Theatre Play with Gifted Children

by Hanna Vock


Please also read: Drama Activities at Kindergarten.

Theatre play – as long as the children are enthusiastic about it – is ideally suited for a holistic and at the same time strongly cognitively oriented promotion of gifted children, especially for children from the age of 5. Younger children can also be integrated into a theatre play group if the work is well supported by the older children.

Theatre play is to be distinguished from spontaneous or guided role play. The decisive difference is: theatre play includes more areas that have to be simultaneously observed and cognitively integrated by the child, and therefore it is more difficult. Creative parts in the narrower sense, i.e. the free formulation and thinking up of the play and the individual roles, initially take a back seat. As soon as the children have learned some techniques, their creativity can unfold all the better in the play.

The method of the theatre play depends on how much experience and practice the kindergarten teacher and the participating children have with theatre play. The following suggestions are intended for those who do not have much experience.

There are, of course, other good ways to play theatre with children. Here I would like to offer my experiences.

It is about:

1. the objective: what should the children be able to learn?

2. the choice of the story to be played.

3. the composition of the group of children.

4. the question: performance yes or no?

5. organisational tips and

6. methodological hints.

In addition, under point 2 you will find „director’s books“ for three plays which you can work with and which you can adapt for your conditions and change according to your ideas.

Re 1.
The objective: What should the children be able to learn?

In the beginning, theatre only played a marginal role in my kindergarten. It was not a permanent part of the methodology. At that time, I found it tedious and sometimes frustrating to develop a theatre play with the children. This only changed when the same children, who were particularly talented cognitively and/or in acting, played theatre intensively for the second and third time in quick succession. It became apparent that we had become adept, that the troubles of the beginning had been overcome. (Something similar happened later when dance became a permanent part of my methodology).

So I would like to plead for not just playing theatre „once in a while“, but to constantly develop the skills that are important for it with the children. Then, over time, the effect is that new children, even if they are not as talented as the „initiators“, can learn a lot from the more experienced children.

This makes your work easier, and leads to less idle time and frustration.

– and then soon everyone involved really enjoys it! And the children learn a lot in the process.

I consider it favourable if a particularly enthusiastic and talented colleague in the team takes the matter in hand and receives the support of the team.

My goals for the theatre play were:

1. for all children:

    • They gain basic experience with active theatre play. What is important when you want to play theatre? (See methodological tips below).
    • They consciously try out the different possibilities of expression (language, facial expressions, gestures), are guided in the process and experience a mirroring by the audience.
    • They learn that cooperative and disciplined behaviour is necessary for success and practise it.
    • They experience taking on their own role in a complete art work and thus contributing to the success of the whole.
    • They experience the creation of a complex complete art work.

2. additional goals for the intellectually gifted and/or for drama especially gifted children:

    • They experience the development of their talent „open to the top“. This means that the Kiindergarten teacher pays careful attention to which abilities the gifted children show and encourages them to go to their (performance) limits.
    • The children keep track of the emerging complete art work in all its phases.
    • They take on leading roles that make great demands on their imagination, stamina and memory.
    • They move on to speaking roles according to their own possibilities. This means that the narrator role is increasingly relieved by the child also taking over the linguistic parts of the role from the narrator (see methodological tips).
    • They practise special roles, for example, they take on the tasks of the prompter, the props master or even the narrator (perhaps only in one scene at first).
    • They practise several roles completely so that they can stand in for another child at any time.
    • They prove to be pioneers when it comes to rehearsing a scene completely from scratch.
    • They make creative suggestions for shaping the play (critique, suggested changes, additional ideas).
    • They make mental connections to professional theatre performances.
    • They experience that their high demands regarding the result are taken seriously and supported. (See the example of Marja and the Punch and Judy puppets in the article Playfellows and Friends of Gifted Children).

Re 2.
The choice of the story to be played.

Any exciting and/or funny story is suitable. It can be based on picture books, fairy tales or stories you have made up yourself. The stories may also be changed. Changing stories is an important early experience, especially for gifted children, in which their abilities and inclinations to divergent and unconventional thinking are taken into account and further developed.
(See also: Divergent Thinking).

It is good if the story can be easily and sensibly divided into individual scenes.

For a first theatre play attempt, the story should be short so that the children can first gain an overview and orientation of what theatre is all about (see methodological notes).

The kindergarten teacher’s preliminary work should be to draft a director’s book, which will then change and improve in the course of the play, because the children’s ideas will flow in and because it will become increasingly clear as the scenes are acted out what the children can do well and what goes down well with the audience.

Here are examples of such director’s books:

„Little Red Riding Hood“ (particularly suitable for an introduction to theatre acting).

„Hansel and Gretel“ (more demanding, highly talented children will find more opportunities and challenges here).

„Tale of a Princess Whom Almost Everybody ConsideredToo Smart“ (It makes much greater demands on the children’s stamina and takes considerably more time to play. Particularly gifted primary school children should also participate).

Re 3.
The composition of the children’s group

If the children do not yet have continuous experience in theatre, it is best to start with a small group of 4 to 5 children. (See also: Advancement in Small Groups – Possibilities and Advantages.)

If you are working across groups or openly (that means that all children can move freely in all rooms) it is advisable to work with the team to discover children who fit at least one of the following characteristics:

    • proven or suspected high intellectual ability,
    • special interest and talent for acting,
    • exceptionally good language skills,
    • enjoyment of performing (including their own person) and presenting.

Sympathy among the children involved makes the whole thing more enjoyable.

Later it will be possible to involve other children. At first, these criteria should be taken seriously so that the children don’t quickly lose interest because (once again) it doesn’t progress at their pace or with their qualitative standards.

The first „actors“ of the kindergarten should be absolute volunteers. After all, they first have to create a track and an example for those who come after them, which the others can then follow. So please don’t take a child with you for whom it would be „important that he or she comes out of his or her shell / has the courage to do something“. It is possible that this child will later feel attracted to the interesting hustle and bustle around the theatre.

Voluntariness should also have a very high priority in the further course. After all, we are still in kindergarten…

Re 4.
Performance Yes or No?

This question should be answered in the negative at the beginning. There should be carefree enthusiasm about playing theatre, there should be no pressure and certainly no time pressure.

If, at the end of the project, one or more performances are staged at the children’s request, all the better. But not just before the St. Nicholas party or the summer festival, but on a suitable date (for example, a performance for all the kindergarten children or at a grandparents‘ afternoon – experience has shown that grandparents are particularly sympathetic and attentive spectators).

Once theatre playing is established in the kindergarten, then there will be enough performances.

Re 5.
Organisational tips

It is motivating and fun for everyone involved if the play can take place on the scheduled rehearsal date and is not postponed or cancelled at short notice. Interruptions and disruptions should also be avoided at all costs.

Therefore, it makes sense if the kindergarten teacher involved in the play can take time out of the rest of the day for the rehearsal (i.e. no phone calls, no door-to-door talks with parents, no fetching tea or preparing breakfast).

The children should also be able to fully engage in the theatre play. This means that the times are planned in such a way that the children are not taken out of the play for parallel activities or picked up by their parents.

Re 6.
Methodological tips.

Here I would like to describe my own experiences as an offer of how it can work. Other ways are also possible. Since theatre play, as I present it here, is a project, I also refer you to the article Advancement through Projects.

Start playing as soon as the children know and understand the story.

Don’t get bogged down in scenery
and making costumes.

This can grow on the side. Or it can be done by a „prop group“ made up of children who are very fond of crafting and creating but do not want to do theatre.

At the beginning it is enough to indicate the different places on stage (for example the witch’s house), for example with a certain cloth on the floor. More important is the procurement of the props necessary for the play plot and a curtain.

Decide right at the beginning where the stage and the auditorium will be. If you have a gymnastics room, you could consider attaching two sturdy hooks to the wall there, to which you can always quickly attach a line or wire rope. Diagonal solutions that partition off a large corner as a stage space have proven successful.

The curtain is important as a spatial and temporal structuring element:

– Here the actors – there the audience.

– Now it’s time to play – now it’s time for a break or to discuss things.

The curtain fabric should not be too heavy so that the line does not sag (try it out with blankets or existing fabrics). But it should also not be so light that the slightest breeze makes it move. Whether you (have) sewn loops for hanging or a hose tunnel through which the leash can be pulled, it basically doesn’t matter.

It’s also fun to keep embellishing your trove over the years. In the beginning you can improvise.

Do not distribute the roles at the beginning. All the children should be able to try out all the roles in the course of the project if they want to. It is favourable for this procedure if you plan the costumes so broadly and loosely that they fit all the children or can at least be adapted with a few hand movements. So no princess dress with a narrow waist.

Rule 1:
The actors on stage are the ones who are on stage at the moment. All the others, meanwhile, are spectators and stay in the auditorium.

The spectators are also very important:
When the scene is over, they are allowed to clap, criticise and make suggestions – and then try it out themselves. In this way, theatre play is also a good learning field for criticism and self-criticism.

First concentrate on one scene that is rehearsed over and over again, with a changing cast. This does not necessarily have to be the first scene. Always follow the pattern:

The curtain is closed – the curtain goes up – it is played – the curtain closes – we talk about it.

Rule 2:
During the rehearsal of the individual scene, only the director may intervene with criticism or suggestions. (Gifted children who also have an acting talent can, in my experience, also successfully fill this role at times – and benefit greatly from it).

Both during these interventions by the director, which should be gentle and not too frequent, and especially before and after playing a scene, one can practise talking about the situation and the feelings of the acting characters and expressing the corresponding feelings (in posture, gestures, facial expressions and possibly voice and manner of speaking).

The difficult thing for younger children with theatre is that it makes so many demands. There is the understanding of the role itself, its placement in the overall play. Then there are the temporal sequences, furthermore the facial expressions, the gestures, the movement in the stage space, the volume, the modulation and adaptation of the voice to the requirements of the play situation, the attention to the respective play partner as well as the reaction to him, the turn to the audience and finally there are also the words that are to be said.

In spontaneous role-playing by children, this happens spontaneously, but in theatre play with a fixed story, the task is to participate in a total „work of art“ and to fit into the total work of art. It is not for nothing that people like to say of the greatest stars: „He is a very disciplined actor.“

But it is precisely this difficulty that makes theatre so interesting, especially for highly gifted preschool and primary school children,
if they want to do it.

To keep the difficulty within limits and to be able to practise everything except the spoken text first, it makes sense to introduce the role of the narrator. (See also the director’s books on „Hansel and Gretel“ and the „Tale of a Princess Whom Almost Everybody ConsideredToo Smart“ .

At first, this role should be taken over by an kindergarten teacher because it is not only about reading aloud, but the play process on stage must also be observed and coordinated with the reading aloud. Later, perhaps a child who is confident in reading can also take on this task.

The use of a reader helps the children to orientate themselves in the play and to get along with little – if necessary at first without any – language. With increasing confidence and fluency, the children can then – depending on their individual wishes and abilities – take on more and more speaking roles, which the reader must of course adapt to.

If a child is (still) awkward – or insecure or shy – play with them in dialogue, you (or a secure child) take on one of the roles. The child is more likely to get into the role when he/she has a counterpart acting sensibly than if both of them have no idea how to do it at first.

In my theatre projects, after a few rehearsals, the (highly and especially gifted) children had no problems jumping back and forth between scenes. It didn’t matter to them whether the third scene was rehearsed first, then the fifth and then maybe the second. Very quickly they were „at home“ in the play and reminded the scatterbrained director (me) of important details of each scene.

Please also read: Drama Activities at Kindergarten,
even though both articles overlap in some passages.


Date of publication in German: April 2017
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint

Drama Activities at Kindergarten

by Hanna Vock


Dear reader

I assume that you work in a kindergarten, that is, that you are one of my colleagues. That is why I would like to start off with a collegial „you“ 〈Du〉. All men and women from other professions may forgive me for this.

I now really enjoy doing theatre with kindergarten children. In the past, I had mixed feelings about it. And it never quite worked out to my and some children’s satisfaction.

…in short…

I wrote this article in 1998 during my 10 years as a kindergarten teacher, which explains why the style differs from the rest of the manual.

The article is divided into the following sections:

    • Deciding to do theatre.
    • Choosing the story.
    • Drafting the script.
    • Acting without speaking – the trick with the narrator role.
    • And then just start!
    • The distribution of roles.
    • The project develops.
    • And afterwards?

Since this is not directly about promoting giftedness,
please also read  Theatre Play with Gifted Children.

In the meantime I have „turned grey in my profession“, but I still work full of enthusiasm in a kindergarten.

For my way of working in the kindergarten see also:
An „Old“ Conception in Full Length.

Maybe my experiences will help you to discover the fun of theatre earlier than me. But maybe you have a lot of experience yourself, which I would be very interested in…

The decision to do theatre

If you want to make the decision to start a theatre project with the children (for the first time?), a few preliminary considerations are helpful:

Do I like to play theatre myself?

If you often feel a kind of spontaneous desire to role-play, an important prerequisite has already been met.
If, however, you feel defensive, embarrassed or reluctant, for example, when someone suggests playing charades in a friendly group or when you are asked to take part in a role play during a training session, then it is better to leave it alone. The children would quickly sense your blockades and also withdraw themselves.

Your own desire to play (theatre) is also a necessary prerequisite because, in my experience, it is important that you play yourself again and again in the course of the project.

Which colleague will participate?

It is good if you have a colleague who will work on the whole project with you and with whom you can exchange your observations and thoughts.

You don’t have to be together all the time, but in some phases it is helpful.

It is great if you are both keen to act, but this is not essential, as one of you should take on the role of narrator (see below). Of course, the narrator should be able to read aloud well.

What should the children get out of the theatre project?

A theatre project over several weeks can be a real adventure for everyone.

    • The children have the (now rare) opportunity to really get to grips with a story in depth, to discover ever new connections and details. The impressions do not just flit across the surface, but can „sink to the depths of the mind“.
    • The children experience how simple, improvised beginnings become complex events (a work of art) because everyone works together and everyone reliably plays their part. In this way they experience the sense of disciplined, coordinated cooperation. Even the smallest role is important because it belongs to the whole.
    • They experience more precisely and more deeply what theatre is than if they only consume theatre as spectators.
    • Especially the children who play a leading role acquire a sense of achievement that strengthens their self-confidence.
    • The younger children and those playing small supporting roles get to enjoy the theatre as spectators at every rehearsal. The fascination and concentration do not diminish from time to time, but rather increase when the kindergarten teacher, as director, knows how to clearly state requirements and progress.
      It is always the same story, but the project develops from rehearsal to rehearsal, so there is always something new for the audience to observe.
    • When improvisation is good, that is, when no one is bothered by the fact that the costumes or the sets are far from finished, that is an important experience for the children. The same goes for when a building block quickly has to replace a piece of bread.
    • And last but not least, the children have the chance to discover and develop their expressive abilities in theatre.

Balance between fun and seriousness

Playing theatre with young children is a balancing act: the balance between fun and seriousness.

Both are important: without fun, well, it’s no fun – and who wants that? The children would eventually abandon the project if you approach theatre too seriously and dryly.

Nevertheless, a satisfying result is important, otherwise it’s not theatre but carnival.
The result does not have to be a final performance in front of an audience. The decision whether there will be an „official“ final performance at all should not be made at the beginning of the project. This question remains open for the time being.
More on this below in the paragraph: Performance Yes or No?

How far do I want to tolerate disruptive behaviour?

It seems important to me to start with a small group of three to four children. This is especially important if you are incorporating drama into your methodology for the first time and want to gain some experience with it.
These children should be particularly motivated and perhaps also talented, because they „make their mark“ for the children who follow.

Disruptive behaviour of individual children can hardly be avoided if the group is already too large at the beginning and there are waiting times for the individuals – or if there are already children who are not motivated from the start.

In the beginning, it is important to consistently respond to disruptive behaviour of children. This could look like admonishing them not to disturb the other children and that in the (first!) case of repetition they have to leave the place of action. It is much easier to put this into practice in a small group.
It is amazing how quickly the motivated children adopt the rule „disturbance leads to exclusion“ and go along with it. The motive here is not to exclude or punish a child, but to be able to work in peace themselves.

When the decision is made that disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated, it is important that the team stands behind this decision and the theatre project in general. Then you will find a taker for currently disruptive children.

(Danger: The colleagues could perceive such a way of working as your privilege; this is even quite likely with insufficient staffing and if small group work is not firmly anchored as a method in your kindergarten.

In a larger kindergarten with several groups and perhaps even an open method of working, this will be quite possible. I work in a small kindergarten with only one group, and our supplementary worker took over the „remaining group“ during the first rehearsals.
As always, when it came to „sending them away“, it worked well if it was done as a matter of course, before our stress levels had risen too much – and if it was accompanied by a succinct explanation that went something like this: „What you’re doing is too disruptive here, please go over to Sandra’s.“

Our first theatre project („Hansel and Gretel“) gained fascination for all the children in this way, so that later disruptions were almost non-existent. Also a great experience!

Choosing the story

There are many stories that can be played well. It is worth looking through the available picture books for this.

Easy to implement – and therefore well suited for the first attempts – are stories that take place in the same place from beginning to end, have a clear plot structure and manage without interlacing and flashbacks.

Such simple stories are, for example, „Die Raupe Nimmersatt“ 〈the gluttonous caterpillar〉 (by Eric Carle) or „Der Regenbogenfisch“ 〈the rainbow fish〉 (by Marcus Pfister) or „Die Vogelhochzeit“ 〈the bird wedding〉 (folk song).

The Caterpillar story is simple in structure and can be staged to great visual effect if kindergarten teachers and children put some effort into an imaginative stage set and the design of the edibles. With the music to go with it, an all-round atmospheric theatre can be created with the children.

The actual theatre play then consists of the children appearing at the right time with the right „food“ (strawberry, tartlet, etc. made of cardboard, each with a hole to slip through) and letting the caterpillar crawl through. This is a task that can also be mastered by theatre beginners and smaller children.

No demands are made on the children’s mimic expressiveness. Only the caterpillar can express mimically or verbally that it is hungry and „still not full“.
There is a clear lead role and some supporting roles for extras.
The main role (caterpillar) can be shared by two children: One child crawls out of the egg, eats its way through and then disappears into the cocoon. The other child sits (hidden) in the cocoon from the beginning, then appears at the right time as a beautiful butterfly and plays the rest of the role.

If you and your group do not have any experience with theatre, a comparatively simple story like this is recommended.

If you want to tackle something more complicated – how about „Hansel and Gretel“?
I want to show what I learned from playing theatre in kindergarten with this fairy tale as an example. The experiences can be transferred to other stories.

The story has to be right.

First I thought: Why this fairy tale in particular? It had been one of my favourite fairy tales for a long time. Before I wanted to offer it to the children to play in the theatre, I had to be clear about what I liked about the fairy tale. My colleague didn’t think it was so great, especially too cruel.

But it was important that the story was right and coherent for both of us. So I took a closer look at the content and the messages of the fairy tale.

The strong sides of the story:

    • Two children stick together, comfort and help each other.
      They experience fear and threat, but they are strong and have good ideas.
    • They are confronted with evil in the world, first in the form of the wicked stepmother who abandons them cold and heartless in the forest.
      They experience cowardice and weakness in the form of the father who does not protect his children.
    • And when Hansel and Gretel have already suffered fear, hunger and abandonment, the witch’s house appears to them as a rescue from all distress. The witch pretends to be friendly – and now they experience evil in its very mean form. But even now they show strength and courage and defeat the evil.

The weak sides of the story:

    • The children return to their father, even though he abandoned them when it was a matter of life and death.
    • The idea that Hansel should be roasted and eaten by the witch, although it shows the evil in an overly clear way and is a dramatic increase to the action of the wicked stepmother, seemed too gruesome for our children today and for our own sensibilities.
    • As opponents of the death penalty, we were also unable to come to terms with the witch’s end. Gretel does act in self-defence when she locks the witch in the hot oven – but we didn’t want to tell and play it that way.
    • The roles of girl and boy are traditionally drawn in such a way that Hansel both times sneaks outside the house at night and tries to save the two of them. Both times Gretel is the clueless and passive one. We didn’t want to leave that as it was.

Stories can be changed.

Nowhere is it written that everything has to remain as it is. Even the fairy tales have changed again and again before and after they were written down. They were adapted to the changing living conditions, the spirit of the times and the respective modern language.

Certainly, there were storytellers who kept as faithfully as possible to the guidelines, but just as certainly there were always those who played with the stories and invented new versions. And sometimes a new version prevailed in a region because people liked it better.

In our kindergarten, we already have a long tradition of rewriting songs – so why shouldn’t we also rewrite „Hansel and Gretel“ in our own way? And that’s what we did.

First, Gretel’s role was enhanced: When the children had found their way back home with the help of the glowing pebbles, the parents decide for the second time to abandon the children in the forest. This time, in our version, Gretel is awake, hears everything and bravely wants to sneak out of the house.
When she finds the door locked, she doesn’t despair but has an idea of her own and takes the leftover bread. She had noticed where the stepmother had hidden the bread.

Then we decided that Hansel and Gretel, having survived the dangers and demonstrated so much independence, would not return home but stay happily in the witch’s house, where there are still plenty of gingerbread to nibble on and the witch has piled up her treasures. Later, the children of our theatre group had the idea that Hansel and Gretel could invite their friends to a big party at the end.

We dropped the part about feeding the fat and being roasted. Hansel is locked in a cage by the witch so that the children can’t play together. Gretel has to work all day and the witch is unkind and scolds and shouts at her. Hansel has to watch this and cannot help his sister. All this together seemed bad enough and closer to the imagination of our children today.

The witch is not killed in the end, but she disappears forever with howls and thunder and lightning. Gretel brings about this disappearance by peering into a forbidden pot. She has to summon up all her courage to do this, too, because the wicked witch has strictly forbidden her to touch the pot. So in order to save herself and her brother, Gretel must divine the witch’s vulnerable spot. She must, even though the witch is nearby, transgress a prohibition and break a taboo in order to defeat evil. It reminded us of the concept of moral courage….

Introducing the children to the story.

First, we looked extensively at a Hansel and Gretel picture book, especially with the younger children, and introduced them to the story as it is told in the picture book. The older children knew the fairy tale, it was enough to tell it to them again. Then we could get into the discussion about the content of our changes. We had the impression that some children immediately grasped the meaning of the changes and agreed with them.
Others were reluctant to express their opinions. We interpreted this to mean that these children did not really imagine the new version. They had not yet internalised the story so far, perhaps they did not yet have the mental agility and maturity to make changes in a story in their minds.
We hoped that the content and its facets would become more and more accessible to them – as it did to the younger children – in the course of the play.

And so it happened: at the end of the project, most of the four to six year old children were able to jump back and forth mentally in the story. From this experience, we also consider it a good mental training. Our six three-year-olds couldn’t do that to the same extent, of course, but they benefited in other ways.

There is another, perhaps better way, but we didn’t go down that path in this project because we wanted to get to playing quickly: Of course, you can also look for changes in content together with the children. Then you only ask the older children the questions that you yourself have about the content, for example: „Is the father actually a good father? – Should Hansel and Gretel go back to him or stay in the witch’s house?“

Maybe a completely different ending than the one we designed will come out when the children think about the question: „How can Hansel and Gretel defeat the witch without her dying?“

The script

Now that the story was clear, I set about typing it into the computer.
The whole project time was spent tinkering with the script. It was only finished when the project was almost finished. New ideas were added as we tried them out. Some of the first ideas did not work out in practice and were discarded.

You can see the result here: The Theatre Play „Hansel and Gretel“.
It contains the division into pictures (scenes), the wording of the story and the stage directions.

Since our children already had basic experience with theatre play, we were able to gradually involve the whole group of 20 children. In addition to the main roles known from the fairy tale (Hansel, Gretel, father, stepmother and witch), other roles were invented: Sun, Moon, Black Cat, Eagle Owl, Squirrel, several little birds, a Scared Rabbit and Snowflakes.
These roles varied in size. The eagle owl, for example, only fluttered through the picture once, making eagle owl sounds. For the little boy for whom we invented the role, it was very important and it was his personal approach to theatre.

The audience has an important role. All the children in the group who are not performing in the current picture or who do not yet have a role are spectators if they want to be. It is important for the acting children to have a counterpart and to experience the reactions of the audience.

Acting without speaking – the trick with the narrator role

It is difficult for young children to pay attention to all levels of the play at the same time: Performing at the right moment, moving sensibly on stage, adapting facial expressions to what is happening, paying attention to the other actors – and then also remembering lines and speaking?
The easiest way is to refrain from speaking. This may or may not develop in the course of rehearsals. Children who are confident enough can then speak individual sentences.

Otherwise, speaking is the task of the narrator. The trick with the narrator role is: she tells the story, does the speaking and at the same time gives the children orientation in the story: the children act out what they hear.

And then just start

Now you can start rehearsing the first scene.
If you want to follow my script, all you need is a table, 4 chairs, 1 jug of water, 4 glasses and the beds for Hansel and Gretel.

Four children can play (Hansel, Gretel, stepmother, father). Let all four children try out all four roles. Take your time and observe how the children act. Try out how the children move in relation to each other and to the audience. Can the audience see everything well?

Children who like to watch take on the important role of the audience.
At the end of these rehearsals of the first scene, it makes sense to introduce the curtain. It clearly separates the stage from the auditorium and marks the beginning and the end of the scene. Only when it is closed do the actors leave the stage and the scene is changed.

Of course, a fabric curtain that can be opened and closed is nice. As long as it is not there, improvisation can take place.

For example, four children could take responsibility for opening and closing the curtain. They carry two blankets or sheets from both sides of the stage to the curtain line, which can be marked beforehand with chalk or tape.
They also need their rehearsal so that they can practise raising and lowering the curtain evenly.

Once there were no suitable blankets available. (I was with a children’s theatre class in a room at the adult education centre). So we fished a daily newspaper out of the waste paper basket and held the unfolded newspaper pages in front of the stage as a curtain. It didn’t look bad at all!

Playing along

At the beginning and also later on in more complicated parts, it can be helpful if you (the director) take over one of the roles every now and then. This has two advantages: Firstly, you can give an example of how the role can be designed (as a suggestion, not as a template!). You can pick up good elements that the children have already shown and reinforce them.
Secondly, it helps the children in their play if there is already someone who is confident in the sequence of the scene.

The distribution of roles

The aim should be that all interested and capable children are able to play all the roles they want to play.

This presupposes that there is enough time to rehearse lively in all possible constellations.
The spectator role becomes more interesting when it can be observed how different children solve the tasks and fill the roles.

The longer the play (in the sense of rehearsal), the more children dare to try something. But some are totally satisfied with the spectator role, and others are suspicious of all the theatre stuff and stay out of it altogether. They will have their good reasons and then that is to be respected.

The exchange among the children about what can be done best and how is also promoted by the frequent change of roles. In my experience, with such a way of working, the theatre group recognises over time who plays which role particularly well.

This does not mean that each individual child recognises that someone else plays the role better than they do, but the group does have a regulating effect.

It becomes difficult when a performance is planned at the end. Because then a decision has to be made. The roles have to be distributed, and that is not without frustration – just like in real theatre life.
It is possible to have a double cast and two performances, but that is not always a satisfactory solution for everyone if three or four great Gretels also want to be in a  performance.

So if theatre doesn’t happen that often in the kindergarten and you can’t put off the disappointed ones to a new leading role soon, you really have to consider whether you should plan a performance at all…

The problem of the „bad“ roles and the loser roles

In a Hansel and Gretel project, not a single child wanted to play the witch, not even a little bit at all. Everyone wanted the witch to exist and to be evil – but no child wanted to take on that role.

So I myself could really let off steam. All the children found it eerily beautiful when the witch acted, but two three-year-olds carefully kept their distance from me in the lesson after the first rehearsal with the witch, until they were quite sure that I was now behaving like Hanna again. This happened again later when we rehearsed with costumes and make-up.

In „Little Red Riding Hood“ three six-year-old boys wanted to be the wolf, they competed for the role – but that he should fall into the well at the end, they thought was right and coherent for the wolf in his role, but for them personally it made the role uncomfortable. It is ultimately a loser role. Two of the three then thought about whether they would rather be the hunter, but then left it to younger people. They found a solution for themselves: they made falling into the well more and more acrobatic.

The Hansel and Gretel project develops

The more the children grew into the story and the roles, the more they brought in their own ideas.

Little by little, the supporting roles were rehearsed in more detail, which meant that younger children got more involved and even children who seemed shy at the beginning thawed out. The supporting roles were: Sun, moon, black cat, eagle owl, squirrel, several little birds, a scaredy-cat and snowflakes.

Working groups were formed for the scenery, the costume and prop procurement expanded so that a prop master was needed, as well as a lighting technician to dim the floor lamps according to the scene.

All the children were gripped by theatre fever.

Fortunately, towards the end of the project, the children peacefully agreed on a fixed distribution of roles. So we could actually crown the many rehearsals with two performances: the first for parents and siblings, and the second for grandparents, who participated in large numbers.

And afterwards?

It would have been a shame to cut off the learning process here. The children could build on this in the next project. The way of working was familiar to them and they had enjoyed it so much! They had also experienced a lot of recognition.

So it was clear, it must go on. The special acting talents could unfold in further „productions“. But technical talents and talents for directing work also showed up.

I still have three scripts and am happy to make them available:

Theatre Play „Hansel and Gretel“

The Theatre Play „Little Red Riding Hood“

Theatre Adaption – Tale of a Princess Whom Almost Everybody Considered Too Smart

Please also note the Quiz Questions on Hansel and Gretel

and the Quiz Questions on Little Red Riding Hood.

There are of course other good approaches to theatre play, see under:

Examples of Drama Activities at Kindergarten.


Date of publication in German: April 2017
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.


Alena (5;10) and a Small Group Are Becoming Experts in the Learning Workshop

by Claudia Flaig


How it all began

At the beginning of the new kindergarten year, I suggested to the team that we set up a learning workshop – following a suggestion from the IHVO Course.

The colleagues not only agreed immediately, but also actively helped to set up the workshop. Before the major restructuring of our facility, which was still imminent at the time, we could only use half of an adjoining group room for this purpose. Here there is also a reading, cuddling and building corner.

Alena – at this time 4;5 years old – immediately discovers the rearranged room in the morning and asks what is happening there. She spends one and a half hours there, most of the time alone. She picks up one game after another, looks at it closely.

Then she comes to me with the folder of worksheets and asks if she can do one of them. I explain to her that the children can now take a worksheet at any time. They are then supposed to come to a kindergarten teacher with it, discuss the tasks on the sheet and are then allowed to work them out. The rule is that the sheet should be finished. Then they are allowed to take another sheet, if they like.

From now on, Alena often does two sheets in a row. The children’s folders are on a shelf.

…in brief…

The author sets up a learning workshop with some children, including Alena (her observation child in the IHVO Course). Alena and five other children form a core group that first familiarises themselves with the material so that they can then guide the other children.

The children of the core group also participate in the first experiments. It is described how Alena then repeats an experiment with an interested three-year-old.

Together with the children, rules of use are established

The other children in the group only discover a small part of the learning workshop on the first day, some only later. After three days, we set up the rules for the learning workshop together with the children:

    • For reasons of space, only three children are in the learning workshop (LW) at a time.
    • It should be quiet in the learning workshop (this usually works despite the building corner!).
    • Games are neatly put away.
    • Dealing with worksheets: Select a sheet, discuss it, finish it, file it away, and only work on another sheet afterwards if desired.
    • The pencils remain in the LW, they belong back on the shelf after use.
    • The LW is not the painting corner – the painting table is still in the group room.
    • Those who regularly do worksheets get a folder for it.
    • Small children are also allowed in the LW, but only if they do not disturb.

The first equipment of the learning workshop

In the workshop, which is still cramped at first, a mattress bed with cushions serves as a reading and snuggling corner. A small table with a bench and two chairs provides the opportunity to work on the worksheets and play table games.

The initial equipment with books:

    • Antje Damm: „Ist 7 viel?“ 〈Is 7 a lot?〉 (Moritz-Verlag)
    • Philip Waechter: „Ich“ 〈I〉 (Beltz-Verlag)
    • Sylvaine Perols: „Der Körper“ 〈The Body〉 (Meyers kleines Kinderlexikon) 〈Meyers Small Children’s Encyclopaedia〉
    • Diercke World Atlas / and also a globe
    • Angela Weinhold: „Kinder dieser Welt“ 〈Children of this world〉 (Serie: Wieso? Weshalb? Warum? Special volume, Verlag Ravensburger)

We will also put up three posters:

    • Washable world map (by Schönhoff, Krüger and Ortmann)
    • ABC poster and numbers poster (both from Beltz-Verlag)

And these games are available in our first set:

    • Logeo
    • Nikitin Material Logo
    • Wer ist es? 〈Who is it?〉 (Hasbro games)
    • Lotti Karotti (Ravensburger)
    • Schau genau 〈Look precisely〉
    • Cuboro
    • Rush hour (Ravensburger/Thinkfun)
    • Lesehexe 〈Reading witch〉 (Haba)
    • Kleiner Rabe kann das ABC 〈Little raven can do the ABC〉 (Kosmos)
    • Picture and letter cards from Würzburg Letter and Sound Training 2
    • Klatschdomino 〈Clap domino〉 (Fröhling)
    • Unsere 5 Sinne und die Umwelt 〈Our 5 senses and the environment〉 (Fröhling)
    • Plan toys Zahlenpuzzle 〈number puzzle〉
    • Magnet board with letters

Also inspired by the IHVO Course, we want to get parents involved as experts. After a short information at the parents‘ meeting, a poster is hanging in the hallway.

The learning workshop benefits from the restructuring of the kindergarten

The major restructuring and expansion of our facility, which was triggered in part by a change in the law, combined with a rebuilding project, has put a lot of strain on all of us. At least there is one advantage: now, after more than a year, our learning workshop has more space. And our director used a large part of the additional funds for furnishing and materials for the learning workshop. (Thank you!) Together with a colleague, I also took over the promotion of our preschool group, the 15 „Schlaufüchse“ 〈Clever Foxes〉, which now includes Alena again – she is now 5;8 years old.

Alena blossoms

Through the experience of keeping up with the older children and being accepted by them, Alena has become totally self-confident. This is shown to me by her open eyes. She comes into the group in the morning standing upright – in the past she often sneaked in biting her nails. Now she often has something to tell. With an all-embracing look, she checks the group situation and the day can begin.

My group has increased from 15 to 22 children. This now offers many opportunities for Alena to exercise her social skills – the only advantage of this drastic increase in the number of children! Of course, looking after five new two-year-olds is not her job. However, this way Alena is not bored when there is no activity on offer or a pleasant play partner.

Plenty of mental „fodder“ for the „Schlaufüchse“

The 15 „Schlaufüchse“ include eight age-appropriate children, four very gifted preschool children with great letter and number skills who will start school in summer, as well as Charlotte (4;5 years old), Sina (also 4;5) and Hannes (4;7), who not only have letter and number skills, but also show remarkable talents in these areas. Hannes can already read a lot, while Sina has an incredibly clever way of expressing herself. She is very calm and adapted in the group, and physically seems rather a year younger. She should get more cognitive „food“.

In the mathematical area, we mainly use the „Idea Box for Mathematical Education in the Kindergarten“ in our preschool work. (Praxisordner für die frühkindliche Bildung, Volume 9, loose-leaf collection – by Ans Veltman and Willeke ten Noever Bakker – Bildungsverlag Eins).

In the area of language and writing acquisition, we use a „Graphomotor Workbook“
(For parents, educators, therapists, pedagogues. With the story of Frede Schnodderbüchs and his friend Addi Luftikus in many colourful pictures. Authors: Antje C Loose, Nicole Piekert, Gudrun Diener – Richard Pflaum Verlag).

In addition, the „Schlaufüchse“ go to the Bonn Art Museum every Wednesday for a total of ten weeks for an art course for children. An art teacher looks at a selected work of art with the children and discusses it with them. This is followed by practical work in the museum school with a special task – without restricting artistic freedom.

In this way, I reach an important and playful learning for school preparation: What is the task? What does this task include, what does it exclude? What is expected of me, how do I implement it?

The children like going there very much, our kindergarten is already doing this course for the third year. At the end of the course, we plan an event at the kindergarten where the children present their works and a selection of artists.

Alena calls the shots with the children

Alena is now the „boss“ of the girls in our group. Even the slightly older Mariana recognises this. Power struggles rarely take place because Mariana, very smart but unfortunately completely on her own, has absolutely different interests than Alena: Barbie, jewels, boots with heels; all morning she wears a pink stole, etc.

In the learning workshop, Mariana’s talent for quickly recognising contexts is evident again and again. Even after I have spoken very forcefully and clearly to the parents three times, they do not seem to support Mariana. So it remains primarily my task to teach Mariana to organise herself so that she can then use her resources at school.(See also: When Parents Provide Little Advancement.)

With the boys, Alena is a star: she likes to fight, behaves very dominantly and makes sure that the rules are strictly observed in the crowded outdoor area. (The garden extension is to be built later.) Of course, I signal her when she oversteps her boundaries regarding her dominance; looks are enough – we are a well-rehearsed team.

When I am particularly supportive of her in the learning workshop, she often moans:
„I wonder why I’m doing all this!“
I then grin back and ask, „Don’t you like it?“
„Sure I do!“ she then laughs back.

This agreement shows me that Alena takes the „food“ she needs at the kindergarten.

Difficult working conditions

The consequences of the restructuring of the kindergarten are still weighing on us. The kindergarten nurses now have to do another three years of pedagogical training and feel very uncomfortable. The head of the kindergarten, who is on leave, can only take on substitutes in the worst of emergencies. For weeks, our work has been characterised by the permanent absence of two to four colleagues due to illness. In addition, there are remaining holidays and training courses, if they don’t have to be cancelled.

My new colleague (she had already worked on the shadow play project) fits in perfectly with the group – and with me, as I am not the easiest person to work with. I struggle every day to do the real educational work, among the many other tasks. As I write this, my new colleague is also absent for a week. With one half-time employee, I have to look after 22 children alone for a week – I’m really exhausted.
(See: Improving Framework Conditions!)

Alena works with me to set up the extended learning workshop

There is now more space for the learning workshop in the new rooms. So far, the existing material is only roughly sorted. I go to the workshop with Alena to find out an area of interest that I could use to motivate her to become an „expert“ in the learning workshop and to get other children on board.

Together we sort the materials, and I try to let Alena verbalise the different areas. Although she is happy to go along, she seems a little unmotivated at first.

The following areas emerge:

    • Equipment that can be examined and taken apart (We again have three pieces of this sort).
    • Arithmetic (I suggest the term mathematics, Alena doesn’t want that).
    • Geography (or world knowledge – Alena: „No, geography. That sounds better.“)
    • Biology (She likes that better than „plants“ or „nature“.)
    • World Knowledge (Now Alena is in favour of this term – because of a poster with planets).

Now Alena becomes more lively: „I have a booklet about planets at home – it has everything in it. We could make a sky and the globe. That would be good. I’m sure Amar and Frederik would be interested in that too.“

Then she says unexpectedly: „I used to go to gymnastics with Sina and Amar. I wonder when that will happen again?“

I am astonished: she recognises the connection between her leading of the gymnastics group, which she hasn’t asked about for a long time – it’s been over a year – and my new plans!

We still discover the „chemistry“ section among the materials. Alena sorts out different measuring beakers and jars with lids. She tells me about Peter Lustig (children’s TV serie about nature and science).

She talks about Peter Lustig (children’s nature serie „Löwenzahn“ 〈dandelion〉 on the Second German Television – ZDF), who showed an experiment with an egg. „I don’t remember how to do it. I have a DVD of Peter Lustig. Give me a note so that mum gives me the DVD to take to kindergarten. Then we can do it sometime.“ I write her the note.

The core group of the learning workshop is formed

I now tell Alena that she can explain the learning workshop to the other children together with a fixed core group under my guidance. To do this, we can first do activities in the core group from all the areas of knowledge represented.

Alena is enthusiastic and suggests – without me asking her – the following children:

Alena (now 5;8 years) – Frederik (5;10) – Amar (5;3 / Alena: „He’s quite good.“) – Charlotte (4;5) – Hannes (4;7) – Beatrice (5;8). Six-year-old Mariana and five-year-old Finn are supposed to be jumpers or take part in the second execution.

„And me?“ asks Alena, tapping on the list of names I have written. „You’re number one,“ I say, pointing to her name. „I’ll tell them right away,“ she says, beaming.

Tasks of the core group

A short time later, we go through all the areas again with this core group, rearrange the learning workshop and move on.

In a one-on-one conversation, I tell Alena my impression that she is particularly interested in space and chemistry experiments. I ask her for her suggestions about what we should do in the learning workshop in the near future. „The experiment with the egg!“ she answers without hesitation.

My goal is to keep the learning workshop permanently present for all the children in the kindergarten who can already walk. So, according to Alena’s suggestion, the first project will be „Experimenting in the Learning Workshop“. The core group, which Alena leads with my help, is to motivate the other children in the kindergarten to come to the learning workshop.

The core group should first get to know the following and pass on what they have learned:

    • Handling the microscope,
    • Use of bar scales and digital scales,
    • Safe handling of (harmless) chemical substances,
    • Safe handling of tools (many of them can already do this because of the previous disassembly project, but there are always new children),
    • Learning first computer skills,
    • Learning and following the rules of the room.

These goals are to be achieved with simple experiments according to Prof. Gisela Lück – whom I got to know in two extremely exciting lectures on „Natural Science Experiments for Children“. (We use her instructions „Was blubbert da im Wasserglas“ 〈What’s bubbling in the water glass〉 and „Neue leichte Experimente für Eltern und Kinder“ 〈New easy experiments for parents and children〉 published by Herder-Verlag).

This is just a guide for now. I think I am flexible enough to take on board the children’s impulses and to let the children’s interests and suggestions plan the course of the project as far as possible.

Hopefully, the experiments will attract the children
to the learning workshop with an enthusiasm for learning.
– It should become a small educational island in the kindergarten.

In the team, I initially „dug out“ two hours each on Tuesday and Thursday for the implementation of new experiments. Due to a lack of staff, however, I now only have one hour each for this. The experiments are first carried out on Tuesdays with the core group. On Thursdays, the same experiment follows with Alena and/or other interested children from the core group and new children, whereby very young children are also addressed here.

The children of the core group go to all groups
and approach children.

The learning workshop can be used by all children as long as they follow the rules. Experiments may also be repeated here.

First activities: making soap bubbles and plasticine

Before we start with the experiments, we watch Alena’s Peter Lustig DVD together. The many interesting contributions about nature, technology and chemistry fascinate the children.

Then Alena is absent for more than two weeks due to illness. During this time, children from the core group make soap bubble lye and wire loops for large soap bubbles without her.

Hannes, Amar and Frederik start making plasticine on behalf of the U3 group. When Alena is well again, they show her how to do it (recipe according to Lück).

Since Frederik needs language support, I ask him to explain the steps. He explains the digital scale: „You put a piece on it, flour in it – you can see how many grams it is.“ Alena takes plasticine from the table, which is still there from the last production, and asks who made it. Hannes: „We did.“  Alena replies, „But you did a good job!“

Alena knows all the terms: electricity, gram („There are also milligrams“), kilogram, temperature, measure, weigh, litre, millilitre, powder, kettle. Through this knowledge, she is able to guide the repetition of these activities independently.

At first, the consistency of the plasticine is not firm enough. It is immediately clear to Alena that more flour needs to be added. As soon as the plasticine is ready, Alena takes the bowl and distributes the plasticine – and takes some first, which I correct. She gives instructions: „Take the leftovers from the bowl.“ I say, „Please!“ and she repeats the request more kindly.

Alena now suggests, „Now we’ll make dinner!“ To which I reply, „Can Clever Foxes also knead numbers?“ – „Okay,“ says Alena.

First the children carve numbers into the plasticine, then letters. Finally one child rolls out the plasticine in the shape of a sausage and the children form numbers and letters out of them, as well as corresponding animals: for example, E for elephant.

As Alena has problems forming a 3, Frederik shows her how. Alena praises him honestly.

These first two „official“ activities in the learning workshop let the children recognise and assign different areas of the workshop. The children draw the recipes for plasticine and soap bubbles.

Now it’s time for the chemical experiments

After we have handed in the plasticine to the U3 group, I announce the first chemical experiment to Alena. Alena reacts anxiously: „I don’t want to play with fire. I’m afraid someone will get hurt.“ I explain to her that the children are only allowed to work with dangerous things like fire, electricity and toxic substances from the pharmacy together with me anyway.
Alena: „Yes, we only do simple experiments alone!“

I think she feels a little overwhelmed. So I make it clear to her again that she won’t do anything she doesn’t want to and that I will always be present in the learning workshop. After all, I am the teacher, not her. Alena seems relieved.

I explain to the 6 children in the core group what materials they should bring for our first experiment. The topic is: „What the eggshell has to do with our teeth“ (according to Gisela Lück’s instructions). I inform all the children about our project with a poster, which I place in a clearly visible position on the exit door.

The experiment with the eggshell

Alena suggested this experiment. For motivation reasons, this should now also be our first project. Conveniently, the „Toothbrushing Fairy with Fridolin“ was in the kindergarten only a few days before, so the children have just refreshed their knowledge of dental care.

Five children from the core group take part first: Alena, Beatrice, Hannes, Amar and Frederik.

I ask about the term „experiment“. Hannes (4;7 years old) quickly has an explanation ready: „An experiment is when you have tried something where you thought you could do it. Then you try it. Then it works – or it doesn’t.“ Alena adds: „An experiment is when a person can’t do it, but they try until they can.“
Hannes says shortly afterwards that we are researchers and that these people also do experiments.

First we familiarise ourselves with the chemical ingredients. Sniffing the tooth gel, the children realise that it is toothpaste. Smelling the vinegar, the children understand the term acid, after first thinking it was oil (perhaps because they remember making plasticine).

The first egg falls to the floor after three minutes of brushing with the tooth gel. So we learn right away to live with failure as well. Then we are more careful. The three minutes seem very long to us. Are three minutes long? „Now yes,“ says Alena. (Maybe we’ll do a time project later?).

We put the cleaned egg in vinegar.

Hannes remarks: „There are bubbles on top!“ Beatrice says, „Those are gas bubbles!“ I ask about the state of the eggshell where we haven’t applied gel. Alena: „There are no gas bubbles.“ (She immediately remembered this term.) When I ask why the egg moves in the vinegar, Alena answers that it’s because of the gas bubbles and Hannes says it’s like in fizzy water.

Alena asks why the egg in the vinegar gets so thick. I ask her to look at the egg from above and below. Then she realises that it is an optical illusion because of the curvature of the (jam) glass. We watch the spectacle for another ten minutes, then we set up an „observation station“. This means that on an empty shelf in the learning workshop (with a glass window to the group room) there is now a blue fabric set; and on it we display the results of our experiments.

Alena repeats the experiment

The following Thursday, Pavel (3;3 years old) brings a jar with a hard-boiled egg. I ask Alena if she wants to do the egg experiment with Pavel. „I can do it with him,“ she agrees.

She puts all the materials on a blue set and asks Pavel to tell her what he sees. Then she says, „I’ll do it with the toothbrush then.“ I point out to her that she should let him do it himself as soon as possible. „Yes,“ she says and grins at me.

Pavel says, „We boiled the egg.“ To which Alena replies, „Yes, fine. – So, it goes like this: Take the egg out of there. I hold my hand under it. Now get the cloth out of there.“ (Pavel has brought the boiled egg wrapped in a cloth in a jar).

Alena is already about to press the tooth gel onto the egg, looks at me and then asks Pavel to do it. Pavel: „I’ll put gel on here.“ – Alena: „Yes, right. You’re doing a good job!“ She looks at me and says, „Set the alarm clock!“ I give Pavel a hand: „Please! Three dashes are three minutes. I’m sure you can set it.“

Pavel looks at me, startled, covers his ears and asks, „Is that loud? I don’t like it anymore!“

Now Alena intervenes, „You don’t have to be afraid. We just want to brush toothpaste on the egg for three minutes, because the egg comes in vinegar, which is acidic and breaks the egg. We’ll see if toothpaste really protects the teeth.“ Then turning to me: „Claudi, can you put the watch away, please. Pavel is scared!“

I’m amazed at how empathetically and wisely Alena helped Pavel overcome his fear and continue to want to do the experiment. Anyway, I set the timer in the group room. Pavel, however, remains worried. (The mother later confirms Pavel’s problem with ticking clocks to me – cause unknown. Maybe another reason for a time project?)

Pavel doesn’t hear the clock ringing and observes the gas bubbles with fascination: „There are little balls. There are no beads at the bottom.“ And then, startled, „Where is the clock?“

Alena reassures him: „Claudi took it away. It’s already expired. So, here you see beads. Here the egg has been brushed, there are no balls. You always have to brush your teeth, that protects you from Karius and Baktus. Did you hear that, Pavel?“ He nods. Alena has cleverly brought him back to the topic.

(Editor’s note: „Karius and Baktus“ is a 1954 Norwegian puppet film designed to encourage children to brush their teeth. It is based on the children’s book of the same name by Thorbjørn Egner, published in Norway in 1949. It was later published in German. The tooth devils Karius and Baktus became a symbol for children for holes (caries) in their teeth. – Source: Wikipedia article „Karius and Baktus“, retrieved 3.5.2018).

In the following, Alena demonstrates this experiment very well to the two boys Enno and Finn, who are not part of the core group of the learning workshop.

(See also: A Hen‘ s Egg, linked also at Projects on Explorations in Physics and Chemistry.)

Second experiment: Air is not nothing

This experiment immediately got about in the kindergarten; the children are very impressed. Again and again children come and repeat this experiment, in the meantime also independently. Guided by me, 17 children aged two to five experience the amazing processes. Alena is always happy to take part.

The new experiment is also another occasion to find further definitions for this kind of research. Beatrice, who has already participated in the soap bubbles, plasticine and eggshell toothpaste experiments, now says: „Experiments are things that you can try out. You can see what happens. Maybe something exciting happens, or something changes. Or something dissolves.“
A three-and-a-half-year-old girl says, „In a trial, you can mix things up.“

Once, when Alena holds the glass filled with air in the water at an angle during the second experiment, another three-and-a-half-year-old girl immediately says they are air bubbles. Then she blows in the face of a child, which of course everyone imitates: You can’t see air, but you can feel it.

„There can’t be any air where someone is sitting, that is, where the body of us is,“ I explain once. „No,“ Hannes replies, „but right around us!“ I’m really amazed at what the children say when they have the impulse for a little experiment.

Regarding bubbles, Sina (4;5) says she always makes bubbles in the bathtub: „If you didn’t have air, you’d be dead.“ Since I brought Sina to the „Schlaufüchse“ (preschool group), she keeps talking about the topic of death (Should I plan a project on: clock-time-death?).

(See also: Adrian Takes to Reading the Newspaper – Questions of Life and Death).

I offer every younger gifted child a place in the „Schlaufüchse“, even if the colleagues – concerned about equal treatment of the children – are not enthusiastic about it.

Later, I witness three boys repeating the experiment on their own. One of them says: „At home, all the glasses are full of air“. One replies, „At our house, I think so, too.“

The experiment is further developed with a tealight case and gummy bears.

Third experiment: Not all liquids behave like water

Based on Gisela Lück’s instructions, I let the children in the core group develop the topic of this experiment largely on their own.

Alena (5;8), Hannes (4;7), Frederik (5;10), Mariana (5;11), Amar (5;4) and Caro (3;6) take part in the first experiment. Caro, who was not initially nominated for the core group, now often takes part. She would like to take part every time. She presses her nose against the glass in front of the observation station when she has to learn that others have to have space too.

When decanting the water, the children immediately realise that water from different containers mixes – Alena: „Water moves.“ Sina: „It’s liquid.“

What other liquids do they know? First the children name typical ones like limonade or milk. After I ask them to look around the learning workshop, „dishwashing liquid“ comes from Amar and „glycerine“ from Mariana. Hannes says, „Candle wax mixes with water.“ Alena agrees. I suggest we test this thesis.

So we start the experiment. Alena lights a tea light with me. „We’re waiting for thin candle wax,“ she explains. „For liquid,“ Mariana corrects. Grinning, Hannes says, „What if you put fire in water?“ I pass the question back to him. Hannes: „Then it’s over.“

I notice during this activity that this group really lets everyone have their say – otherwise Mariana finds this particularly difficult.

While we watch how the candle wax changes in the tea light, Amar explains that ice also melts in the sun. Alena then pours the hot, liquid wax into the water and says to Frederik, „Quick, stir!“ But of course the wax becomes solid and cannot be mixed with the water. Frederik puts the spoon into the glass and Amar draws attention to the rise in the water level. I explain that the spoon needs space and pushes the water away. „I see,“ Amar replies. Hannes is then allowed to extinguish the tea light with a tablespoon of water.

So the children themselves have already given some impulses in advance.

Then comes the question of whether oil mixes with water. Each child takes a glass of water, oil and a teaspoon. Alena: „Something happened with me: it doesn’t mix at the bottom, only at the top.“ Hannes: „I’m getting a ribbon!“ When I ask them if the ribbon is mixed with water, they all say no.

Alena: „Oil is circular!“ – Sina: „Oil looks like bubbles!“

Then the children add washing-up liquid and observe that the oil now mixes with the water. Great amazement on all sides! Then I explain to all the children individually, using the diagrams in the Lück book, the principle of the solubility of oil in water by teaching them about washing-up liquid.

Fourth experiment: A self-made fire extinguisher

This experiment fits perfectly with the impulses of the previous one. We also want to demonstrate it to the parents at our group Christmas party. As usual, all the materials are on a set on the table.

Alena knows baking powder. The vinegar is mistaken for oil. But after smelling it, they recognise the vinegar. „The most important liquid is water!“ says Sina.

Alena joins me again in lighting the tea light. Of course, we talk about the dangers of experiments again each time.

Alena smothers the flame with a glass. When I ask what a flame needs to burn, they all say in chorus: „Air!“ I am always amazed – though a real loser in science….

So by taking away air we can extinguish. At least I remember that in a fire you should close windows and doors, if that’s still possible, because the draught the fire still intensifies.

Then we mix baking soda with vinegar and extinguish the flame just by being near the slightly effervescent mixture. „There’s something in the baking powder!“ says Hannes.

We hold a spoonful of baking powder to the flame. Or is it the vinegar? We also hold a spoonful of vinegar to the flame.

„There’s something in the fizz that puts out the flame,“ says Alena. „Another gas,“ I reply. „What vegetables do you know? In the same way, there are different gases. Air consists of a mixture of gases. This gas that puts out the flame is called ‚carbon dioxide‘. It is heavier and pushes out the flame.“ (Carbon dioxide displaces the oxygen gas needed for burning, which is present in the air).

Repeating the experiment with other children, a boy says, „There is also a gas in the balloon at the funfair.“ I say, „Yes, it’s called helium. What do you think: Is it heavier or lighter than air?“ – „Lighter, it flies!“ some children reply. Not bad for five-year-olds!

Rules for the learning workshop

After the first experiments, we now make firm rules about how we should behave in the workshop. We talk about them before all experiments. We plan to hang a photo poster on the door, where you can see what is allowed and what is not allowed. That way all the children will know about it.

These are the rules we have collected and specified so far:

    • Let them know you are going to the learning workshop (LW).
    • You are not allowed to play on the computer for too long because it can be unhealthy.
    • Some table games can be played without being asked – two shelves are filled with them.
    • The „Schlaufüchse“ (members of the pre-school group) are allowed to be alone in the learning workshop, but they also have to let us know beforehand.
    • Equipment may only be taken apart with the consent of the kindergarten teacher.
    • Chemical experiments with fire, acids, powders and salts may not be done alone.
    • Non-hazardous experiments may be done alone.
    • When we have finished, everything must be tidied up again especially well.
    • The observation station may always be visited.
    • „Günter the skeleton“ is not touched.

The „experts“ of the core group help to ensure that the rules are observed.

Parents are informed and help

As there is always a poster in the hallway with a copy of the current experiment, parents are informed and can get involved themselves if they wish. Parents from my group and other groups come to see me regularly. They ask about the progress, whether we still need materials, whether their child can also participate and much more.

In this way, we have been given a computer with a flat screen, two computer tables and a skeleton model („Günter the Skeleton“). Also important little things like pipettes, syringes (without needles!), jars with screw caps, eggs, baking powder, ink cartridges, candles, tea lights…

Parents take part – an example: Early in the morning, a father comes to me excitedly in the learning workshop and calls out: „Are you doing an experiment right now? It totally smells like benzene in the entrance!“ However, it is only the coat of a mother who has spilled petrol while filling up the tank…. But I am a bit proud!

Finn’s mother is a primary school teacher. She wants to give a maths lesson like at school and then also go into the content of a current experiment. Caro’s father offers to build an electric circuit soon.

The learning workshop has become a real
an integral part of our day-to-day life at kindergarten!

You can also follow Alena’s advancement, as far as it is documented in the handbook articles, chronologically over almost two years:

Alena, 4;1 Years Old

Alena (4;8) Leading a Small Gymnastics Group

Alena (5;0) Studies Letters – When Should She Enroll at School?

The Dead Mother of Pompeii and Crayons for South Africa

Alena (5;2) Gets to Know the Shadow Theatre

Disassembling Electric Devices

and at the end the present contribution belongs:
Alena (5;10) and a Small Group Are Becoming Experts of the Learning Workshop


Date of publication in German: May 2018
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint

Alena (5) Studies Letters – When Should She Enroll at School?

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, 4;1 Years Old

Alena (4;6) Leading a Small Gymnastics Group

The Dead Mother from Pompeii and Crayons for South Africa

Disassembling Electric Devices

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.

…in brief…

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.

(Instructor’s note:
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:

Alena (5;2) Gets to Know the Shadow Theatre

Small Group Are Becoming Experts of the Learning Workshop


Date of publication in German: April 2018
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint

Alena (5;2) Gets to Know the Shadow Theatre

by Claudia Flaig


My „observation child“ Alena is now 5;2 years old. She has decided not to go to school yet, so I continue to look for suitable challenges for her.

More about Alena (in chronological order):

Alena, 4;1 Years Old

Alena (4;6) Leading a Small Gymnastics Group

The Dead Mother from Pompeii and Crayons for South Africa

Disassembling Electric Devices

Alena (5) Studies Letters – When Should She Go at School?

And after the „Shadow Theatre“ comes

Alena (5;10) and a Small Group Are Becoming Experts of the Learning Workshop

After Alena decided this spring not to go to school yet in the summer, I invite her to join the „Blue Club“ of the five-year-olds who will not become a pre-school group until the next kindergarten year.

In our kindergarten, the children go to mixed-age groups. In addition, there are age-homogeneous groups – such as the „Blue Club“ or the pre-school group, which meet regularly – once a week – for their special projects.

Alena participated for a while in this year’s pre-school group. Of course, she could stay in this group – the decision is hers. But after her first visit to the „Blue Club“, she demonstratively fetches her pencil case from the pre-school room and announces that she will now take part in the „Blue Club“ shadow theatre.

At Christmas, the club had performed a short play and poems in front of all the parents and children. One of the main characters was speechless because of the crowd. That’s how we came up with the idea of shadow theatre: trying out self-portrayal and staying in the „shadows“ ourselves.

To start with, we build a first provisional shadow stage in the darkened room with a rope, a bed sheet and a lamp.

(Note from the course leader: Good start – this way the essentials quickly become clear).

A boy recognises it because his parents have performed a shadow play before. The children experiment with light and shadow: The closer I get, the smaller I become. We play: Who is the shadow? The children use their hands as figures, have little dialogues. My colleague and I are very surprised at how openly the children play.

What do we want to perform?
At the next meeting we will bring our theme of the year, „The Forest“, into play. What can we think of for the forest as a shadow play? Which forest figures should be in the play? It should mainly be the animals of the forest. Alena suggests bringing along her self-made witch – so a witch’s forest, good! She also takes an active part in developing the story.

We plan our next steps:

    • Making the figures out of cardboard
    • Building the stage (Alena brings a big white curtain the next day – without asking her parents!)
    • Thinking up the texts
    • Assigning roles
    • Rehearsals
    • Performance at the summer festival (in seven weeks)

Technical preparations

In free play we paint the forest animals, cut them out, peel the reed stalks from my garden and attach the figures with crepe, UHU glue and finally hot glue.

Alena takes our forest book to help – so all kinds of animals, trees and bushes are created.

The stage construction is moved to the gym. We work with dowels, a rope is stretched and a bed sheet is fastened with clothes pegs.

But you can see our bodies backstage at the play – what are we going to do? We get some dark fabric, another line… Step by step, the children develop their own ideas for solving the problem.

We can’t hold the figures of the forest – we don’t have so many hands. The forest does not move; so we can stick this scenery on.

The course and text of the theatre play emerge

During a small group activity (in which Finn, Mariana and Beatrice take part as well as Alena), the children think about the course of the story and the text. First, the animals are divided into day and night animals and then brought to the performance according to their size.
Mainly Beatrice and Alena create the text, which I write down.

Drawing the course of the story on cards as a reminder proves too difficult. So we put the individual scenes on a large blue gymnastics mat and photograph them, and the children join in – a simple but instructive action.

Shortly afterwards, I bring back the printed photos. I have also printed out the text and  cut it into strips in a one-to-one activity with Alena, each to match the scenes.

I ask Alena: „Would you like to speak the text with Beatrice sitting in front of the stage?“ – „Mega good!“ she replies. I read her the lines of text and Alena matches them to the corresponding photos and sticks the strips under the photos.

Rehearsing until the performance

Stage, set and characters are made, the story is ready – now the rehearsals can begin.

Beatrice greets the audience – Alena doesn’t want to. Both sit in front of the stage, have their numbered cards and recognise the text from the pictures. They always speak in turn.

Each child behind the stage plays a day animal and a night animal. The children sit with the day animal ready to start on their hand, while their night animal lies on the floor.

And this is what it looks like backstage before the play begins.

My colleague stands in front of the stage and helps the speakers. She gives us instructions and I act backstage. Alena and Beatrice tell us if our characters are easy to see and if you can’t see our heads either.

And this is how the audience sees the stage.

We draw a line on the sheet because we can’t see where the white sheet ends at the back. We are not quiet enough. Amar, who wants to speak the final sentence, speaks too indistinctly – „You know, he is Indian, don´t you?“ says Alena.

The children backstage do not spare with their criticism with the audience: „You have to watch what we do! A mouse isn’t that fast! Wait with the text until the hedgehog has gone!“

Sometimes the two of them speak the wrong text; that’s why the photo cards were numbered – big protest immediately! My colleague almost despairs when the two girls „shuffle“ the cards.
We record our play for self-checking – now our character players see what they are playing.

The big day arrives, the theatre play is performed twice with great success. The following week we show the play again to all the children in the kindergarten, who are then also allowed to play.
The joint dismantling of the stage is the provisional conclusion of this project.

What did we get out of the project?

All the children were very committed and seriously involved in the development of the shadow play. Alena has definitely gained in self-confidence and courage to present herself – even to the point of coming out of the „shadow“ and acting in the light in front of the stage.

Beatrice is an extremely open-minded, intelligent girl whom Alena takes her cue from. The joint school preparation will certainly not be boring for Alena.

What happens next?

Meanwhile, in Budapest, I saw a shadow play performed by students. The construction of their stage is inexpensive and also quick to erect and dismantle. It consists of two parasol stands, sanitary pipes, bed sheets with Velcro fasteners and black fabric as the bottom layer. We want to copy this construction. It can be set up quickly and can also be used by the children during free play. I already have ideas for theatre plays in mind.

We can use the reading cards from the forest to make a picture book.

We can take the reading cards from the forest play to make a picture book. Our Letter Club can print the text – I have already ordered a letter set for printing.

And here are the „reading cards“ that show the flow of the game and help the children find their way around:

Every morning the sun rises all over the world.

Also in the forest.

The woodpecker sits on the tree and pecks very loudly.

The mouse is a small forest animal.

The squirrel hops from tree to tree.

The bird flies and looks for food for its baby birds.

The rabbit hops through the forest.

In the evening the sun sets.

The moon comes.

The eagle owl sits down in the moon.

The hedgehog is a nocturnal animal.

The fox is also a nocturnal animal.

The badger meets the owl every night.

The wild boar mother is called a sow and the children are called freshlings.

The stag is a very large animal in the forest.

But suddenly the witch comes flying and calls out:
„Rest here in my witch’s forest and turn out the light!“.


Date of publication in German: May 2018
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint


Mathematical Advancement in a Group of 2

by Lucy Rüttgers


How the choice of topic came about

Already in the letter project, Edith (now 5;4) mentioned that she really wanted to learn arithmetic next and had already started something with it at home with her mother. I promised her that we could do an arithmetic project after our letter project. She was thrilled.

In the meantime, I had also noticed Edith’s interest in music. So I talked to her again alone to clarify whether a music project would be more appropriate for her or whether we should do the arithmetic project first and then a music project? She was very sure that she definitely wanted to learn arithmetic first. She then wanted to do the music project afterwards.

The emergence of the group of two

Already in the letter project it was important for me to bring Edith and Lotte (5;10) closer together. On the one hand, they are two very different children, with different interests and caregivers, on the other hand, both are very high achievers and both lack a confidant at this level, a friend with whom they can exchange ideas. In addition, it has turned out that both of them will attend school and our after-school care centre together next summer. So it would probably do them both good to have an „ally“.

…in brief …

Edith (5;4) is a very studious child, also when it comes to dealing with numbers. Her kindergarten teacher works out mathematical knowledge with her and another girl in a flexible way.
This shows that both children are highly motivated.

And it becomes clear that even with two children who are both very advanced, individual differentiation still makes sense.

Most of the time, educators do not have the time for such intensive support processes, but the report makes it clear that a lot can be achieved in just a few hours, not only for the children’s knowledge and skills, but also for their personality development.

In the letter project, there were situations in which Lotte and Edith continued to work without the other children. I also noticed their similar reading levels. The cooperation in the letter project was not yet enough to build up a friendship. Before the our new project began, I said to Edith, to whom I had promised this project, „I would like Lotte to join in too. Do you agree? If so, we could ask Lotte if she wants to take part“. Edith agreed. The joint discussion with Lotte then revealed that she wanted to take part in the numeracy project.

Project description:

The mathematical area is very large and offers many possibilities. However, I only have 12 days until the report deadline for my IHVO Course due to the current staff holiday / illness situation in our kindergarten. Therefore, I can only cover a small area for now. However, I hope to be able to continue working on the project with the children beyond the deadline as long as they are interested. For the time being, I have to find out how far Edith and Lotte have come and what they are particularly interested in. I hope that this will result in good support for them.

As with the letter project, I have designed the so-called red thread. Here, too, the children themselves should design / decide the concrete course of the project – according to their interests and wishes. I can imagine this being very productive with these two children.

The contents of the project chosen by me in advance are:

Counting, naming / recognising numbers (reading), whereby the number range is determined by the children,
Writing numbers. Possibly learning to read and write word numbers through the children’s strength of being able to read. Assign numbers to corresponding quantities.

Types of arithmetic:
Plus, minus, possibly division and multiplication tasks.

Measuring objects, lengths, widths;
Units of measurement: Millimetres, centimetres and metres.
Measuring instruments: ruler, folding rule, tape measure.

Weight units: Gram and kilogram

Arithmetic devices:
Children’s calculator (with balls in 10s mode / abacus), arithmetic chain (self-created in 10s mode), calculator, cash register calculator that prints receipts.

Place value of numbers:
Classify units, tens and possibly hundreds.

The two project children themselves should decide on the exact course of the project, the contents and the duration of the project.

First offer

Objective: Make the selection for the first topic content.

Materials available: scales, metre measure, a game with numbers / quantities,
an apple divided into four parts, an apple divided into two parts, a knife.

We had a conversation about counting and numbers. Then we looked at the numbers game together. It consists of wooden cuboids in different sizes, each size corresponds to a certain amount. On each cuboid is the corresponding number in the form of the English word, for example „seven“ for the number 7. In addition, the number is represented on the cuboids by a corresponding number of lines.
The cuboids fit together in a wooden box, in a row always resulting in the number 10. Different combinations are possible.

The children worked out this system of the game and the statement of the individual cuboids.
Then we talked about the scales and the metre-measure, about their meaning and their possible uses, and the children tried them out.

Using the apples, we worked on the arithmetic operations: plus, minus and divide.

Finally, the children had to decide what they wanted to start the project with. The result was that they both agreed to measure with a metre-measure at the next meeting.

Duration: about 30 minutes. The kindergarten did not give me more time.

Observations during the offer:
Edith was disappointed about the early end, although I had announced it in advance.

Both children complemented each other in their knowledge. Edith immediately combined different plus and minus tasks with the apples. Lotte understood the division tasks faster than Edith.

Both children treated each other considerately and respectfully.

They both found the metre measure and its technique of unfolding and folding very exciting. They appeared very motivated for the next meeting.

Second offer:

Objective setting:
To get to know and use different measuring instruments, to get to know and use units of measurement.

Both were given a workbook in A4 format. They proudly labelled it with their name.

Part 1
Looking at the measuring instruments together and trying them out briefly.
They named the rows of numbers on the ruler. I know that both children can count very far – with a few gaps. Now I want to know if they can also read numbers in the 10 range in order to be able to use a measuring instrument at all. It turns out that they already can.
To deepen and extend their skills, they write the number sequences from 1-10 and from 10-20 in their notebooks, using a ruler that reaches 30 cm.

As asked to do so, they write 30, 40 and 50 under the 20. In this way, they can complete the number sequences outside of what we offer, and they have both done so.

Part 2
Using the ruler, they learn about the units of measurement millimetre and centimetre – as well as their spelling abbreviations MM and CM. I chose capital letters because they are more familiar to them.
In their notebooks they recorded the new information: 10 MM = 1 CM.

Part 3
Each of them measured small objects found in the room with the ruler.

Whoever wanted to, should write down the measurement results in the notebook. Edith did it.

Then the two of them measured large objects and distances together with the metre-measure or the tape measure, depending on their choice.

Duration up to this point: 1 hour and 15 minutes.

When Edith signs up for more activities, Lotte withdraws from the offering saying, „I can’t do it anymore“.

Observations during the offer:
Lotte tired of the theoretical part very quickly. But when it came to the practical part, she was very fit and motivated again. Edith was full of power all the time.

The teamwork of the two was very nice. Large distances that they could not measure alone, they measured together in agreement and with good arrangements. Alternately, one recorded the beginning of the measurement and the other read off the result. The wishes of the others were taken into account.

Continuation of the offer with Edith:
She wants to work with the children’s calculating machine.

Edith pushes the arithmetic balls together (in the 10s range) to form her own plus tasks, names them aloud and calculates them.

She does the same with minus tasks.

Duration of the follow-up offer: 20 minutes, total duration for Edith: 1 hour 35 minutes.

Observations during the supplementary offer:

She was still very concentrated and highly motivated and showed no signs of tiredness. At the beginning of the arithmetic exercises, she still counted each ball with her finger. After my suggestion to try it without counting, she first obviously counted with her eyes without using her fingers. Later, she also named smaller quantities without counting. My tip to use the colour gradation of the balls in steps of 5 and to continue counting only after 5 was partially implemented by her.

While she was working, she discovered the game „Rummikub“ (a number game) on the games shelf (recommended for ages 8 and up) and would have liked to have it explained to her right away. Unfortunately, this was no longer possible for organisational reasons. I promised her it for the next day.

Third offer:

Deepening of measuring and / or introduction of the game of Rummikub.  Extension by recording what has been measured.
Material per child: 1 ruler, pencil, scissors, glue, graph paper.

When I asked the children if they would like to measure objects first or if they would rather play the Rummikub game, they unanimously answered: „Measure!

Part 1
Review of the previous day. We look back at what we have written so far in the booklet. We look at the graph paper and trace the boxes using the ruler.

Part 2
Task: Measure smaller objects of one’s own choice found in the room with the ruler. Draw the object on graph paper using the measurement results. Write the length and width of the object on the corresponding sides.

They drew two objects like this with my help. Since the task seemed a bit too difficult, the next task was:

Part 3
Draw lines and write their length next to them. I made some initial length guidelines:
10 cm, 5 cm, 8 cm, 15 cm, then their own choice. They both approached the task with great motivation.

Part 4
Cut out the drawings and stick them in the notebook. They have to think about the best way to do it. Both want to cut out each drawing individually.

Duration: 1 hour with me present, and 30 minutes without me for kindergarten  organisational reasons.

Observations during the offer:

Both girls were highly motivated and full of joy. Lotte worked very quickly and independently. Edith was slower and more insecure. Her ruler slipped more often and she had difficulties putting the 0 at the beginning of the line correctly. However, she did not seem to be frustrated by this. She confidently decided to cut out her drawings one by one, using the wave and pinking shears, where it is more difficult not to cut something off by mistake.

Lotte asked Edith if it worked well with the wave scissors, but then decided to use the normal scissors.

One difficulty arose: Because the children chose the objects to be measured themselves, the measurements resulted in decimal numbers. I explained to them that counting the remaining small millimetre lines would result in a number after a decimal point. But then they needed help again and again.

Fourth offer:

Goal setting:
The previous day we had set for this day: the introduction of the Rummikub game.
(By the way, the game is very easy to make out of cardboard).

The game consists of number tiles from 1 to 13, each number row is available in 4 colours and twice. There are also 2 jokers. It is played similarly to the Rommee card game.

Part 1
Each person chooses a colour and lays out the number line from 1 to 13. To help them, they were both given a ruler on which they could trace the number line and also check that it was correct.

They then did the same again with a second colour to become more confident.

Part 2
They put the same numbers in different colours together.

Part 3
I explain the use of jokers and the rule: There must always be at least 3 tiles next to each other.

Part 4
Start of the game: Each player takes 14 tiles, sorts them by colour and puts them in a number sequence. The winner is the first to get rid of all the tiles.
The player whose turn it is can lay out 3 matching tiles, i.e. either three consecutive numbers in the same colour (for example: 7, 8, 9) or one and the same number in three colours (for example 5 in blue, red and yellow).
In addition, whoever’s turn it is can put on all the tiles that match the rows of numbers that have already been laid out.
During the game, I could see the number tiles of both children and give them impulses accordingly.

I was then able to add a few levels of difficulty:
1. you can steal a number from a group (for your own use),
2. you are allowed to move rows of numbers apart to create your own, already existing numbers,
3. you can use a joker.

Duration: approx. 1 hour

Observations during the offer:

Both were very concentrated. Lotte was very quick and confident with the numbers up to 13. She did not make any mistakes when putting the numbers together. Edith was confident up to 10, above which she had difficulties. Looking at the numbers on the ruler helped her to correct it. So did repeated counting. Her difficulty was in recognising the numbers above 10. She worked more slowly and very deliberately and concentrated.

My question whether I could still explain something difficult to them (see the 3 extensions listed above) made them both excited and proud and they listened very motivated. The difficulties that were still built in were better understood and implemented by Lotte than by Edith. Edith understood the connections but needed a little more time than Lotte.

Fifth offer:

Objective setting:
Deepening the game Rummikub to give the children the opportunity to play it independently later on. Deepening the handling of ruler and metre in order to gain more confidence with it.

There was a weekend between the last offer and this one.
Both children had decided on the content of the fourth offer. However, I had the feeling that Edith was not quite as keen to repeat the Rummikub game.

Now it looked like this: Edith wanted to measure objects, Lotte wanted to play Rummikub. Her mother also plays the game and at the weekend Lotte could join in, she said proudly.
Edith and Lotte agreed to do some measurements first and then play Rummikub.

Part 1
At first, both of them were very motivated to try to measure huge distances, but then they noticed their technical and physical limits.

As their independent action was important to me and we already had time limits again, they accepted my tip to opt for smaller objects. They then wanted to draw these on graph paper again.

The decimal points again posed a problem. In addition, both of them lacked a certain spatial imagination, as they had in the first drawings. They had difficulty drawing the rectangle that lay before them. The longitudinal line was the first step and not a problem. But transferring the width in the right place overwhelmed them. They both then switched to using the rectangle as a template and simply drawing around it.
So they found a solution to their problem themselves.

Part 2
Rummikub. They both wanted me to play along.

Lotte made sure that Edith did not see her number tiles. We played the game like last time. I gave both girls impulses and suggestions when they couldn’t come up with solutions on their own. Lotte won and then supported Edith in the game against me.

Duration: 1 hour

Observations during the offer:

Lotte had more „insight“, also because she had already played the game at home. She  saw more possibilities of placing tiles than Edith and she recognized them faster. Edith had already noticed her own difficulties during the first game and was therefore not so enthusiastic about playing it again. She has a high demand on herself and doesn’t seem to like it when others can do something better than her.

In the course of the game, however, she gained confidence. With the help of my suggestions, she made appropriate moves – and she put it away very well that Lotte won, with the prospect of still being able to beat me. We then had to end the game before the second winner was determined. The game demanded a lot of concentration from both of them.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, they enjoyed it.

Sixth offer:

At the end of the last meeting, they both expressed the wish: to write arithmetic problems in the notebook.

To write and use the arithmetic signs + (plus) and = (equal), and possibly – (minus) correctly.
Solve small arithmetic problems.

Part 1
To get into the mood: Both count in turn. They both manage to count up to 39 without any mistakes. After that, little help is enough to make them count even more.

Part 2
With the help of the wooden cuboids, the children do the arithmetic problems, calculate or count the solutions and write the problems with the solutions in their notebooks:
1+1=2   2+2=4   3+3=6   4+4=8.

In addition to the wooden cuboid game, both children use their fingers to count. Lotte holds out her fingers, Edith counts.

This is where an important phone call comes in for me. They continue to work independently, laying and counting.
Lotte: 1 +2=3, Edith: 2+5=6, then improves it herself.

Part 3
Edith brought a book with number pictures to the kindergarten. (With a pencil, you have to connect the numbers from 1 up to the largest number und then you can see the whole picture.) They both want to do this. Each of them choose a picture, they both decide then on the same picture and I make them a slightly enlarged copy.

The series of numbers goes from 1 to 54 and results in a vampire picture. Lotte gets to 18 on her own and then asks for my help. Edith makes it to 28 on her own.
She complains of a sore throat and her nose is running. Nevertheless, they both want to play the Pharaoh game they discovered on the shelf. (The game is called „Der zerstreute Pharao“ 〈“The Absentminded Pharaoh“〉, it is recommended for the kids from 7 to 16 years.)

Part 4
The game goes like this: Small pyramids cover up motif cards and cards without motifs. Cards that you have to draw tell you the motif you have to find under the pyramids. By moving the pyramids, you have to find the motif you are looking for without uncovering other motifs. So you have to remember both the places where the motifs are and the places where there are no motifs. There are also variations, for example, you can turn the game around 180 degrees. Lotte and Edith already know the game.

They need help where the increases in difficulty begin, as these are difficult to read from the cards.

At the end of the game, Lotte has 14 cards and 22 points, Edith has 10 cards and 18 points.

At the end, I wanted to calculate the score together with them using the calculator (abacus) and suggested that they write this calculation in their notebooks. Lotte did this. Edith didn’t want to. It must have been the flu.

Duration: 2 hours

Observations during the offer:

It was noticeable that Lotte held out for so long. Both were very nice to each other again. Lotte was allowed to draw in Edith’s notebook. Both were fully concentrated and motivated. Writing down the arithmetic problems in the notebook was a lot of work for them. Some of the numbers were written reversed. They also had to learn how to place the arithmetic signs, which was more „new territory“ for Edith than for Lotte, who has a sister in the third year of school.
The number picture was a good relaxation afterwards. I could tell that Edith was coming down with a cold. She was not quite as concentrated as usual and made untypical careless mistakes. Nevertheless, she also wanted to play the Pharaoh game until the end. The two of them spent the rest of the morning alone in the popular gym room, almost forgetting to eat. Edith then spent the afternoon asleep in the kindergarten.

Seventh offer:

Goal setting:
Short repetition of plus tasks (deepening), introduction of minus tasks (whether with or without writing them down depends on the children’s wishes).

Introduction of easy division tasks. Independent creation of a number picture.

Part 1
Short review of the last joint activity, which took place 6 days ago (weekend and staff shortage again). With the help of the calculator / calculating board, both children had to place and name a minus task with the beads one after the other. Help was needed to make this possible.

Both children were familiar with plus tasks, but they did not know much about minus tasks at first, although I had already done this with Edith during the second offer.

Edith then placed 3 beads, took 1 away, and 2 remained. The arithmetic task was to be named: 3 -1=2.
With the help of the cuboid numbers game, this could also be done. However, neither of them wanted to write it down in their notebooks.
To make it easier for them, they had to calculate the next tasks with the help of felt pens.
Lotte calculated: 2-1=1.
Edith: 5-3=2, Lotte 4-1=3, Edith again 8-4=4, Lotte didn’t want any more. So we continued with:

Part 2
Trying to make the children understand division tasks. First I tried it with the help of the felt pens.

I have eight pens and one girl. How many pens can I give her? The answer was immediately clear to Lotte, Edith still hesitated.

I have eight pens and would like to distribute them fairly to two children. How many does each child get?
I have eight pencils and would like to give four children the same number of pencils. How many does each child get?

With Lotte it somehow clicked. For Edith, I made it obvious again: we assigned places to the four children and distributed the pencils to each place in turn. That way it became clear.

In order not to let it get boring, now there must be a cake. Each of them had to paint a big round cake.

„Now, if two guests come to visit, how can you distribute the cake so that everyone gets the same amount?“ Easy for both girls! The cake was „cut“ in the middle with a line.

„Now, if 4 guests come to visit, how can you distribute the cake so that everyone gets the same amount?“ Lotte immediately draws the second centre line through the cake. Edith ponders longer, looking at her cake.

Then 8 guests!
Lotte draws the corresponding diagonal lines, also in the right place. The cake pieces are almost the same size this way. Edith draws them too, although she can also draw from Lotte. To illustrate the cake pieces, they should use different colours for the lines and number the eight pieces.

Lotte managed 16 pieces of cake well. With Edith, the lines went over each other, resulting in very small uneven pieces.

Writing down these division tasks, they both did not want to learn that – at least not at that time. But they announced very motivatedly that they wanted to paint the cake: with strawberries and chocolate …

Before that, we shared a square cake. As with the round cake, Edith first drew the vertical and horizontal lines. Then, to get 8 parts, the diagonals. Lotte, on the other hand, drew the diagonals first and divided them again later – but in such a way that unequal pieces were created. I think the task with the same size was not so clear to her. But you can only see the result when the lines are already on the paper, maybe she wanted to try something out.

Part 3
After the wonderful colouring of the cake, I asked them if we should stop.

They didn’t want to stop!

I made a new worksheet for Edith. It contained – written from top to bottom – the numbers from 1 to 10 written as a number and next to it the corresponding number words.
Edith read the numbers to me first, but she „cheated“ and didn’t read the number word, but the number. I then wrote down five more number words for her – not in order and not with the number next to it. She then read them to me and enthusiastically started copying them. Very carefully and accurately!

In the meantime, Lotte very motivatedly drew a fruit skewer (this was Lotte’s own idea), which is ideal for three children to share. Then she also drew a vegetable skewer. After that, she wanted the same worksheets as Edith. While Lotte then read the numbers and copied them down, Edith then drew skewers. Lotte copied the numbers very quickly and did not pay attention to the size of the letters or to writing straight (unlike Edith).

Duration: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Observations during the offer:

The two children were not only very nice to each other, but a funny atmosphere developed in between, where both of them really „fraternised“ against me. It was also noticeable that Lotte did not find an end this time either, although she seemed quite tired at first, during the minus tasks. The fact that Lotte is usually quicker with her answers or with her work doesn’t seem to bother Edith. I think each child was able to profit from the other and learn something.

Somehow we didn’t get around to making a number picture ourselves. They both understood the task of sharing well.

Read also: Basic Ideas of Mathematics.

Final thoughts

About the project:

The content of the project was very well chosen for both children and is far from being  exhausted. Both of them were always happy when I collected them in the morning, even though they then, so that we had enough time, could not take part in the „morning circle“. Unfortunately, due to a lack of staff, I often had to stop the activities earlier than it would have been suitable for the children. This was especially true for Edith, who never really wanted to stop.

I tried to explain it to the children in a way they could understand and I think I succeeded. During the sessions, both children were very friendly and respectful with each other. They gave each other tips and help and were very patient with each other. (Lotte, for example, had to wait more often when Edith was not yet finished because of her thoroughness and accuracy).
Neither grumbled or complained about the other. They clearly enjoyed their privilege of doing these offerings together with me alone.

I hope that I will be able to continue this project with them. Apart from the great knowledge potential of the two, which needs to be fostered, and apart from Edith’s huge intrinsic motivation, this is also the best way to enable the two to become friends. Apart from the situation in the gym, where the two of them played alone for a very long time, I don’t know of any other situation where they played together intensively. They both have their own play partners. But the project is really only at the beginning, and I believe that there is still a lot that can develop.

At least they will be able to draw on their shared experiences when they both attend the same school class and experience going to school together.

To Edith (my „observation child“ in the IHVO Course):

Edith’s intrinsic motivation is also huge when it comes to arithmetic. However, she seems to be even more interested in language. It was good for me to have Lotte there for comparison. Lotte is known as an intelligent child – but will soon be 6 years old and has a sister in third grade. Edith is only 5;4 years old, she is an only child, both parents work and she is usually picked up very late from kindergarten.

When I look at all this together, I think that Edith is certainly far more gifted than average and needs appropriate support.


Six years later, contact between Edith and Lotte still continues and is supported by the parents. Edith has since been tested, showing high intelligence in the language area.

Read more about Edith:

Project „Letters“ – Activity for Small Groups 


Date of publication in German: September 2012
Copyright © Lucy Rüttgers, see Imprint.

Felix (5;1) Discovers the Numbers and Is Thrilled

by Kornelia Thul


In a conversation with Felix (5;1) I want to find out if he can already do arithmetic and if so, if he can explain to me what it is. He thinks for a moment and says that he can already do arithmetic, which he immediately proves to me by explaining that 2+2=4 and 3+3=6. He explains to me that you need numbers to calculate and that there are lots of them, up to infinity.

I now ask him to write down the problem 2+2=4. He knows the numbers, but the symbols of the problem are still unknown to him.
Now I ask him to write down the numbers from 1 to 10 on the sheet, and I also write these numbers on a sheet. Felix is now supposed to compare his and my numbers with each other. He quickly notices that some of his numbers look different, which is true because he wrote them down mirror-inverted. He also thinks that my numbers look much neater.
Felix wants to learn more about the numbers, he wants to learn how to write them correctly and nicely. I suggest that I write the numbers in his notebook and indicate the direction of writing with arrows. Felix now writes all the numbers from 1 to 10 once more.

Afterwards we look at our written numbers again and I ask him if he can write down the next numbers after 10. He still knows 11 and 12 and writes them on his sheet.

I ask him to look at the numbers again and tell me his observations. Felix can’t discover anything new and I tell him to take a closer look at 11 and 12 to see which numbers they are made up of. Now Felix can tell me immediately that these numbers are made up of 1 and 1 again or 1 and 2.

Now I write the following numbers up to 20 on my piece of paper so that Felix can tell me what they are made of. Then Felix is challenged to dictate numbers to me, which I write down. He really enjoys this and his numbers get longer and longer. But each of the numbers consists of the numbers we wrote on our slips of paper at the beginning.

Felix is fascinated, suddenly he says that with the 10, the 1 was already on the piece of paper, but the 0 wasn’t yet. He answers my question about the value of the 0 with „nothing at all“. Now he is asked to place the 0 in our written sequence of numbers, he immediately puts it at the beginning before the 1.

Now I explain to him that all the other numbers, no matter how long they are, can be made from the numbers 0 to 9. We look again at the numbers he dictated and Felix is impressed.

Next, Felix is asked to go in search of numbers in the group room. Many things quickly accumulate: Clock, games, number cubes, tape measure, thermometer, ruler….
Now I want him to tell me whether numbers can be represented in other ways, and if so, how. Again the search starts in the group room, Felix finds a dots cube. Felix: „The dots show the numbers.“ That’s all he can find in the group.

Felix should think about whether there are other ways of representing the numbers, but which clearly show which number is meant. A little „finger pointing“ from me helps him along, he shows me the numbers with his fingers. Now we have already gathered three different ways of representing numbers, I ask him to look everywhere for more possibilities (in the outside area of the kindergarten; on the way home; at home).

The next morning, Felix brings me a sheet with lines on it. He explains to me that his friend Carlo has a book about the Stone Age, in which there are cave paintings. On them, Stone Age people drew animals, for example gazelles or deer, and made lines behind them. Carlo explained to him that this shows how many animals a Stone Age hunter killed; the one with the most strokes was the best hunter and had a high position in his tribe.

So the strokes
become the fourth type of representation.

But Felix saw something really funny on the way to kindergarten: „There was a sign on a house where the house numbers are.“

I ask him to draw the sign for me. An IX appears on the paper. Felix has no idea what it means, but he has already heard of the Romans. He knows that there is a city called Rome, which is in Italy, where his father’s parents live. The Romans came from there about 2000 years ago and were also in Cologne, where there is still a Roman museum.

I explain to him that his observation is about a Roman number, namely 9. The ancient Romans didn’t have any extra signs for numbers, they simply used letters to form numbers.

I wrote down the other Roman numerals up to X (10) for Felix.

So all in all, he has found
five ways of representing numbers.

Felix wants to know if our numbers are called German numbers because we use them in Germany.

I explain to him: „These numbers are called Arabic numerals, but they actually originated in India and then came to our region via Arabia about 1000 years ago. So today we mainly use the Arabic numbers, but the Roman numbers are still in use, as you can see from the house number IX.“

You can get Felix so enthusiastic about something with little effort that he keeps working on it and involves the people in his social environment to come to new conclusions.

He is not immediately satisfied with what he has achieved, but remains attentive and open to the task at hand.

But what now should be done with the collected observations?

I suggested to Felix to create something for the group, maybe a number wall with the different ways of representing numbers. Felix agreed, but wanted to work alone with me and then give it to all the children and adults in the group.

The number wall is created

For the number wall we needed cardboard in DinA6 format. Felix wants to write Arabic and Roman numerals, paint on the cube numbers, make the line numbers out of paper – and I should photograph the finger numbers. We get pens, paper, craft scissors, pencil and ruler as well as a nice cloth as a background for the finger number photos.

Felix starts with the Roman numerals. He asks me to help him with the preliminary drawing, as he wants the numbers to be large and clear so that the other children can see them easily. He now paints the numbers with great dedication.

Now the Arabic numbers follow, which Felix can draw on his own and then colour in. While he paints, I set him small addition tasks, first in the tens space, then up to 20. He enjoys it and quickly learns to master the 10 hurdle in arithmetic. I explain to him how to subtract, and up to 10 he can quickly solve the tasks set.

He enjoys doing mental arithmetic so much,
that he comes to me again and again
to do his arithmetic.

The cube numbers are a problem for Felix: if he just draws a square, you can’t tell that it’s supposed to be a cube.
We look at a large cube together, talk about faces, edges and corners. Felix notices that you always see more than one face of the cube; he doesn’t know how to draw that. I draw a cube with pencil and ruler that Felix likes. He wants the cubes for the number wall to look the same.

I get some graph paper so Felix can mark the corners of the cubes exactly before we connect them together with the help of the ruler. He learns that you have to work very precisely so that the edge lines are really straight. When he finally looks at the result, Felix notices that the pencil lines are not very easy to see and he draws them on his own with a felt-tip pen and ruler. In the process, he realises how difficult it is to trace the lines exactly. Again and again the ruler slips and he is a bit disappointed because the cubes don’t have straight edges. I can console him a little with the explanation that the dots on the cubes are more important for our number wall.

Taking photos of the finger numbers is quite quick. We look at the individual photos and then I run through them quickly. Felix can’t stop laughing, he finds the quick run-through so funny, with his individual fingers appearing quickly or disappearing on the return run.

Now it’s the turn of the „line numbers“. Felix cuts strips out of clay paper and sticks them onto the cards according to the respective number. He chooses a different colour for each number because it looks nicer, according to Felix.

The width of the strip should be 1 cm and the strip should be 9 cm long so that there is still a margin at the top and bottom of the 10 cm wide cardboard. We measure the strips together with a ruler and pencil and draw them on. Felix then cuts them out and glues them on. He takes great care that the strips are straight and in a line next to each other. When he glues on the strips for the number four, he ponders for a moment and finally says: „With the big numbers, we have to cut the strips thinner because otherwise they wouldn’t fit on the cardboard, which would then be too small.“ To explain, he takes a strip already cut out for the five and adds it to the four. The whole cardboard is now full, there are no more edges on the left and right. I am amazed that he has recognised this so early and immediately offers the solution, namely „thinner“ strips.
We paint on thinner strips – and it works, even the number ten has enough space on the cardboard thanks to Felix’s attention.

Now that all the rows of numbers are finished, we think together about where the number wall should find its final place. This is not so easy because we are currently redesigning our group room. Felix has an idea: „We can put it above the clock, there are numbers on the clock too.“ But he realises that there wouldn’t be enough space where the clock is hanging now.

As an alternative, he suggests: „We could hang it up in the painting studio (next room), then the children could always look at how the numbers are written correctly.“

In the painting studio we have attached a picture line on which the children can hang their pictures with clothes pegs. Felix thinks it’s funny because it looks like laundry and he also wants to hang the rows of numbers on the line.
Since the wall is still to be painted, we have to wait a little longer before finally placing the number wall.

But since I don’t think Felix’s idea of the clock is bad either, I suggest that we ask our kindergarten director, Mr M., if he can get us a clock for the number wall. Felix goes straight away to clarify the matter and Mr M. comes to the group together with Felix to get an idea. Felix shows and explains everything to him in detail and also says that the number wall would be even nicer with a clock, and waits anxiously for the answer. Mr M. promises that he will buy a clock for Felix’s wall after the holidays. Felix is visibly happy that he will soon be able to surprise the other children with his gift to the group.
It is amazing how self-confident Felix has become. A few months ago, he certainly wouldn’t have gone to Mr M. on his own to clarify the matter of the clock.


Date of publication in German: November 21
Copyright © Hanna Vock

Translated with (free version)

Felix (5;1) entdeckt die Zahlen und ist begeistert

von Kornelia Thul


In einem Gespräch mit Felix (5;1) möchte ich heraus finden, ob er schon rechnen kann und wenn ja, ob er mir erklären kann, was das ist. Er überlegt kurz und sagt, dass er schon rechnen kann, was er mir sofort beweist, indem er erklärt, dass 2+2=4 und 3+3=6 ist. Er erklärt mir, dass man zum Rechnen Zahlen braucht und dass es davon ganz viele gibt, bis unendlich.

Ich bitte ihn nun, die Aufgabe 2+2=4 aufzuschreiben. Die Zahlen kennt er, die Symbole der Rechenaufgabe sind ihm noch unbekannt.
Nun bitte ich ihn, die Zahlen von 1 bis 10 auf dem Blatt zu notieren, und auch ich schreibe diese Zahlen auf ein Blatt. Felix soll nun die Zahlen miteinander vergleichen. Schnell fällt ihm auf, dass manche seiner Zahlen anders aussehen, was stimmt, da er sie spiegelverkehrt notiert hat. Außerdem findet er, dass meine Zahlen viel ordentlicher aussehen.
Felix möchte mehr über die Zahlen erfahren, er möchte lernen, sie richtig und schön zu schreiben. Ich schlage vor, ihm die Zahlen ins Heft zu schreiben und durch Pfeile die Schreibrichtung anzugeben. Felix schreibt nun alle Zahlen von 1 bis 10 nach.

Danach betrachten wir unsere aufgeschriebenen Zahlen noch mal und ich frage ihn, ob er auch noch die nächsten Zahlen nach der 10 aufschreiben kann. Er kennt noch die 11 und die 12 und schreibt sie auf sein Blatt.
Ich bitte ihn nun noch mal, sich die Zahlen gut anzusehen und mir seine Beobachtungen mitzuteilen. Felix kann nichts Neues entdecken und ich weise ihn darauf hin, sich die 11 und die 12 mal genauer anzuschauen, aus welchen Zahlen sie zusammengesetzt sind. Jetzt kann Felix mir sofort sagen, dass diese Zahlen aus 1 und noch mal 1 oder aus 1 und 2 zusammengesetzt sind.

Nun schreibe ich noch die folgenden Zahlen bis 20 auf meinen Zettel, damit Felix auch diese nach ihrer Zusammensetzung bestimmen kann. Anschließend darf Felix mir irgendwelche Zahlen diktieren, die ich aufschreibe. Das macht ihm sehr viel Spaß und seine Zahlen werden immer länger und länger. Doch jede der Zahlen besteht aus den Zahlen, die wir zu Beginn auf unsere Zettel geschrieben haben.

Felix ist fasziniert, plötzlich sagt er, dass bei der 10 die 1 schon auf dem Zettel stand, die 0 aber noch gar nicht. Die Frage nach dem Wert der 0 beantwortet Felix mit „gar nichts“. Nun soll er die 0 einordnen in unsere aufgeschriebene Zahlenfolge, er setzt sie sofort an den Anfang vor die 1.

Nun erkläre ich ihm, dass aus diesen Zahlen von 0 bis 9 alle anderen Zahlen gemacht werden können, egal wie lang sie sind. Wir schauen uns noch mal die Zahlen an, die er diktiert hat, und Felix ist beeindruckt.

Als nächstes soll Felix im Gruppenraum auf die Suche nach Zahlen gehen. Es sammeln sich schnell viele Dinge an: Uhr, Spiele, Zahlenwürfel, Maßband, Thermometer, Lineal…
Nun möchte ich von ihm wissen, ob man Zahlen auch noch anders darstellen kann, und wenn ja wie. Wieder geht die Suche im Gruppenraum los, Felix findet einen Punktewürfel. Felix: „Die Punkte zeigen die Zahlen an.“ Mehr kann er in der Gruppe nicht finden.

Felix soll überlegen, ob es noch andere Darstellungsarten gibt, die aber deutlich zeigen, welche Zahl gemeint ist. Ein kleiner „Fingerzeig“ von mir hilft ihm weiter, er zeigt mir die Zahlen mit seinen Fingern an. Jetzt haben wir schon drei verschiedene Möglichkeiten zur Darstellung von Zahlen zusammengetragen, ich bitte ihn, überall nach weiteren Möglichkeiten zu suchen (im Außengelände des Kindergartens; auf dem Heimweg; zu Hause).

Am nächsten Morgen bringt mir Felix ein Blatt mit, auf dem Striche sind. Er erklärt mir, dass sein Freund Carlo ein Buch von der Steinzeit hat, in dem es Höhlenmalereien gibt. Darauf haben Steinzeitmenschen Tiere, zum Beispiel Gazellen oder Hirsche, gemalt und dahinter Striche gezeichnet. Carlo hat ihm erklärt, dass das zeigt, wie viele Tiere ein Steinzeitjäger getötet hat; der mit den meisten Strichen war der beste Jäger und hatte eine hohe Stellung in seinem Stamm.

So werden die Striche also
zur 4. Darstellungsart.

Doch Felix hat auf dem Weg in den Kindergarten noch etwas ganz Komisches gesehen: „An einem Haus, da wo die Hausnummern sind, da hatten die ein Zeichen.“

Ich bitte ihn, mir das Zeichen aufzumalen. Auf dem Blatt erscheint ein IX, Felix hat keine Idee, was das bedeuten könnte; von den Römern hat er aber schon gehört. Er weiß, dass es die Stadt Rom gibt, die in Italien ist, wo die Eltern seines Vaters leben. Die Römer kamen vor etwa 2000 Jahren von da und waren auch in Köln, wo es noch ein Römermuseum gibt.

Ich erkläre ihm, dass es bei seiner Beobachtung um eine römische Zahl, und zwar die 9, handelt. Die Alten Römer hatten gar keine extra Zeichen für Zahlen, sie benutzten einfach Buchstaben, um Zahlen zu bilden.

Ich habe Felix die anderen römischen Zahlen bis X (10) aufgeschrieben.

Insgesamt hat er also fünf Formen der Zahlendarstellung gefunden.

Felix will wissen, ob unsere Zahlen deutsche Zahlen heißen, weil wir in Deutschland damit rechnen. Ich erkläre ihm, dass man diese Zahlen arabische Zahlen nennt, sie aber eigentlich in Indien entstanden sind und dann vor etwa 1000 Jahren über Arabien in unsere Gegend kamen. Heute benutzen wir also hautsächlich die arabischen Zahlen, aber die römischen Zahlen sind auch noch gebräuchlich, wie du an der Hausnummer IX siehst.

Man kann Felix mit wenig Aufwand so für eine Sache begeistern, dass er immer weiter daran arbeitet und die Menschen in seinem sozialen Umfeld mit einbezieht, um zu neuen Erkenntnissen zu kommen.

Er gibt sich nicht gleich mit dem Erreichten zufrieden, sondern bleibt aufmerksam und offen für die gestellte Aufgabe.

Was sollte aber nun mit den gesammelten Beobachtungen geschehen?

Ich schlug Felix vor, etwas für die Gruppe zu gestalten, vielleicht eine Zahlenwand mit den unterschiedlichen Darstellungsmöglichkeiten von Zahlen. Felix war einverstanden, wollte aber alleine mit mir arbeiten, um es dann allen Kindern und Erwachsenen der Gruppe zu schenken.

Die Zahlenwand entsteht

Für die Zahlenwand brauchten wir Pappe im Format DinA6. Felix möchte arabische und römische Zahlen schreiben, die Würfelzahlen aufmalen, die Strichzahlen aus Papier machen – und die Fingerzahlen soll ich fotografieren. Wir besorgen Stifte, Papier, Bastelschere, Bleistift und Lineal sowie ein schönes Tuch als Hintergrund für die Fingerzahlenfotos.

Felix beginnt mit den römischen Zahlen. Beim Vorzeichnen bittet er mich um Hilfe, da die Zahlen groß und deutlich werden sollen, damit die anderen Kinder sie gut sehen können. Mit viel Hingabe malt er nun die Zahlen aus.

Nun folgen die arabischen Zahlen, die kann Felix alleine vorzeichnen, um sie dann auszumalen. Während er malt, stelle ich ihm kleine Additionsaufgaben, zunächst im Zehnerraum, dann bis zur 20. Es macht ihm Spaß und er lernt schnell, die 10er-Hürde beim Rechnen zu meistern. Ich erkläre ihm, wie man subtrahiert, und bis zur 10 kann er die gestellten Aufgaben schnell lösen.

Das Kopfrechnen macht ihm so viel Spaß,
dass er auch im Außengelände immer wieder zu mir kommt, um zu rechnen.

Die Würfelzahlen sind ein Problem für Felix: Malt er nur ein Quadrat, so kann man nicht erkennen, dass das ein Würfel sein soll.
Wir schauen uns gemeinsam einen großen Würfel an, sprechen über Flächen, Kanten und Ecken. Felix stellt fest, dass man immer mehr als eine Fläche vom Würfel sieht; wie er das abzeichnen kann, weiß er nicht. Ich zeichne mit Bleistift und Lineal einen Würfel, der Felix gefällt. Er möchte, dass die Würfel für die Zahlenwand genauso aussehen.

Ich besorge Millimeterpapier, so kann Felix die Eckpunkte der Würfel genau markieren, bevor wir sie dann zusammen mit Hilfe des Lineals verbinden. Dabei lernt er, dass man sehr genau arbeiten muss, damit die Kantenlinien wirklich gerade werden. Bei abschließender Betrachtung des Ergebnisses fällt Felix auf, dass die Bleistiftlinien nicht sehr gut zu sehen sind, und er malt sie mit Filzstift und Lineal alleine nach. Dabei wird ihm klar, wie schwer es ist, die Linien exakt nachzuzeichnen. Immer wieder verrutscht das Lineal, und er ist ein bisschen enttäuscht, da die Würfel keine geraden Kanten haben. Ich kann ihn ein wenig trösten mit der Erklärung, dass für unsere Zahlenwand die Punkte auf den Würfeln wichtiger sind.

Das Fotografieren der Fingerzahlen geht ganz schnell. Wir schauen uns die einzelnen Fotos an und dann lasse ich sie schnell durchlaufen. Felix kann nicht aufhören zu lachen, so witzig findet er den Schnelldurchlauf, bei dem seine einzelnen Finger fix erscheinen oder beim Rücklauf verschwinden.

Nun sind die „Strichzahlen“ an der Reihe. Aus Tonpapier schneidet Felix Streifen aus und klebt sie, dem jeweiligen Zahlenwert entsprechend, auf die Pappkarten. Er sucht für jede Zahl eine andere Farbe aus, weil das schöner aussieht, so Felix.

Die Streifenbreite soll 1cm betragen und der Streifen soll 9 cm lang sein, damit auf der 10 cm breiten Pappkarte oben und unten noch ein Rand ist. Mit Lineal und Bleistift messen wir gemeinsam die Streifen ab und zeichnen sie auf. Felix schneidet sie dann aus und klebt sie auf. Er achtet dabei sehr darauf, dass die Streifen gerade und in einer Linie nebeneinander liegen. Als er so die Streifen für die Zahl Vier aufklebt, grübelt er kurz und sagt schließlich: „Bei den großen Zahlen müssen wir die Streifen dünner schneiden, weil sie sonst nicht auf die Pappe passen, die wäre dann zu klein.“ Zur Erklärung nimmt er einen schon ausgeschnittenen Streifen für die Fünf und legt sie zu der Vier dazu. Die ganze Pappe ist nun voll, es gibt links und rechts keinen Rand mehr. Ich bin erstaunt, dass er das so früh erkannt hat und gleich die Lösung, nämlich „dünnere“ Streifen, anbietet.
Wir malen schmalere Streifen auf – und es klappt, auch die Zahl Zehn hat dank Felix` Aufmerksamkeit genügend Platz auf der Pappe.

Nachdem nun alle Zahlenreihen fertig gestellt sind, überlegen wir gemeinsam, wo die Zahlenwand ihren endgültigen Platz finden soll. Das ist gar nicht so einfach, da wir unseren Gruppenraum gerade umgestalten. Felix hat die Idee: „Wir können sie ja über der Uhr befestigen, auf der Uhr sind ja auch Zahlen.“ Er erkennt aber, dass da, wo die Uhr jetzt hängt, nicht genug Platz wäre.

Alternative schlägt er vor: „Wir könnten sie doch im Malatelier (Nebenraum) aufhängen, dann könnten die Kinder immer nachschauen, wie die Zahlen richtig geschrieben werden.“
Im Malatelier haben wir eine Bilderleine befestigt, an der die Kinder ihre Bilder mit Wäscheklammern aufhängen können. Das findet Felix lustig, weil das wie Wäsche aussieht und er möchte auch die Zahlenreihen an die Leine hängen.
Da die Wand noch angestrichen werden soll, müssen wir mit der endgültigen Platzierung der Zahlenwand noch etwas warten.

Aber da ich Felix´ Idee mit der Uhr auch nicht schlecht finde, mache ich ihm den Vorschlag unseren Kindergartenleiter Herrn M. zu fragen, ob er uns eine Uhr für die Zahlenwand besorgen kann. Felix geht gleich los, um die Sache zu klären, und Herr M. kommt zusammen mit Felix in die Gruppe, um sich ein Bild zu machen. Felix zeigt und erklärt ihm alles ganz genau und sagt auch, dass die Zahlenwand mit Uhr noch viel schöner wäre, und wartet gespannt auf die Antwort. Herr M. verspricht, dass er nach den Ferien eine Uhr für Felix´ Wand einkauft. Felix freut sich sichtlich, dass er die anderen Kinder bald mit seinem Geschenk an die Gruppe überraschen kann.
Es ist erstaunlich, wie selbstsicher Felix geworden ist. Vor ein paar Monaten wäre er sicher nicht alleine zu Herrn M. gegangen, um die Sache mit der Uhr abzuklären.


Datum der Veröffentlichung: November 21
Copyright © Hanna Vock



Alena, 4;1 Years Old

by Claudia Flaig


Alena came to our kindergarten at the age of 2;6. Already on her first day she sent her dad directly home. (The father who works at night looks after her during the day, while the mother works full time during the day).
Alena showed very good language skills and was remarkably interested. She had a comprehensive view of the kindergarten teachers and the children as well as their activities. Since she was quite tall, she looked older than two and a half.

From the very beginning, we noticed a certain sadness in her, a sense of being introverted. A loud, childlike or silly laugh, for example, was extremely rare in her case – and when it did happen, we would be delighted to draw each other’s attention to it.

In her first kindergarten week she tried twice to run away from the public playground. When asked about it, the parents told us that Alena regularly tries to leave playgrounds as soon as possible and with pleasure alone „after work“.

…in a nutshell…

This first observation includes some situational observations as well as several questionnaires. Two of the questionnaires are filled in in the dialogue between child and kindergarten teacher. This shows that the four-year-old can already handle this very well.
The results are discussed in a parent-teacher interview.

At her young age Alena already showed a pronounced social behaviour and a high sense of justice. She always had an overview of the group events, settled disputes, picked up the babies‘ toys (at that time we worked with two kindergarten teachers and a child care worker in a mixed-age group with 12 children from 0;8 to 5 years). Alena  helped children get dressed and assisted each caregiver.

Later, after her 3rd birthday, the positive social behaviour deepened further: Alena now commented on the whole group life and has been in constant contact with us kindergarten teachers ever since, which unfortunately annoys us again and again. We accept her high need for communication, but admittedly we sometimes show ourselves impatient as well. She comments on this wordlessly with the typical „Alena look“, which should tell us: „I think you have explained this rule to us. She gets hurt here, I report about it and you reject me?“

Alena always feels that she is being approached when it comes to employment offers of any kind. She would like to participate too gladly always and is then attentive and concentrated with the thing, calmly, often in itself turned. Her attention seems untiring at the same time. With her quick comprehension, the realization of tasks is no problem at all.

Even these general observations from Alena’s first year at kindergarten led me to the idea that she could possibly be a child with far above-average talent.

Alena inspires with many play ideas

Shortly after her 4th birthday (at the age of 4;1 years), a more intensive observation begins with the eight older children in the group, with Alena quickly assuming a leading role.

My colleague Kathi is in the gym where she is in charge of a lot of large egg cartons („boards“ for 30 eggs each) – I observe Alena in detail and take notes about her.
What should happen to the unusual game material?

Alena immediately has many ideas, which she announces loudly and clearly, according to which the other children actively participate:
– Ice skating,
– Elephant ears,
– Balance the cartons on your feet first in the prone position and then in the supine position,
– Clamp the cartons between your legs and
– in the partner game, clamp the boxes between the buttocks and the back.

Then my colleague starts a stop dance: When the music stops, each child looks for a box and sits down on it. Alena develops a new play idea: „Look at Kathi, I’m building a bed for myself“ and she takes a box for her head and one for her feet. All the children build it like her. „We can also make a road, Kathi. All the children help her immediately. Alena enjoys her role very much and sometimes says where to put the boxes.

Finally „fire, water, earth“ and „pulling carrots“ are played, both very popular. Alena also takes part with great joy. „When do we go gymnastics again, Kathi“ she asks while dressing.

Note from the course director:
Could Alena organize and carry out a gymnastics offer for four three-year-olds? Do you trust her?

The author took up this suggestion, see: Alena (4;6) Leading a Small Gymnastic Group.

Language test „Dolphin“

The dolphin test for „Diagnostics, parental work and promotion of language competence for four-year-olds“ was mandatory in North Rhine-Westphalia at the time and I took part in a training course.

My opinion on it:
The test situation overwhelms most children and does not allow a realistic test result with inhibited children. It is precisely this problem that prompts me to document this test as an observation.

(Editor’s note: The language test was highly controversial among experts and was abolished again in NRW in 2015.)

Four children took part in our test, including Alena with 4;1. The others are: Mariana (4;4), Frederik (4;1) and Amar (3;10). Since Alena has a remarkably good speech behavior, she is used by me as the first player (dolphin). She loves unknown challenges, so I hope that she will motivate the other children to get in easier.

During the test, a school teacher unknown to the children sits at the next table. Since she makes no effort to introduce herself, let alone to smile, I introduce her to the children. The day before I played the game in the office with children who didn’t take the test. Since then, Alena has asked me five times when she could finally play the new game. She is now absolutely in joyful expectation, she shines with big eyes and nibbles at her fingernails.

The first five tasks (mark certain picture contents with a play figure) are done by Alena fast and correctly. She is excited to take part in the activities of the other children, who are given other tasks. Surprisingly for me she doesn’t interfere and doesn’t even talk for other children.

The next task is to repeat meaningless artificial words, which Alena succeeds in doing flawlessly. Equally without mistakes she repeats meaningful and „nonsense sentences“ (so literally in the test text!) and is concentrated and full of verve.

At the following request to tell what can be seen on a zoo picture, Alena speaks fluently, beginning with the climax, in complex sentences about all the events depicted. When asked about her favourite animals („Monkeys, because they are so funny…“) she can hardly be stopped. The school teacher gives me a sign that it is enough, because she does not follow with her notes.

The other three children find it difficult to cope with the test conditions, as was to be expected. Mariana refuses the majority of the tasks, probably because she finds the artificial situation very strange: an unknown school teacher, the familiar kindergarten teacher, who – according to the detailed behavioural guidelines – explains each task only once, offers no encouraging motivation and continues without explanation in the material.
Amar, a boy with a migration background, is expected to have the biggest problems and Frederik „passes“ the test, but is very excited because of his previous experience with speech therapy.

A worksheet makes fantasy blossom

Shortly thereafter Alena (now 4;2) and two other girls (Jenni, 5 years old, and Mariana, 4 years old) deal with a worksheet in my presence: on it there are two rows of houses to be seen as a line drawing, most of the roofs are only sketched with dots and mostly the chimneys are missing. At first I don’t explain anything.

Alena says immediately: „The roof here (she points to the first house) has a chimney, the others do not. And she paints the chimneys in the lower row of houses.

Now I give the instruction that the children at the houses, which do not have roofs yet (which are marked only with dots), should paint these please in addition. Alena starts to paint in the lower row. Then she paints some roofs. „It is like writing, isn´t it?“ she says, „Here I did not hit the line,“ she points to the spot.

„Now you can paint the chimneys“, I say to the children and Alena now paints them in the upper row of houses and evaluates her result: „I missed a bit here. I paint a window here (she points to the last house in the upper row), then you can also look out. There are curtains on it, they are always closed.“

Then she says to me: „Claudi, people don’t want the house painted.“ – Why not?“ – People say: No, we don’t want that; we find that ugly. They want a white house. This sheet goes into the school folder, doesn’t it? May I paint a sun? The pencil is broken, but you can sharpen it again.“

Jenni says she will paint a moon; it is blue. Then Alena: „But the moon is yellow“ – Jenni: „I paint a round moon“. – Alena: „That’s a full moon then. Then you have to paint everything.“

Again and again Alena scratches her head: She writes „MAPA“ and „APA“. She points to the A. The horizontal bar protrudes beyond the side lines. „That’s a little wrong, isn’t it?“ I reassure her that anyone who can read will recognize this letter. „I am finished, Claudi. Can I put the sheet in the folder?“ She punches the sheet radiantly and staples it in.

Observations during free play on the playground

We want to go to a public playground. The group puts on shoes and jackets in the wardrobe. Lina (2 years old) goes back to the group room with the doll buggy without permission. Alena (still 4;2) is putting on her jacket just across the hall. She runs after the two-year-old and shouts: „Lina, Lina, come here! I’ll dress you. We go to the playground. You can’t go back to the group, and the buggy has to stay here.“

On the playground, Alena immediately climbs the climbing frame: „Claudi, Claudi, look!“ A woman walks past the edge of the playground with a baby carriage. Alena runs to her and shouts: „Frau Meister, where are you going?“ – „Home.“
Alena jumps into the sandbox. „Claudi, look, the sand is soft. I collected sticks. And a friend of my mother’s just passed by here.“

Alena continues playing in the sand, ten meters away the two-year-old Justus cries. Alena pauses and looks. „He just squabbled. He didn’t hurt himself. He has to learn that.“

Alena goes to Jenni and calls to me: „Claudi, we have a pen here. Jenni paints with it.“
She points to thin sticks collected by Jenni.
Then she asks: „Claudi, where is Frederik actually? I answer that he is with the speech therapist. Alena: „Why?“ – „He practices speaking there.“ – Then Alena immediately: „I can speak.“

Note from the course leader:
This good self-confidence must be maintained.

Alena takes a thick stick and drills it round in the sand: „Tax, tax, tax.“ (joystick) Then she notices: „I have to get the sand out of my shoe. But I won’t do that until we leave.“

Meanwhile Jenni has sprinkled a cuboid wooden block with soft, dry sand and now paints with a stick as a pen on it. Alena: „That’s not possible. You can’t really write on it.“ She looks very interested at the wooden block. „Come, let’s make some cake!“ She builds a mountain and puts sticks in the sand cake. Alena laughs: „Look, Claudi. These are candles. I’ll get some flowers.“ Jenni and Alena keep wordless eye contact all the time. Alena fetches daisies from the meadow and holds them out to Jenni wordlessly. Jenni, who otherwise also talks a lot, hands her the coveted block of wood without saying a word. Very social, I think. Alena beams, plays with the block for a moment, then goes back to the climbing frame.

Interim evaluation of the observations

During these intensive observations, deeply buried knowledge from my training in psychology came back to my spiritual surface.
Although the observations did not actually bring any new knowledge about Alena, I was very surprised how concretely the theses (about early giftedness) that had only been suspected until then can be proven.

I noticed this above all when I spoke with my colleagues about the occupations with Alena. I find it very positive that this has made giftedness an issue in our group and in the entire kindergarten and sensitised our colleagues to it. In any case, I plan to keep offering Alena challenging and long-term tasks and record how she deals with them.

Gaining knowledge through questionnaires

In order to further deepen the already gained knowledge about Alena, I went through different questionnaires together with Alena (aged between 4;2 and 4;7 years) or conducted formalized interviews accordingly. These are in detail:

– the Gelsenkirchen Development Companion
– the IHVO Questionnaire on the self-assessment of the child, how it experiences communication in the kindergarten group,
– the IHVO Questionnaire on Child´s Interests for the kindergarten.

In preparation for an evaluative interview, Alena’s parents also used the
IHVO Questionnaire for Parents for 4- to 6- Years Old Children in Kindergarten completed.

One more important preliminary remark.
At the time of this survey a large-scale restructuring is taking place in the kindergarten, which leads to great unrest among the kindergarten teachers and the children as well as the parents:

– The concept of mixed-age groups is partly abandoned,
– A new group is formed with numerous children from a kindergarten that was closed,
– The management of the entire facility changes.

In Alena’s group, however, little is changed so that the continuity of observations can also be maintained.

The evaluation of the IHVO communication questionnaire shows that Alena’s self-assessments roughly agree with my findings.

As expected, Alena names Jenni as a particularly popular play partner and sees herself in good contact with the younger ones in the group. But Alena also likes to listen to Mariana, who is a clever, imaginative child and certainly an interesting play partner.
Although Alena comes up with many good play ideas, she has the feeling that she can’t always bring them into the group. This could be due to her decisive nature.
Antipathy, she feels towards two boys, Amar and Jeremy. Nevertheless, she has chosen Amar in her gymnastics group „so that he learns some things better“, as Alena says. Here her strong social behaviour becomes visible. About another boy, Frederik, she positively points out that you can learn something about football from him.

Alena answers the interest questionnaire with interest and speed. The longest (6 seconds!) she thinks about when asked what she doesn’t like about kindergarten, and then this comes: „The older children don’t take good care of the babies, because something bad can happen to the babies“.

As already in the IHVO questionnaire, she again names Jenni and Mariana as her dearest play partners, in addition she mentions Frederik – even in the first place.
When asked what she „would like to be able to do a little better“, Alena emphasizes: „I would like to be able to write“.

When asked what she would like to learn, Alena answers: „To drive an airplane, to turn a Giant Ferris wheel. When I asked her about the Giant Ferris Wheel, she explained that she wanted to learn how to set the technology in motion and to understand what happens there.

She finds it difficult (but probably quite positive) for herself „when I have to look at things on my own – for example, new games that I explain to the children“.

And what annoys her so often? „If the children don’t listen to me, for example when I tell them to be quiet. They have to learn that, but they don’t understand. The children also often take away something that belongs to others – and then they take it home with them or to grandma.“
She also has this fear for her favourite toy, a cloth monkey: „It’s lying on the doll’s cupboard. I’m afraid of losing it here. It’s so beautiful.“

When asked about her favourite book, she says: „Cinderella. My mother likes to read it to me – my dad doesn’t, because it’s only for women.“
Alena gives a complex answer to this question: „You meet an old woman who knows everything about the world and life. What would you ask her? What else?“ –
„I wouldn’t ask anything because my mom says that strange women steal dogs. – I’d ask her how to steer a car or a rocket.“

I was astonished that she ended two answers with the sentence: „And done!“ Obviously Alena is not ready for any further statements.

After first stating „painting“ as one of her favourite pastimes, she later suddenly explains what she is „really proud“ of: „I only paint Krickelkrakel because: if I paint beautifully and something goes wrong, then I get angry. Because then I don’t paint what I want. I can’t do it then.“
This shows me Alena’s high demands on herself. Now it is essential to take care to avoid excessive demands. We have to let Alena learn to patiently implement her ideas in fine motor design and also to allow imperfections.

(See also the article: Drawing course with Linda)

Her social responsibility goes beyond her own interest in flying a helicopter herself. This shows her answer to the question of a possible career aspiration. O-Ton Alena: „Emergency doctor – ambulance and helicopter drive to save people“.

On a final list of a total of 17 offers (from theatre games to reading, computers, writing and arithmetic to solving riddles) Alena crosses everything as particularly interesting without hesitation – this is also evident in everyday kindergarten life.

Note from the course director:
Amazing that she likes to do everything. We rarely see such sheets.

Alena’s manifold interests and abilities, which are often only expected at an advanced age, are also reflected in the Gelsenkirchen Development Companion, which I went through with her at the age of 4;6. Here I could mark 26 of 28 items of the age group 5 to 5;6 for her. In the age range „5;6 until school enrolment“ the four-and-a-half year old reaches 40 of 54 requirements, all of them in the subject areas „Language“, „Cognitive Development“ and „Social Competence“. Only in the areas of „fine motor skills“ and „gross motor skills“ does she „only“ reach the level of the age group 5 to 5;6 years.

Talk with Alena´s parents

For scheduling reasons, we only manage to have the parents‘ talk about our collected observations at the third attempt. Alena is now 4;7 years old.

When I arrive, the parents are embarrassed because they are still busy filling out the parent questionnaire. I show understanding and say that it is no problem not to answer some questions – we can now talk about it in peace. They are relieved and I suggest to start with the conversation about the (Gelsenkirchen) development companion. With this I would like to give them self-confidence, because we already talked about this half a year ago – about our findings at that time.

The development sheet shows only a few requirements to be fulfilled by children to be enrolled in school – although Alena is much younger. For Alena, the skills still to be acquired are exclusively in the fine and gross motor area, which I find age-appropriate.

Early enrolment?

According to Alena’s previous development, I assume that she will meet all requirements by her fifth birthday. Alena can thus be described as ready for school in the coming school year. Immediately the parents say that they have been occupied with this idea for some weeks. The primary school is opposite her house. Alena looks out of the window every morning longingly and says that she would like to go to school now.

Alena’s interest in numbers, letters, questions from nature and subject areas and her search for older children led us in the course of the conversation to register Alena for next year’s primary school (then she is 5;5). In the kindergarten we want to let her participate in the preschool program „Schlaufüchse“ (clever foxes).

However, the decision to let her go to school early will only be made before the summer holidays, after trial lessons in the primary school in cooperation with Alena. If she doesn’t want to go to school prematurely, the decision would of course be against enrolment.

Now we look at the communication questionnaire. Our common conclusion: Alena is oriented towards Jenni and Mariana, the oldest children in the group. At the same time, she likes to take responsibility for younger children and unfortunately can only learn from adults.

Conclusions from the interest questionnaire

The conversation with the parents about the interest questionnaire for the kindergarten brings a number of new insights.
The parents of Alena’s choice of words are positively surprised. They are amazed at Alena’s report about her toy monkey, who is always lying on the doll’s wardrobe. Although they know him, they don’t know how well protected and observed he is yet.

Alena’s description that the father refuses to read to Cinderella makes us all laugh. The father confirms that he refuses to read the story – he hates it.

Warning against perfectionism

In response to Alena’s explanation that she only does „Krickelkrakel“ because she (supposedly) can’t paint well enough, her mother says that she herself is very perfectionist and demands the same from Alena. She even improves Alena’s mandalas!
Fortunately, she shows herself to be self-conscious about it. So it’s easy for me to convince her that this behavior can do a lot of damage. I suggest that she tell Alena when she’s painting that she can paint and colour really well for her age. Even parents can admit mistakes. And children must not be underestimated, as if they could not understand behavior corrections of the parents.

Both parents say for themselves that they now also see that they praise Alena far too rarely. This could also be the cause of Alena’s often hectic and unfocused way of working. From now on they want to give her more courage to make mistakes. How could this be better than when they are a good role model for Alena.

The parents confirm many findings from the Kindergarten

When we looked through the parents´ questionnaire together, some of which had been completed in the meantime, we found agreement with the questionnaires we had collected in all areas.

The parents confirm our observations about Alena’s particularly pronounced independence and her large vocabulary. They also observe that Alena prefers to play with significantly older children and can concentrate for a long time („approx. 1 hour“) on activities such as painting and looking at books. They also see their interest in numbers and letters, in learning to read and write. They also know that Alena „prefers to go to school now“.

In particular, the parents emphasize Alena’s strength in dealing with other people. They call the strengths of their daughter „understanding, empathetic“. In addition, I tell the parents in detail about Alena’s gymnastics group.

In this context we talk again about Alena’s self-confidence. She naturally has self-confidence in things she masters. She is also always open-minded about learning new things. If this doesn’t work out right away, however, she becomes nervous and loses her self-confidence.

The parents don´t answer in the questionnaire on whether Alena would like to have a kindergarten child as a friend. They say that they have been thinking for some time about who might be eligible. They have the impression that Alena is looking for a friend because she complained at home that she still do not know the elder children from the new group.
Here I see a weak point of our kindergarten work: All children are allowed to join the other group at any time if they’ll just let me know, but they don’t. Here we urgently have to work up.

Note from the course leader:
It’s a good thing that this self-critical assessment took place just a few weeks after the above-mentioned restructuring of the kindergarten – with Alena’s support!

The parents do not know the answer to the questionnaire question „What does their child like to laugh about? But we quickly find out that Alena is rather the type who smiles. I try to explain to the parents that not every person who does not laugh loudly and heartily is an unhappy person. Alena is serious, but not unhappy, even if sometimes a little bit melancholic.

I then ask how Alena is behaving at home in general, because she seems a little stressed to me at the moment. The parents are indeed quite finished moving, renovating and opening their café. Alena is mothering her parents, she seems to have the right idea about the situation. She sends her parents on the couch to rest, makes them salad and cleans up – luckily everything is not perfect…

Note from the course leader:
A clever, dear child – but who urgently needs something inspiring of her own!

We agree that Alena should urgently find her own needs in order to be able to pursue her areas of interest. I ask about possible musical interests – and lo and behold: Alena has wanted to learn the violin for a long time – but she probably means cello. The mother wants to inquire at the music school about appropriate possibilities. In addition I point out the activities of a local association for parents of highly gifted children and to the Internet address of the IHVO.

At the end of the almost three-hour conversation, we agree on a protocol and I give the parents information material about giftedness and early school enrolment.


You can follow Alena’s support, as far as it is documented in the manual contributions, chronologically over almost two years:

Alena (4;6) Leading a Small Ggymnastics Group

The Dead Mother from Pompeii and Crayons for South Africa

Disassembling Electric Devices

Alena (5) Studies Letters – When Should She Enroll at School?

Alena (5;2) Gets to Know the Shadow Theatre

Alena (5;10) and a Small Group Are Becoming Experts of the Learning Workshop


Date of publication in German: April 2018
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Imprint