Now I decided to offer Milena a „learning to read“ course. Her learning speed in this field was far superior to the other children in the group, so I worked with her for about 10 minutes every day – after a few weeks she was able to read the simple texts from my old primer, although she had almost no knowledge of letters at the beginning.
How this can be done, see here: Early Reading.
For Milena, it was a great advantage that she could already read when she started school. This enabled her school teacher to recognise early on that she was dealing with a very gifted child. Milena was also able to bridge teaching periods that she did not need and where she would have been bored by reading books.
The example of Milena and Luc can also be found here with a slightly different evaluation:
Where do the Exraordinary Abilities Come from? – Giftedness or Superb Advancement?
What makes it difficult?
The difficulty of promoting individualised learning seems to be increased for the kindergarten teacher by the fact that in kindergarten learning should take place in groups, in a social context with other children.
In reality, it is the inadequate framework conditions in many kindergartens (group size, staffing, lack of space…) that hinder a meaningful juxtaposition and intertwining of learning in the whole group, in small groups and individually fitted to one child.
In addition, there is an understandable frustration, the effect of which should not be underestimated, that many parents (in some kindergartens also many) fulfil their educational obligations towards their children only very imperfectly. Everywhere is rightly complaining in the kindergartens that some parents do not teach their children good language skills. Many also fail to teach their child approaches to planful action, a sufficient amount of knowledge of the world and the most necessary practical skills. (See: When Parents Provide Little Advancement.)
These children often have heartbreakingly few opportunities to benefit from what the kindergarten has to offer, and at the same time they have a particularly great need for support.
This makes it understandable that many kindergarten teachers turn more towards the less gifted and/or less supported children. From the point of view of very limited resources, this turning towards the weak often inevitably means a turning away from the particularly gifted and even more so from the highly gifted children.
(See: Giftedness Is Not a Happy Problem).
Here again it is clear that increased educational work and support for the gifted calls for better working conditions for kindergarten teachers!
Different interests, learning paths and learning progress right from the start
Children (and adults) do not learn well if they are all fed the same educational fodder in a large group.
The following is a remarkable example observed by kindergarten teacher Renate Ashraf in her kindergarten and described in her first term paper for the IHVO Course:
„Location: creative room, craft table.
During a whole group activity in which numbers from 1 to 4 are cut out and painted on cardboard, I observe Frieder (4;3).
All the children are sitting in their places and choosing numbers. The back of Frieder’s head is leaning on the backrest, his bottom is only halfway on the seat and his arms are dangling down at his sides. He is asked by the kindergarten teacher to choose a number. He does not change his posture.
A few minutes later, the teacher squats down next to him and puts a number in front of him. He sits upright but does not pick up the scissors. Again, the teacher asks him to start cutting. Frieder starts to whine: „I don’t want to cut!“ He gets the offer to cut together with the kindergarten teacher. „I don’t want to cut! Why do I have to cut? No, no, I’m not cutting!“ The kindergarten teacher reminds him that his number book will then be incomplete. Frieder replies,
„I don’t need numbers. I have some at home.“
Other children ask the teacher for help. Frieder slides back and forth on his chair again and stares at himself for the rest of the time. He seems relieved when it is tidied up and everyone goes outside.
Perhaps his behaviour could be described as reluctant and listless about this cutting job. After this experience, I enquired from colleagues about his painting and crafting skills and looked at some of his work. There are very few paintings and handicrafts by him. His paintings look like the work of a two-year-old. Frieder avoids the creative room. Apparently he does not like to do such activities.“
Thank you very much for this precise observation!
This example can be used to discuss the following questions in a professional way:
– Is Frieder right or wrong in his refusal and his reasons?
– What pedagogical goals were connected with the offer to „cut out numbers“?
– To what extent does Frieder have the numbers not only at home, but perhaps already in his head? Was his kindergarten teacher interested in it later?
– Was it an interesting, learning-intensive time for him or was it „wasted time“ from his point of view?
– Why should children do handicrafts who obviously have no interest in it? There is no law that they have to. And there is no law of nature that says, for example, that tinkering is necessary to develop good fine motor skills. (In one study, it was found that children from remote African areas had just as good, in some cases superior, fine motor skills at the age of 6 as Central European children who had spent 3 years in their kindergartens doing handicrafts with lots of materials – even though the African children had never held a pencil, let alone scissors).
– How does the team justify the meaning of handicrafts for the children? What do they learn from it – and could some of the children learn the targeted skills in other ways? Which ones?
– What does a person learn in an activity that is repugnant to them, that does not „suit“ them?
– Is painting equally important for all people? Some like to paint, others don’t. Some of these non-painting children, however, are able to express themselves in a very differentiated way through spoken language, so that expressing feelings and experiences in pictures may not be as interesting for them for that reason either.
I strongly advocate that kindergarten teachers take the time to engage in constant conversation with individual children whose behaviour we cannot understand right away. The Questionnaire on Child’s Interest can help to start such an ongoing exchange.
Date of publication in German: December 2021
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint