by Beate Kroeger-Müller
The starting point and stimulus for the project was the Questionnaire on Child’s Interests with the subsequent evaluation. The evaluation of Jonas‘ questionnaire (all names changed) aroused my particular interest. As the oldest child in our kindergarten, he expressed the wish for more friendships within the group and asked me to help him with this. Jonas is to receive this help through a kindergarten project.
A selection from Jonas‘ answers:
To the question: Who do you like playing with the most? Jonas quickly names his best friend Jonathan (5;8). After hesitating for a while, he names the twins Torben and Melvin (5;4), with the subordinate clause „when it works well“.
To the question: What is difficult for you in kindergarten, Jonas answers: „Playing with other children, because I only know how to play properly with Jonathan, – and in (…my place of residence…) I have very few friends.“
For more answers from Jonas and my comments, see: Jonas, 6 Years.
When I ask him what he would like to learn in his last year of kindergarten, Jonas adds:
„How can I learn to play properly with other children so that I can have more friends?“
For me, this answer from a 6-year-old child shows a high degree of self-reflection and good realistic self-assessment, coupled with a great longing for more friendly and lasting contacts. For Jonas increasingly suffers from the problem of not being able to get into prolonged play with other children, and from the resulting feeling of not belonging.
A six-year-old boy undergoes rapid social-emotional development in his last year of kindergarten. He formulates his learning wish: to make more friends. The author takes up this wish and initiates a researchers´ group, which turns out to be a very good learning field for Jonas. In this small group he practises social skills for months, closely accompanied and guided by the author.
At the same time, this article describes a research-based learning project.
What Jonas has to learn is to distinguish between self-assertion and social behaviour in order to control his own behaviour according to the situation. Jonas knows his strengths very well, but is also able to articulate his weaknesses. To the question: Is there something that often annoys you? Jonas answers: „It annoys me when another child comes into Jonathan’s and my play area“.
One reason for his social problem may also be that despite his high linguistic ability, he cannot really convincingly communicate his many original ideas to the children and is an „impatient determiner“. He quickly dominates the play of the other players, he changes the actions, rules and contents of the games that the other children have started without asking them or involving them more closely. So far, Jonas cannot understand that he does not make any friends with this, although his linguistic effort was to express himself even better in order to explain it even better to the other children.
Jonas often perceives a larger group, (about 5 children playing lively in the outdoor area) as a threat to him, so that he often believes he has to physically defend himself against them.
Jonas has been attending our kindergarten since he was 3;4 years old. He came to us as a sibling of his older brother who was in his last year of kindergarten. So he was already well acquainted with our facility.
He came to the kindergarten every morning friendly to cheerful, completely independent of the state of his brother who was two years older. In his funny face with the deep dimples and the mischievous look, it was easy to recognise his emotional state from the beginning. Jonas was one of those children who knew how to live out their egocentrism „to the fullest“. The whole world really had to revolve around him alone.
Due to his already high linguistic competence, Jonas was always able to verbally express his concerns to us or the group in a well understandable way. Due to the loving guidance of his brother, Jonas did not have to worry about friendships during his first year in kindergarten. In the care of his brother, he was well integrated into his brother’s circle of friends.
In the first year, Jonas seemed to us to be inconspicuous in his development and quite age-appropriate. But after the first year, we noticed that he had a developmental delay in his movement behaviour and stimulus processing, as well as in his body perception and movement sequences. Overall, Jonas seemed clumsy in his gross motor skills. He also increasingly showed strong avoidance behaviour when confronted with movement opportunities.
This was also the case with fine motor activities. Jonas retreated into toddler-like behaviour (regressive, sometimes also subliminally aggressive) when confronted with even minor demands and needed a lot of reassurance within our kindergarten work.
In case of failures, Jonas directly tried to develop strategies to avoid the activity. All in all, his self-esteem was still very low, as he was very conscious of his motor and perceptual problems.
The check-up at the occupational therapy suggested by us confirmed our observations, so that Jonas was specifically supported in the occupational therapy for one and a half years and participated in a movement therapy offer at the psychomotor club.
In the meantime, Jonas has shown improved processing of balance and tactile stimuli, which allow him to master the bicycle tours with the group of pre-school children more confidently. Jonas now also enjoys the weekly swimming and gymnastics activities offered by the kindergarten. When he jumps on the big trampoline in the outdoor area every day, we can observe how well his spatial awareness has improved. Likewise, his slightly reduced muscle tone, with aggravating deformity, has found improved tension within his posture.
In his social behaviour, however, Jonas often still shows traits of a much younger child, as he is still very much stuck in his egocentricity and has a strong need to always be the centre of attention and to be in charge. If his friend Jonathan is not in kindergarten, Jonas tends to seek out the play of those children who are much younger than he is. Jonas is also unable to identify with the feelings of the other children, so that he has difficulty sharing joy with others or feeling sympathy for them.
It is very difficult for him to give away things he has brought from home to the kindergarten or even to give them out of his hand. He eagerly participates in circle talks as long as he can talk about himself and his experiences out loud and with lots of gestures. It is not easy for Jonas to listen to other children even for a short time, to wait and not interrupt them. Jonas thus disregards established rules of conversation, and many children feel disturbed when Jonas interrupts them or wants to correct them. He had to learn how to deal with conflicts with difficulty, because he can react very angrily and for him there is only his own truth and the self-perception and the perception of others are still far apart (because Jonas was never the „guilty one“!).
Losing games was one of Jonas´ worst experiences until a few months ago, because he could hardly stand these emotional tensions. He would leave the gym in a rage when his team lost, or he would knock over the board and leave the room angrily shouting nasty insults. Jonas also found it hard to stand it when his friend Jonathan allowed another child to be involved in the game. Jonas perceived the „new child“ as direct competition and did everything he could to remove him from his „harmonious game“ with Jonathan.
Jonas did not even take part in the soccer table game, which plays a big role in our kindergarten, because he suspected that he could not win due to his critical self-perception. It was only when I told him that wanting to win is really a very important thing, but that it is just as important to be able to lose, that Jonas slowly rose to the challenge.
(See also the article: I Win).
We adults often expect a more gifted child to match his social-emotional maturity with his intellectual development, forgetting that intellect and emotion often don’t keep pace. Sometimes Jonas seems quite mature to us, for example, when he discusses the opening of a savings bank account by minors with us early in the morning. Other times he strikes us as rather childish when he comes crying only a little later because a child did not play „properly“ with his „Hundi“ (cuddly toy).
Goal setting in the social-emotional area.
What would I prefer to support with Jonas within a project?
On the one hand, I would like to find out how I can do better justice to Jonas in his last year in kindergarten, as the oldest child in the group, in the social-emotional area, in order to be able to support him in his need to belong.
I also want to help him develop better adaptability in the group and more empathy in dealing with the individual child.
Secondly, in his last year at kindergarten, I would like to observe more closely whether his often unusual behaviour in the group of children could actually have its cause in a special talent, because I experience a great discrepancy in Jonas between his linguistic-intellectual behaviour and his social-emotional behaviour.
During the implementation of our own project in the next seven weeks, I see a wonderful field of experimentation for this.
Acquiring competence in participation
As a project leader in his desired small group, Jonas can work in a self-determined way. This gives him the chance to increase his level of emotional maturity and social competence.
(Click to the picture to enlarge it.)
Understanding social aspects and practising enjoyable interpersonal contacts is something I don’t want to lose sight of in this project. For only in the direct confrontation with the „you“ does Jonas learn that he is not the odd one out within the group, but is accepted because of who he is. This is the only way for Jonas to raise his value as a person to the level of a personality.
Through his self-chosen project – with his „dream group“ – he now has the opportunity to make specific contacts. We kindergarten teachers only have the task of observing and being supporters of learning processes. We can create the conditions and spaces so that personal encounters between the children can take centre stage.
Project name: „Nature excursions with nature exploration“
Jonas joyfully and excitedly interviews the five children he wants. He does it like this:
„Name…, would you like to go on nature excursions with me and Beate to explore nature even more?“
Irina is the first child to be asked, but also the only one to answer in the negative: „I’m not interested“. Jonas is already worried about getting more rejections, because his frustration tolerance is still very low for his 6 years, 4 months.
Unsettled, he looks around the group and asks the same question of the next child, more quietly and more thoughtfully.
Jonas is lucky, there are only joyful acceptances. He has chosen a group of four curious, creative and inquisitive pre-school children (five-year-olds).
They are all children (three boys, one girl) who are looking for answers to their questions „on their own“, who have a desire to explore. Children who want to search and find, observe and compare, and who can marvel.
Objectives for cognitive development within the project work
For me, explorative and discovering learning means that the children are not presented with the finished product, but rather we let the learning environment stimulate us together. We have always given our children plenty of time and space for curiosity. We let ourselves be guided by the excitement and experimentation of the undertaking in order to possibly be able to resolve it on the spot. This happens by dealing with what we observe and discover in nature.
Children always experience particularly sustainable learning when they can work independently and on their own responsibility.
Only when the group experiences itself as a unit within the project – with all the differences in personality and talent – and is able to solve common tasks, and when it senses the abundance of ideas that come together and need to be organized, can I speak of a successful preliminary planning of the undertaking.
These joint preliminary discussions will be a great challenge and a good training ground for Jonas, since he will have to leave room for his friends‘ own new ideas right from the start – and show tolerance for other ideas. Jonas can experience his group as a community of solidarity, where he can learn to deal more consciously with his own feelings and the feelings of others.
I understand my role as a kindergarten teacher as
- learning companion,
- supporter (e.g. motivating in the case of setbacks) and as an
- I challenge the children’s desire to discover and experiment.
- I provide the children with free space in which they can implement their own ideas.
- And when they succeed, I naturally want to join in the celebration.
My learning goal is to
- to provide the group of children with „intelligent“ knowledge that can be used as flexibly as possible, and not pure factual knowledge about nature exploration,
- to give the children their own thinking processes and solution strategies.
In carrying out this nature project, I am very fortunate to have the support of my colleague. Also very important is the support from the parents, whose additional services and expert knowledge make it possible for me to carry out such a time-consuming excursion project with a small group.
Planning the course of the project
Gathering field trip suggestions – Where can our nature field trips take us?
(At first the children name areas in our neighboring little mountains „Siebengebirge“ 〈Seven Hills〉)
Jonas: „To our forest – to have a real forest field trip, to discover many things.“
Charlotte: „To the Drachenfels 〈Dragon Rock Mountain〉 and go to the dragon’s cave.“
Jonathan: „To the Dornheckensee 〈a lake in the Seven Hills〉 into the bat cave or hiking on the Kucksteinweg 〈a path nearby〉.“
Melvin: „Going into a dark cave.“
Torben: „Going to a quarry and taking out the gems.“
Jonas: „And to top it off, I want to have a nature sleepover with my friends!“
Word explanation: what is – or – does „explore“ mean ?
Torben: „Discovering something new in nature.“
Jonathan: „Explore means as much as discover, so like finding something new.“
Melvin: „Shine a light in a corner and see what’s there.“
Charlotte: „Looking at a flower for a long time in a meadow and then getting to know the flower that way.“
Jonas: „Exploring means examining plants and animals, fossils, stones and gems.“
Question: What all is part of nature?
Jonas: „Well, the Rhine beach is very beautiful, but doesn’t really count as nature to me. There are only stones on the beach and sand in between, and then the Rhine River. For me, nature is simply something else. Where something more is there and lives. Like the primeval forest, yes that is nature.“
Jonathan: „Nature is always where almost nobody lives, because there are so many plants. But nature is also a quarry, because nobody lives there either.“
Charlotte: „Animals, plants, fruit, and lots of fish.“
Melvin: „Nature is just people and everything that lives.“
Torben: „And trees.“
The five children continue to plan
They want to organize everything themselves and think together. Jonas shows himself to be extremely cooperative in this planning. He supports the suggestions of the other children by clapping, rubbing his hands together, or reinforcing saying:
„Great idea“ , „great“, „yes that’s how we do it“.
The children put these ideas together:
- Set up a research workshop in the kindergarten. For this we need binoculars, hammers, goggles, books, magnifying glasses, flashlights, pocket knives.
- Or a nature museum: with dead animals, plants, bones, rocks and a camera so we can show the pictures to the other children.
- Or make a book ourselves, where we write and draw what we have done.
After only four meetings, we can see that the self-confidence of the small group of preschoolers is growing and that the group is very ambitious in trying to push their project (it is now no longer „Jonas‘ project“ alone) forward together with ever new ideas.
Books and semi-precious stones on the topic are brought from home, and the first tools (magnifying glasses and binoculars) already find a place in the „researcher’s workshop“. Parents who should accompany us during the excursions are approached by the children. If possible, they should also support us professionally.
I only have to arrange the five outdoor dates with my colleague and the parents, and then we can go into the forest – with identification book, camera, (each child receives its own disposable camera with 28 pictures for the four excursions), pocket knife, magnifying glasses and hand magnifiers. Because we want to observe the „small insects“ and the „six-legged creatures“ and explore them naturally.
Course of the first excursion day
With five children and heavily loaded researcher backpacks, we ride our bicycles to „our“ forest. The bike ride there takes about 20 minutes. The children know the forest well, since – in addition to excursions – we spend about eight weeks in the forest at the end of each kindergarten year.
Charlotte: „Hello forest, I’ve really missed you!“ The other four children loudly agree with the greeting.
With their magnifying glasses and their „identification fan,“ the children walk across the forest floor.
Jonathan: „Come over here, I’ve discovered the ant trail!“ He shines the flashlight into a hole, and there is the whole ant city inside. The first ants are closely observed in the magnifying glasses and we also notice a family resemblance.
We find stonecreepers with „countless“ feet, nudibranchs, but they don’t count (no feet), woodlice and spiders. Thanks to the identification book, each child is able to recognize, identify and photograph his or her own animal and then release it.
Jonas: „Come on, let’s all go to the fox’s den and shine a light in there.“
All the children are familiar with the fallen giant beech, whose root system is exposed and allows us to see inside its cave. All the children follow Jonas.
Jonas: „I didn’t know how brave I was to be the first to climb into the cave and look so deep. I’m sure you all think it’s great how I’m doing this, too.“
Jonas is still very attached to his ego. The rest of the group tolerates it, they don’t contradict him, even though he keeps trying to emphasize his uniqueness.
In the large meadow right next to our beech forest, the children catch with great hunting skill: four grasshoppers, two weaver shrimp, three gnats and a ladybug.
Jonas only manages to catch one animal in his magnifying glass cup with a lot of effort. But he says, „I think my beetle is the most beautiful of all the animals we found today. Come over here and take a good look at it.“
Jonathan: „Yes, it’s beautiful, and it has seven fat points.“
Jonas: „The seven-spot ladybug is all mine.“
Melvin: „But that’s not true, all animals belong to themselves.“
Charlotte: „Just like every person belongs only to himself, because actually you’re not allowed to lock people up.“
Torben: „But only burglars, because they take away other people’s things that don’t belong to them either.“
Jonas: „Yes, yes, I’ll let the beetle go again, too. But of all the animals, mine really is the most beautiful.“ The four children don’t respond further to Jonas and go back to looking for six-legged insects.
I say to Jonas, „Maybe every single child feels that the animal he or she has found is his or her most beautiful and valuable one, and doesn’t want to compete with other children with it at all.“ Jonas hears my words but says nothing, only the wrinkles on his forehead indicate that he is thinking about something.
Before we drive back, we gather in a circle and everyone tells what was the best experience for them today.
Five satisfied children return to the kindergarten after three hours of forest excursions and meadow explorations and tell the other children what they have learned with the help of the identification fan.
Melvin: „Today I really felt like an explorer in the forest!“
I experience Jonas as a calmer and better listener in the following week in the whole group. He also pays better attention to the younger children. During free play, he is increasingly together with his „new group“ (without Charlotte). The games seem more balanced. Torben clearly states when he doesn’t want to do something the way Jonas suggests, and Jonas already allows it a bit and can take criticism without immediately leaving the game. However, Jonas must continue to learn to be more aware not only of his feelings, but also of the feelings of others.
Course of the second excursion
Supported by a kindergarten mother who is a biologist and offers professionally planned guided tours for children through nature, we were in a special way well prepared for our second exploration trip to the nearby Siebengebirge 〈Seven Hills〉 to „go to a quarry and get out gems“.
In our backpacks today are safety glasses, hammer, magnifying glass, a small collecting bag, identification book, food and drink.
I hand over the leadership of the project to the mother for this morning and also tell the children that Sonja is the expert in this field. Sonja tells the children in the quarry about the history of the formation of this dramatic rocky landscape – about volcanoes that erupted here many millions of years ago, and about the further development, right up to the mining and processing of the stones until just a few decades ago.
The children are highly excited and listen with interest, wanting to learn more about the hot magma and how the „noble“ was then deposited in the stone.
Jonas tells the children about his vacation: „I was in a real silver mine, where real silver was mined, and it was all underground, many hundreds of meters below ground.“
Sonja: „How do you think the workers got the heavy stones away from here?“
Jonas: „We once borrowed a coal mine book from a library. There were rails laid with little trailers on them where the coals were taken to the surface.“ Sonja is taken with Jonas‘ expertise and confirms what he has said in front of the other children. Jonas is visibly proud of his contributions, which also move the project along quickly.
Now the children are allowed to use magnifying glasses to examine the first pieces of rock for semi-precious stones. The first shiny pieces are found, and now it’s time to get to the stones with safety goggles and a hammer to knock out the shiny crystal without hurting it. The hammer blows echo loudly in the quarry, it is really busy beating. Jonathan doesn’t want any interruption from Jonas, „Can’t you see I’m working, I need to concentrate!“
This work requires not only skill, but also perseverance. The children now learn that the hard stone is called „latite“ and the black semi-precious stone is a crystal called „hornblende.“
Charlotte is already berating her stone: „Come on out, you stupid hornblende, or I’ll just leave you here.“ Torben is already planning ahead: „When I’m here with Dad, we’ll hammer a passage into the rock face and get the gems out of there.“
Jonas has another question: „What’s all this about the stones, how do the little crystals get into the big stones?“ Charlotte wants to know, „Why do the moss plants get on the stones?“ Jonathan would like it better if the gemstone was just called blackstone or cat’s eye and not hornblende. Sonja answers the questions of the interested children with vivid pictures and explains even difficult contexts in a very child-friendly way.
In the end, after two and a half hours, each child can go back to the car with some crystals in their pocket. Melvin and Charlotte think about maybe giving one or two stones to the kindergarten, so that the other children can get to know it.
On the way back, some children get thirsty. I ask who still has something in their water bottle. Jonas: „Yes, my bottle is still almost full, but I don’t want to give any of it away!“
I remind Jonas of his desire for friendships that include sharing with friends. Jonas: „I’ll think about it again“. A little later, Jonas says, „Let’s all come over here who are thirsty.“ Jonas holds his water bottle tightly in his hands as he gives each child a sip of water. I say to Jonas, „If you want to give, you have to be able to let go.“
Jonas takes his bottle, walks forward a bit, waits, comes back and asks the group, „Who else is thirsty among you?“ Now he hands over his bottle and asks the kids, „Did you know that, if you want to give away something, you have to be able to let go of the bottle!“
Melvin: „Of course, otherwise you can’t drink properly.“
Jonas was able to show us all his expertise today in the quarry. The children listened to him and also asked questions, which he answered confidently. He was also more reserved today than during our first excursion, although he had found the most crystals. However, he expressed a desire to have even more stones to make his older brother „even more envious.“
Of the five planned excursion days, we were already able to experience two days together with joy. The children see themselves as an „explorer team“ in this group. (Jonathan’s motto: „One for all, all for one“ went down very well with Jonas.) Their sense of well-being and mutual trust with each other is clear. This nature project offers all five children a wide variety of sensory experiences, activities, thinking tasks and experiences. Supported by the positive atmosphere in this small group, I could also perceive progress in Jonas in emotional-social matters during this time.
In the course of the four planning sessions and the two excursion days, it was noticeable that Jonas was oriented towards his project group in terms of willingness to cooperate. The way he dealt with and adhered to rules during group discussions (listening, letting people speak, not always interrupting, allowing other ideas, putting his own ideas on hold) also showed me that Jonas was really willing to get involved in group activities. Because Jonas sees himself more and more as part of a group and thus learns that a group is only stable when it is organized in such a way that each individual wants for himself what also serves the group, which supports and sustains him.
I try to point out to Jonas – through daily, practical exercises in social interaction – again and again that the decision whether to help someone or to refuse to help someone has an influence on his „social point value“ within the group.
Jonas accepts this help – or asks me to explain it to him in more detail. I see with Jonas that he learns to recognize and classify the feelings of other children, so that this gives him a guide to deal with complicated situations.
I believe I have come a little closer to my goal of achieving more group affiliation and recognition for Jonas. Jonas learns to respect rules more consciously, thinks about questions of empathy. His focus is no longer exclusively on himself.
Since my focus is also on this part of his development during the next months, I hope for a further stabilizing development, in which Jonas can acquire even more social competence and thus his wish for more friends will be fulfilled.
The independently developed project, which includes cooperative and communicative aspects in all five children, evokes a strong group feeling. Already, rather quiet children are also showing the courage to assert their ideas and interests to Jonas. Jonas can experience himself practicing his tolerance and feel how good it feels to be a recognized member of a group.
What Jonas should still learn
I believe that Jonas‘ asynchronous development (cognitive level – emotional level) can be developed most effectively through emotional processes. Because a well-developed emotionality expresses itself in the ability to deal intensively, sensitively and empathically with others and to develop affection for other people as well as to form bonds.
Only when Jonas recognizes his feelings and knows how to classify them correctly and also becomes aware of what he triggers in his counterpart, can he use these feelings as an instrument to promote his emotional-social development and thus make progress in his great desire for more friendships. As long as he does not acknowledge his feelings as welcome and important, it will be extraordinarily difficult for him to develop a good self-concept.
I want to convey to Jonas that it is okay to explore his own feelings and that there is no „wrong“ or „right“ when it comes to his feelings. How he expresses his emotions in action may be wrong or right, but the feelings themselves are spontaneous and simply part of his human nature.
Our next common goal will be to make Jonas‘ expressions and reactions to others more appropriate in order to avoid irritation in the children.
Excursion to the dragon’s cave
With the four children from the preschool group requested by Jonas, the third field trip will now begin.
At the joint request of the research group, we wanted to go to the Drachenfels 〈Dragon Rock Mountain〉 to see the dragon’s cave. Everything was prepared for this day; I had registered our group and given the children information about the Siegfried legend. For this, I told them the story of „Siegfried the dragon slayer“ and gave them a short introduction to the Nibelungen saga. The children had also received information about the composer Wagner, who wrote an opera about this legend and in whose honor a large hall, the Nibelungen Hall, had been built as a monument in the Siebengebirge about 80 years ago. A parent service had been found who would drive us there by car and accompany us.
Unfortunately, Jonas had fallen ill and his mother cancelled him for the day.
Reactions of the research group to Jonas‘ absence
Charlotte’s spontaneous reaction: „Oh dear, poor Jonas, he will probably be even sadder when he finds out that we are going to the dragon’s cave without him today. He was so looking forward to this trip!“
Melvin suggests, „Couldn’t Claudia (my colleague) take Jonas to Dragon’s Cave next week with the other preschoolers?“ Torben continues right away, „But then we should call Jonas again, too, so he doesn’t get so sad.“
Jonathan has a wish: „Maybe we can bring Jonas something from the dragon’s cave!“ Unprompted, the four children agree to make his loss as painless as possible. It is felt as a loss by all four children that Jonas cannot be there, and each is eager to help Jonas.
The suggestions are considered good. Claudia promises to take Jonas with her research group next week, and Torben quickly informs Jonas of this by phone. Visibly relieved, we set off and are eager to see what now awaits us up there on the Drachenfels.
During the Drachenfels hike to the Nibelungen Hall, it is very wet and cold. Nevertheless, the children are highly motivated and it seems as if this heavy rain does not bother them at all. During the steep ascent, they are already telling the most dangerous stories about the dragon slayer, and fantasizing about what would happen if the dragon were to awaken from petrification and they were then to defeat the dragon together.
We are the only guests on site at 10 a.m. and can look undisturbed at the huge paintings in the Nibelungen Hall and listen to the Wagner sounds in the background.
We enter the cave, which is about 50 meters long, narrow and dark and adjoins the hall. At the end of the cave we come across a 17-meter-long dragon made of stone and then we get outside. Then we see the reptile zoo with 40 living very exotic snakes, lizards and crocodiles. It’s not only a very exciting and interesting experience for the children, there’s also a lot for the two adults to photograph, and Jonathan attaches great importance to the pictures: „I want Jonas to be able to look at everything closely in the photos.“ At the children’s insistence, we buy a postcard for Jonas of the „petrified dragon.“
My colleague Claudia, who starts the Drachenfels trip a week later with the five other preschoolers plus Jonas, confirms my expectation that Jonas does not feel as connected to the five other preschoolers as he does to his desired group. The way up to the Nibelungen Hall seems too long for Jonas and the climb too steep and difficult. He stays by Claudia’s hand. Every 10 meters he asks, „When will we finally arrive at the dragon’s cave, I won’t be able to soon.“ He makes no contact with any of the children on the way.
In the Nibelungen Hall itself, which is high, large and a little morbid, but also very mysterious, Jonas listens with obvious enchantment to the sounds of Wagner. Then he looks with great enthusiasm at the huge oil paintings depicting scenes from the Siegfried saga. With trembling hands, he takes the great sword from the anvil and repeatedly demands to hear from Claudia the saga of „Young Siegfried“ and the dragon fight. In the cave itself, Jonas, full of fear, holds on to Claudia’s hand and has no desire, like all the other children, to go through the cave a second time.
Without a doubt, this excursion is a great and exciting experience for Jonas, with many new experiences that he must immediately share with his friends when he returns to the kindergarten.
Walking down a wild tunnel
After the visit to the dragon’s cave, all 10 preschoolers (including Jonas) were now ready to go underground into a real, big cave (in our case a wild tunnel). The acquaintance (Martin) of a kindergarten mother, who is a geologist herself, allows us to explore the underground shaft of about 150 meters with the children. The geologist explains to the ten children one day before how this wild tunnel was created 60 years ago, why it is called that way, what kind of stones people mined in it and what they were used for.
All 10 children listen spellbound, each one looks closely at their own copy of the underground gallery route map, and every child wants to be there.
The next day, 10 children arrive at the kindergarten with the desired safety equipment: sturdy shoes, long rain pants, bike helmets, gloves and flashlights.
Once again, it’s time to take the cars up into the Siebengebirge to be picked up by Martin at the edge of the forest. From there we walk a bit through the forest. There is no grumbling from Jonas, he goes up the hollow way with his wish group in front. Together they discover the very hidden mouth hole (entrance), through which we all have to squeeze. The first meters are to be crawled through only in crouched position. For me, this is much too narrow, and I climb out again.
All the children stay with the geologist and Martin, a fireman by profession (which the seven boys particularly like). They stay underground for 35 minutes. Afterwards, I let the children tell me about their „underground impressions“.
My questions: „How did you like the speleology tour? Would you do this tour again?
If so, with whom?“
Melvin: „I liked the cave from Drachenfels better. Namely, in the middle of the game shaft where we were now, stones had collapsed in a side passage – and we didn’t go in there either, because it went up so high, that was very dangerous. But when we slipped in through the mouth, yes, I thought that was really good. I’ll go in there again with my dad.“
Torben: „There was so much junk at the beginning. Car tires and things from an old Ente (car), I didn’t like that. But after that there was no more junk, I thought that was good. I also saw a bat, the others only heard it beeping. Yes, at first at home I was afraid to go into the cave because of the bats that would fly on my head. I would go in there again, so not alone, but with Melvin (twin brother) and Jonas already. I’m going to be a firefighter and a spelunker myself, I know that for sure now.
Jonathan: „I would go into the cave again in a heartbeat. It was fun and beautiful. It was also scary, all over my body, but it was also nice because I knew that nothing could happen to us, because of Martin and stuff. No, I don’t do that alone. Mom would be afraid to go in there, I know that for sure. But maybe Dad would do it with me, and then I’d ask Jonas if he’d like to do it, too, – or here again with all the kids, I’d do that, too.“
Charlotte: „Yes, I would do that again, too, because that was so exciting for me. The walls were so pointed and rough, only all the garbage was stupid, but afterwards there was real earth. I was also very brave, but also scared. Once we all had to turn off the flashlights for a long time so we could hear the bats chirping, it was totally dark and scary, but good for hearing. With Martin and Anke (kindergarten mother – geologist) alone I would go in again, otherwise with no one.“
Jonas: „Well, the first 10 meters in the wild tunnel were just full of garbage, and I didn’t like that at all. But the rest of the shaft, I thought was really good. All of a sudden there was a brick wall, a real obstruction, and then we had to take a detour. I thought we were all going in the wrong direction, that wouldn’t have been good at all. But I liked it in the pitch dark without flashlight light. Did you know that you can hear sounds much better when it’s really dark? We all heard bats chirping then.
No, I don’t think I’ll go in there again. My dad is much too big for the small entrance and he doesn’t like it either – like you – when it’s so narrow and dark. It doesn’t work for mom because of her crooked back, she’s not even allowed to do that anymore. Yes, I could ask Torben, Melvin and Jonathan – and if Melvin’s and Torben’s father comes along, then I would go along, but otherwise I don’t think so.“
Jonas‘ learning progress and social behavior at the end of the project
Jonas has gained emotional stability and relationship skills surprisingly quickly in the last five months and also perceives this as a kind of new quality of life.
He needs less and less help in the form of emotional support from me and only rarely asks me to give him information about social interaction with others.
Jonas is increasingly successful in relating to children in his age group. His speech is calmer and not as loud as before. Jonas also seems more composed in his movements and gestures and no longer so uncontrolled for the children, simply more predictable. He no longer withdraws so quickly from initial contacts. He is no longer afraid of rejection, he takes risks, he no longer needs to court friendships.
It is obvious how Jonas enjoys this quality of new and stable friendships. He becomes more and more aware that the other children accept him and approve of him for who he is.
Jonas: „Yes, here in kindergarten I have made three new friends, Melvin, Timo and Torben. They are also really nice, and I think that’s really good. I think they like me too, and we get along really well when we play together, you know, without anyone having to bicker.“
Impact on the group
Jonas plays with his three new friends plus his „best friend“ Jonathan for over half an hour with the newly constructed „dwarf landscape,“ which is also very much Jonas‘ magical thinking. We built it out of large roots and the many large semi-precious stones.
I notice that Jonas no longer has to dominate the game here. He gives the other friends equal space for their own ideas and actions and integrates his dwarves into their game: a real togetherness results. The four players also let Jonas experience and empathize with their stories. This game encourages Jonas to become active and to act together with the others. Jonas sees the behaviors of his friends in the dwarf game, he acts them out and then invites other dwarfs to join him in his cave. One day later, Jonas asks three younger children if they would like to play with him in the dwarf landscape. Proudly, the three accept, and Jonas reenacts what he played and saw with his friends the previous day
Jonas has learned to be more tolerant and to accept other children who are not his friends and even to help them. This was also very good to observe in November during the two-day CD recording in a recording studio. We recorded songs there as a Christmas present for the parents.
Now it was Jonas who asked the other nine preschoolers to participate well. He asked them to concentrate once more or not to lose their desire during repetitions of the recordings (up to six times per song): „Come on, now we’ll all do it really well together, I know it will work now!“
Jonas now has the ability to motivate and even carry others along. This can also be seen in our current Christmas play „The Little Witch“ (based on Otfried Preußler). It is rehearsed by the ten preschool children, who obviously feel positively inspired by Jonas‘ great joy in playing.
Jonas also gets new ideas and perceptions about other children’s feelings and problems when, after the dream journeys that we make with the preschoolers every Monday, they tell us from their innermost being what they have experienced, felt and thought. These regular meetings stimulate Jonas, challenge him and encourage him to rethink his own behavior in the context of others. They provide him with social information in a lively way.
It is wonderful to see Jonas becoming more aware of the importance of social skills in order to live in harmony with himself and others. He begins to rethink more and more his own behavior towards the children.
Already at the first overnight stay of the ten preschool children at the end of October in the kindergarten, Jonas wished that such a meeting with this group (joint dinner, overnight stay and breakfast) would be repeated more often. Because in this group he feels accepted by the other children all at once.
At the sleepover, the children were also chosen as godparents. (Every new kindergarten child gets a preschool child as a godparent, who serves as a support for the next months). Already on the first night after the election Jonas showed a strong attachment to his desired little godchild, Florian. He took the photo of Florian to his bedside, which he shared with Jonathan, and wished very much, „I hope I’m already dreaming about Florian tonight, I think he’s so cute and nice!“ He immediately discussed with Jonathan that „Flo“ could join in „their games“ after all.
Even today, in mid-December, Jonas greets his godchild after a „long weekend“ with a tender stroking of the face with the words: „We haven’t seen each other for a really long time, it’s nice that you’re back.“
My educational share
In July, Jonas had clearly expressed his wish to have more friends to me on the basis of the interest questionnaire. I took his wish seriously, and thus also him as a person, and offered him my help and support. My measure was to offer Jonas a good training ground for relationship work within a self-selected project with four children of his choice and sufficient free space.
Jonas was highly motivated from the beginning to learn also from mistakes and asked me again and again for advice and correction. I was able to let Jonas try things out in peace and quiet.
For my part, I approached Jonas openly, without showing any expectation regarding his social development. I was able to start at his current social level and also did not have the demand for fast peak performance. It was clear to me that I could only allow Jonas to develop freely and without pressure. His strength lies in his quick grasp of concepts and situations and in his command of language. These are all good prerequisites for the success of such a socialization project.
Based on his behavior, reactions or body language, I was able to determine a few times what irritated, unsettled or annoyed him in one situation or another. At Jonas‘ request, in the first phase I offered him alternative ways that could facilitate human interaction to make him feel more competent himself.
My main questions here were:
- How else could this problem be solved?
- How do you experience or judge the behavior of others?
- How did this dispute/problem come about?
- When and how have you also experienced this before?
Jonas was always willing to make use of this kind of support and to put into practice the ideas he had received.
In order to be able to support him emotionally, it was important for us to appreciate and trust each other and to have good contact with each other.
It was not always so easy to talk to Jonas about his feelings. He demanded a special sensitivity from me. He knows that I consider his way of thinking, feeling and acting to be valuable and that I like him very much as a „human child“. Jonas can be absolutely sure of my appreciation. I can share my true joy, for example about the success of a new friendship, with Jonas. Our mutual basis of trust has grown steadily over the past two and a half years. Just as Jonas shows or even names his emotional state to me, I can also show or tell him how I feel without having to fear that he would take advantage of this knowledge.
Jonas feels intensely and certainly possesses special emotional antennas. He wants to be loved like all other people, and that is what I can offer Jonas as my educational part without any restrictions. Because only when he starts to like himself, he can dare to look over the garden fence.
What impact does Jonas‘ behavior have on the overall group?
The emotional enrichment that Jonas has experienced so well in his project group and that has propelled him forward in his personality development certainly also has a positive influence on the entire group system of our kindergarten.
Since Jonas no longer lacks social skills as much and is much more cautious in kindergarten, there are almost no more complaints from the children about his behavior. Because wanting to please and striving to belong to a community of children, Jonas continues to work on his social skills.
Jonas could only make little use of his extensive theoretical and factual knowledge as long as he was not able to deal with his feelings and those of the group members.
With his learning of new skills in human interaction, Jonas can now give well to the group of his energetic fantasies and ideas and also use his factual knowledge. For now the group is also ready to accept from Jonas and include him in their play. Jonas‘ new behavior is perceived as attractive by the group.
Such a project system in a single-group kindergarten requires time, effort and a lot of organization. Meaningful projects of this kind belong in the kindergarten, where cooperative forms of interaction are learned, in order to sensitize the children in this area to the fact that one’s own freedom ends where the freedom of others begins.
It is a challenge for any kindergarten teacher
to work with this method, but I believe that we are
on the right path with it:
by searching of individualization of observation
and by offering individualized solutions.
Date of publication in German: February 2012
Copyright © Beate Kroeger-Müller 2012, see Imprint.