by Hanna Vock
A good method in kindergarten: Targeted offer to a small group
In contrast to the open offer or the working group to which the children can volunteer themselves, the aim here is to motivate very specific children to participate in order to enable these children in particular (generally or in a specific area) to gain further experience and a sense of achievement.
Depending on the activity, a small group can consist of two, three or up to six children. If the group is larger, the benefits disappear.
If a small group offer is aimed specifically at those children who are particularly well developed in the area of development concerned and show special abilities and interests,
then we’re dealing with
advancement of the gifted.
In the initial phase of her IHVO Certificate Course, when the subject of „small groups“ had not yet been dealt with, the Cologne kindergarten teacher Rebecca Halsig wrote after the experiences from her first practical work:
„I am thinking about whether it might be useful to take the children in my group who are particularly gifted (there are already some of them) more often as a small group. Then I can do with them the activities they want and the topics they are interested in. Maybe they’ll have more fun, what do you think?“
At the time, the course instructor wrote on the edge of the paper.: „Absolutely! And not too rarely!“
…in a nutshell…
Where it is not yet, small group work should find its way into the kindergartens.
In the two-year IHVO Certificate Courses, kindergarten teachers gain experience with it and describe it in their practical work. Many of these works have already been published in this manual, others will follow.
The author also describes her own experiences (which took place before she started the IHVO Certificate Courses).
She also discusses the argument that is often heard in training courses:
„We can’t do that.“
First experiences with small group work
I made my first positive experiences in my kindergarten group by looking at picture books and singing.
Learning to sing in a small group
In our kindergarten we had a large, but still clear fund of songs that were sung frequently. We had the claim that all the children could really sing along, which meant that they would soon be able to master the melody and lyrics. For most children, occasional singing is not enough for that.
So a singing group was founded for the three-year-olds. The songs were sung piece by piece and at an appropriate tempo; the children were soon very proud of the fact that they were able to sing along well to the older kids and sang self-confidently from the top of their throats. Since every year all new and three-year-old children were able to enjoy the singing group, the Kita group as a whole was very secure in its lyrics and melodies.
Of course, the participation in this small group was also voluntary, because there were always children who simply didn’t enjoy singing. And singing without the desire to sing is absurd.
Picture book view in the small group
When I started my work in kindergarten, it was customary for us to read from a picture book to all the children who wanted to after lunch. They were always the same five to eight children. The rest seldom got the chance to get to know a picture book in a cosy circle. That was unsatisfactory for me.
The situation changed radically when we divided the group of 20 children into four small groups. Now there were four to five children gathered around the kindergarten teacher. Everyone could see well, there was no crowding, everyone could speak.
Mondays to Thursdays there was always a certain group. Each child soon knew exactly when it had „read aloud“, almost everyone took part almost always.
It was also important that the groups were not divided by chance. In the first attempt we divided the children according to age; but the better I got to know the children in this respect through the intensive conversations that accompanied the reading aloud, the more the composition changed.
That was the point,
- to look at pictures extensively,
- to get to know stories,
- to absorb knowledge from non-fiction picture books,
- to talk about all this.
In practice, it soon turned out that sometimes the younger child was much more persevering, interested, linguistically more capable and able to reflect on the contents than his peers in his reading group.So it changed into a more suitable group.
Conversely, children who were still overwhelmed by the stories and conversations also changed.
We explained to the parents, who at first were somewhat startled to ask questions, that we wanted to put the groups together in such a way that each child would benefit as much as possible and feel comfortable in the small group – neither over- nor underchallenged. We explained:
It’s a good feeling to be able to really have a say; all children should be able to do that. And it is also pleasant when the book selected corresponds to one’s own level of development and capacity. I also invited the parents to sit in on the reading group of their child and also in the „next higher“ group.
Thus the composition shifted: The criterion „age“ was more and more replaced by the criterion „talent“. In this way, both more gifted and less gifted children were able to develop continuously and gain a sense of achievement.
Small group work as a general method
Gradually the work in small groups extended to many areas of kindergarten life: Handicrafts, experiments, music, theatre, etc., and soon we didn’t want to miss it anymore.
The better I know a child, the more I have already done together with him, the better I can judge what this child already knows and can do, what I can expect and what the child can build on.
In order to get to know the child well, I have to do a lot with him. I see little of what the individual child can do when it „disappears“ in a group of 15, 20 or even 30 children.
I observe when doing things together. If, for example, I bake a cake together with two children – and meanwhile leave the other children to their free play and the devotion of my colleague – I know afterwards which of the two children can crack an egg and which can’t; I also notice by the way which child already has an overview of the whole process and which only overlooks partial actions, and I notice which relationship the children have to numbers and weights. I can also experience which child can distinguish flour, salt and sugar by appearance and taste.
I also see what cooperation skills the children have been able to develop so far.
If I talk extensively with the children while baking, I can find out, for example, whether the children know where the flour comes from and what organic eggs are.
Such joint activities and discussions give rise to ideas for new joint activities, learning fields and projects.
What I have observed when working together with two children I can remember well for a short time and take a few notes immediately afterwards.
If, on the other hand, I bake with 10 children, I am busy ensuring a certain order, regulating who may break the 4 eggs …
And I have to keep the frustrated children, who would like to do more themselves and would also like to enter into a peaceful spiritual exchange, „at the bar“.
I then made an offer for 10 children, but in the end there was less learning and less joy and concentration in the room than if I had worked with two or three children.
And I cannot say very much about the individual children later, except: P. always pushes himself forward, L. holds himself back and F. does nonsense. I don’t get a thorough impression of the children, but rather make random individual observations which can reinforce prejudices or which I quickly forget because I can’t question and deepen them in the situation.
How much professional satisfaction
gives the working form small group work
to the kindergarten teacher?
Everyone has to find that out for themselves.
Quite apart from that, there are of course also many joyful and important (learning) experiences in the whole group.
Another positive effect is that the insights and experiences from the small group often flood over into the whole group: Often the children of the small group are able and willing to pass on to the whole group what they have learned themselves. Thus it can happen that children master games, songs and materials so confidently that other children can learn from them.
Small group offers are often possible!
They are always possible if there are (at least) two kindergarten teachers in the group. I have often heard in training courses: „We can’t do that, we don’t get to it, we don’t have time for it at all“.
In fact, there are still kindergartens where a single educator is alone with the group in the long run. In my opinion, this is an untenable, very uneducational and unacceptable situation for all concerned. And then it really doesn’t work.
The same is true if the kindergarten is so cramped that a small group cannot retreat to play and work undisturbed.
It depresses me again and again when colleagues explain unsustainable personal and spatial conditions to themselves: „There is no money there“. – In one of the richest countries in the world.
(See in addition: Improving Framework Conditions! – German version)
But otherwise, with two kindergaten reachers in the group and sufficient premises, the argument „That’s not possible with us“ does not stand up to closer scrutiny.
Can I organise this in my kindergarten? And how often can I work like this?
The work with small groups has to be carried out for each individual.
In my kindergarten there was small group work almost every day. Of course, the groups were always composed differently: Sometimes I sang the kindergarten songs with four three-year-olds and talked to them about the lyrics so that they could sing along to our most common songs with confidence (this then took perhaps only a quarter of an hour on several days), sometimes the particularly gifted children made scientific experiments, which already lasted a whole morning – and because of the enthusiasm was continued the next day.
My colleague in the group of course had the same right to work in small groups, and I often noticed that she (even though she didn’t have an exam as a kindergarten teacher) had intensive philosophical conversations with two children while playing a difficult game with them at the same time.
Also in our projects, which for a long time covered the whole group, small group work always had a firm and important place.
Advancement for gifted children in kindergarten
is for me hardly imaginable without small group work.
Advantages for the gifted children and the kindergarten teachers
In the IHVO courses, many participants develop the following working method, which are also suggested by the tasks in the course:
The first task is to get to know a particularly and possibly highly gifted child better through targeted observation.
Then they take up a serious interest of this child and form a small group around this child. Sometimes it makes sense to start „smaller“ in order to integrate the gifted child into the kindergarten group and to give him important experiences, see:
One-on-One Advancement, Mentoring.
Surprisingly often – but by no means always – the „observation child“ is able to judge for himself which of his play friends could fit well into the small group – especially if he already has experience with small group work. In the end, the kindergarten teacher makes sure that the cognitive level of the children is similarly high.
Experience has shown that children who cannot keep up cognitively soon lose interest and withdraw. In order to spare the child this frustration, the kindergarten reacher may be able to talk openly about it in advance with her „observation child“ and communicate her assessment.
Verena Demirel, for example, writes in one of her homework assignments (IHVO Course):
„In advance, Murat and I had discussed that his friend David would only take part in actions related to English (as foreign language). I explained to him that David couldn’t yet calculate so far and that they would both be bored with such a game.“
A problematic solution would be to lower the cognitive level so that everyone can come along. This is always useful and important for the whole group to show consideration and solidarity – but it would be counterproductive to work in small groups.
If the children then work well together with the support of the kindergarten teacher, the advantages for the gifted child, but also for the small group as a whole, will soon emerge:
- The contents can be particularly extensive, since the children have a great capacity for understanding.
- They can work intensively and in depth, because the children remain persevering and enjoy thinking.
- The pace and progress of the project can be comparatively rapid, the gifted child does not have to wait too long for everyone to follow.
- The gifted child experiences sufficiently intensively that the other children also have good ideas, which encourages its willingness and desire for teamwork.
- The result is satisfactory, the gifted child does not have to think disappointed: „That was (again) nothing.“
- The opportunity to contribute one’s own ideas and thus be understood is pleasingly high.
- Discussing ideas and making decisions together is possible at a higher (language and thinking) level and with greater independence and seriousness.
What effect does it have when gifted children form a small group?
The results of the activity are correspondingly high-ranking:
For example, the result is a „real“ theatre play, the result also satisfies the particularly gifted children.
The scientific experiments are much more difficult, but the children still manage not only to understand the experiment and the explanation, but also to contribute information themselves and to develop and pursue their own questions.
The conversations about stories and picture books are linguistically differentiated and intellectually astonishing. The children can deal with more difficult types of questions in relation to the story, for example: Why is this so, why does XY not behave differently? What would I do? etc.? (See also the section „We know different ways of asking“ in: How to Promote Thinking.)
Topics are dealt with more diversely and penetrated more deeply. (See also the section „Mind mapping“ in the article Plans, Drawings, Sketches, Mind-Maps.)
Here in the manual you will find a wealth of practical examples. Kindergarten teachers describe their astonishment at how intensive the learning processes of gifted children are when they can work undisturbed with similarly gifted children, well guided and accompanied – and how happy they are to do so. Very often the children show a remarkably positive social behaviour.
As early as 2001, I myself had very good experiences with a playing and learning group consisting of seven children aged 4;8 to 5;6. There were three girls and four boys. Seven was actually a bit much for an intensive small group work, also otherwise the conditions were not rosy in comparison with a group in the kindergarten:
In the beginning the children didn’t know each other, they didn’t know me either and of course I didn’t know them either. We met weekly late afternoon in a barren room in an adult learning centre. I had to carry all the material with me and take it home again in the evening.
But all the children were gifted or probably gifted.
After ten weeks, at the end of the project, I was able to report a very positive conclusion:
„The children reacted motivated to the offers of advancement. In almost all situations they acted with recognizable joy and concentration, their social behaviour was predominantly appropriate and positive, and they performed well. They showed clear progress in learning.
Thus we can draw the conclusion that the goal of creating an appropriate playing and learning environment for the gifted children was achieved.
There were clear indications that the so-called secondary virtues such as stamina, discipline and concentration develop well in appropriate, challenging learning situations.
If gifted children are continuously and jointly promoted over a longer period of time, it can be assumed that their achievements will become even more creative than was already apparent. It can also be assumed that they will make the learning process even more active and independent if they constantly have the opportunity to acquire communication and learning strategies as well as structured knowledge in many areas. The broader and more consciously these bases are promoted, the more freely creativity and self-determination can unfold from it.
(from: Hanna Vock, Project: Spiel- und Lerngruppe für hoch begabte Vorschulkinder (Playing and learning group for gifted preschool children), 2002)
Here you can see an excerpt of this report: A Hen’s Egg (German version).
– Examples of: Advancement in Small Groups
– Three Little Girls Are the „Mind Group“ (German version)
– Theatre Play with Gifted Children (German version)
That’s how a gifted 13th grade student sees it:
She writes in her report about her participation in a course of the Schülerakademie (a holiday academy for gifted students from the upper level of the grammar school):
„8.3.1 Courage to create homogeneous performance groups
When forming groups for team work, the school usually pays meticulous attention to ensuring that „the good“ or „the bad“ do not work together. The advantages are obvious: all groups should be able to perform equally, pupils with different abilities should learn to get to grips with each other. But does this always have to be the case?
In the SchülerAkademie I experienced the performance boost that work in a group with equally strong members brings about. As an experiment, it is also suitable for school lessons. Of course, the results of the work are not comparable with each other, but they are not in the foreground either, but the joint work experience. A teacher could, however, respond to the different levels of difficulty of the task.
Regardless of the level of the work done, I believe that the homogeneity of a team benefits all participants.
While good students „inspire“ each other, weaker students have the chance to take on the leadership role in a unified group. The same pace of work prevents one student from feeling „lost“ within his group while another student is bored. Students can temporarily slip out of their roles in their class. It will avoid the situation where those with a quicker grasp will always explain issues and work steps to their slower classmates while they feel that they are fundamentally dependent on the help of others to solve a problem. Under these conditions, even an equal workload would not be fair. In return, good students, who automatically take the lead in teamwork, learn to coordinate themselves in a team consisting of the same „leader types“.
What makes teamwork efficient, work facilitation through division of labour and, ideally, the „multiplication“ of the creativity and strengths of the individual members, can, in my view, best be learned among equally strong partners. In order to make such a synegy effect possible, the professional world also pays attention to filling homogeneous teams.“
(from a publication of the Deutsche Schüler Akademie 2004)
How nice it is when gifted children can make
such experiences already in their kindergarten years!
Date of publication in German: 2018, January
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.