Parents are of the opinion that the free game takes up enough space. Goran Bogicevic/Shutterstock
It’s not unusual for things to look completely different from the outside than when you’re right in the middle. The kindergarten should be one of these things.
Brain researchers and psychiatrists are sounding the alarm that many kindergartens are imposing too much strict learning content on children and allowing too little free play – and thus not promoting independent thinking enough.
But what do parents and educators say? Business Insider has spoken to those who go to kindergarten every day to work or pick up their children.
All parents who responded to the call from business insiders stated that their children’s day care centers were playing a lot and that there was no predetermined content to be communicated. At least that’s what parents like. Because these guidelines already exist: every federal state has a so-called education plan for early childhood education. This was created as a reaction to the poor performance of German pupils in the Pisa test at the beginning of the 2000s. It also deals with educational and support goals that day-care centres should achieve, for example in the mathematical, scientific, technical, cultural, musical, linguistic, media, religious and social fields. But how does the educational plan affect the day-to-day running of the kindergarten?
“I believe that the children still play a lot today,” says Sabine Braun-Eckhardt, head of the daycare center, in an interview with Business Insider. “Only the focus has shifted slightly, more towards playful learning.” In her daycare center, there would be so-called education rooms that are arranged according to topics so that children can recognize their strengths. They should discover the rooms themselves and learn through play. “If, as an adult, I think a child has to learn this and that now, and that’s why I only promote this area, I don’t reach the child at all”.
Alexander Goy, head of a bilingual kindergarten and after-school care centre in Munich, has a similar view: “Children discover most of it in free play. But at the same time not every child has the same urge to explore, so we have to create a stimulating environment. It’s a mixture of fixed structures and free play.”
Many of the points that brain researchers criticize – such as the strict guidelines on what children should be taught at what age – would have been improved long ago anyway, both daycare managers say. “It used to be decided what the leaders thought was right and what they personally thought the children should learn. Today it is the other way around. You look very closely, check what the children need, at what age and at what stage of development, and start there,” says Braun-Eckhardt.
“The Bavarian educational plan is actually a good thing, because the three anchor points are social competence, self-reflection and resilience, i.e. they affect the personality of the children,” says Alexander Goy. The challenge for daycare centres is above all to encourage children to find things out for themselves and not to teach them things strictly.
Parents: “Offer targeted support”
This is the concept of the educational plan. But in some kindergartens this is apparently not implemented. A mother with a five-year-old son in a Karlsruhe institution told Business Insider that there was no support at all in her kindergarten. “I think there are a lot of underchallenged children. There are also fights in the yard. And that actually shows a lack of challenge.” Among the parents, almost all parents in their day-care center think that the children should be supported more. “I would say that it is the combination. Playing is irreplaceable, children learn by playing. You don’t even need toys that encourage learning. To put it bluntly, you can also put a pot with a cooking spoon in front of them and they learn what it is or how to stir it while playing. But if that’s what the children want, they should be offered targeted support.”
In other kindergartens this is already being implemented better. A father with two children, who go to a private kindergarten with a reform education concept, said: “There are these offers, such as arithmetic, writing, reading and playing the piano, but the children themselves decide whether or when they want to take them.
Braun-Eckhardt’s nursery also adheres to this concept: there is a research room with a microscope, scales, kaleidoscope and glasses, as well as a “building land” area for “architecture, building and numbers” or a writing workshop. All voluntary. “It needs an environment in which the child develops an interest in something on its own initiative.
In the survey conducted by Business Insider, many parents emphasized the voluntary aspect of learning opportunities in kindergartens: “My children are brought up to be independent in our private kindergarten. They are allowed to do things of daily life in a child-friendly way themselves,” said one father.
Another father, whose seven- and ten-year-old children went to public kindergarten today, stated that there had been concrete learning opportunities such as yoga, early English or pottery and that he was very satisfied with the offer overall. The children had learned “better motor skills, language development, dealing with people and resistance”.
Parents are torn back and forth
Braun-Eckhardt sees the problem that children are forced into learning patterns, generally less in the daycare centers, but rather with their parents. “I believe that parents no longer really look at what suits their own child. But mostly what other children can and do and what Professor XY, who was found on Google, says. I believe that intuition and a feeling for one’s own child are slowly getting a little lost.”
That is why many parents would expect children to learn most at the day care center. Some parents become very impatient when their children approach school age: “Then they sometimes buy exercise books and think they have to practice, practice, practice with their children. But this overzealousness does not lead to long-lasting learning outcomes. It is an art to get a child to buy things he does not want to buy.”
Alexander Goy, the head of the Munich daycare centre, is also familiar with the problem, but doesn’t see the blame on the parents: “It’s a confusing time. Parents know how our German school system works and want their children to prove themselves, but on the other hand they also know the findings of neuroscientists that children should be encouraged according to their talents and personality. At the end of the day, this confusion on the part of parents would make children insecure.
Goy sees the central problem in the fact that day-care centres often have a more advanced educational claim than the general school system. “Our school system dates back to the post-war period and is designed for frontal teaching, so it is expected that children who come to school from kindergarten will be quiet, report to the school and have stamina. The central question that parents and educators in kindergarten are confronted with: Do they now want to prepare the children for life or for primary school?
This article is part of a topic special by Business Insider about kindergartens in Germany. What do kindergartens have to do with business and career? Quite a lot: Many parents now see the institution as a place where even the youngest ones should be prepared for the working world of the future. However, educators, economists and educators fear that we will gamble away the future of our children if we deprive them of the fun of playing and discovering.
Here you can find out more about the background of the topic special as well as a list of all related articles from the BI editorial staff.