A Positive Environment
Our highest goal is to create a positive environment for children and their parents, so they can be together peacefully and joyfully. Children should be able to develop at their own speed and from their own motivation and inner strength. They should be able to learn with enthusiasm and joy, and acquire a diversity of life skills. We would like the children to learn how to be responsible for themselves and others, by providing a warm, accepting, caring and appreciative atmosphere. This requires learning companions who work peacefully, joyfully, and with gratitude.
The precondition for doing so is the experience of self-efficacy, and being certain of feeling accepted in every mood and situation involving conflict.
To empower the children in this way, we use various methods of conflict management depending on their age.
Different role models and their theses have had a significant influence on our work with children, parents, and amongst our staff, for instance
Jon Young (Peacemaker Principles) and Sobonfu Some (grief work)
Marshall Rosenberg (Non-Violent Communication)
Friedemann Schulz von Thun (Principle of the 4 Ears, Inner Team, Active Listening...),
Thomas Gordon (Gordon Model) and Manitonquat Story Teller (Way of the Circle, Co-Counseling).
Those methods also imply that we teachers support children in finding their own ways to solve a problem that might seem unusual to grown-ups at first. An essential part of our little kindergarten community's everyday life is to pass on positive values and be together in a natural and considerate way.
Berlin Education Program (BBP)
Our kindergarten operates on the grounds of the BBP. This intends children to have the possibilities to establish personal, tangible, social, and learning skills. This happens in various ways and will be covered by the following educational areas:
- Body, Movement, and Health
- Social and Cultural Environment
- Communication: Language, Literacy, and Media
- Artistic Design
- Basic Mathematical Experience
- Basic Experiences with Science and Technology
A good foundation for acquiring two languages is laid by having the children cared for by various teachers who are mainly native speakers of English and German. Positive influences in several languages encourage consciousness of diversity as enriching.
According to Germany's leading neuroscientist Gerald Hüther and others, a child's brain at kindergarten age is designed to learn any number of languages if the child is exposed to them regularly. German as well as English grammar and pronunciation are included equally in the kindergarten. Games and songs, as well as everyday conversation, take place in both languages. Immersion and contextualization are suited to all children. First, children acquire understanding through hearing, later they speak as well. To encourage the children's interest in the English language, many of the staff speak English as well.
In emergency situations, the language is spoken which the child will understand right away.
In conflict situations as well, our priority is not in acquiring new languages, but rather to find a good solution in a good way for all involved. Children can express their own feelings best in the language they are most used to, are most approachable in that language, and for that reason are addressed in that language by us.
We do not offer English lessons in a conventional sense.
Nature Pedagogy and Environmental Education
There is equal emphasis on nature pedagogy and environmental education as a second focal point. The staff works according to the foundations of forest, wilderness, and experiential pedagogy.
Each person develops their own image of the world through their experiences. This consciousness comes from acquired knowledge. Children learn according to the following principle:
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do it and I understand.
Daily integration into nature allows children to experience it first-hand. They can "grasp" it using their heart, head, and hands equally. They perceive themselves as a part of nature's cycles. They also learn to treat natural habitats with respect, they will later only preserve that which they have come to know and love.
Nature offers diverse possibilities of educating the senses. Handling large branches and small beetles trains gross and fine motor skills. Running across uneven fields, climbing trees and balancing along logs facilitates developing a sense of balance. Various materials such as wood, grass, moss, and stones, stimulate the tactile system; the sight of trees allows the overstimulated eyes to relax; the ears learn to listen to soft sounds as well, far from the big city noise. Moving in the fresh air outside strengthens the immune system. The distances covered by the children every day don't only allow them to satisfy their urge to move, but also help them to be able to assess their own strength and develop a sensibility for their own boundaries. As a result, they aren't only less likely to have accidents, but are also often more curious, grounded, and self-confident. Good muscle development prevents civilization infirmities. Children who accumulate little stress during the day by being in an environment with fewer stimuli, and moving enough and freely, are much more relaxed and emotionally stable.
Our staff uses the eco-pedagogical principles as a foundation:
Encourage perception and capacity for experience:
- with all the senses
- through direct experience
- being fully present in the here and now
Learn by acting:
- trying out and experimenting
- acquiring a diversity of skill sets
- experience in creating reality
- simple, consistent principles
- tangible effects and feedback
- encouraging positive role models
- diverse and flexible ways of thinking
- linking various experiences
Give impulses to question and reflect:
- acknowledge and respect needs
- recognize values and habits and question them
- give space to dreams and visions
Participation and solidarity:
- encouragement through synergy effects
- value individuality and community
- participate in social change
In order to illustrate integration into nature and society, indigenous peoples pass on knowledge, wisdom, culture, and ways of learning, using as its foundation the "Coyote Teaching" method as practiced by Native North Americans. In this method, the children are supported in experiencing their perceptions consciously. They have the possibility of discovering their own connections, finding answers to their questions themselves. The focus is not on the right answer (supposedly given by an adult and their worldview), but rather stimulating the process itself of perceiving and thinking.
Through the accompanying adults' mentoring role, the children have the opportunity of weaving many "threads of connection" to nature and to people, and to strengthen them. Over time, they become stable "ropes to nature" which can support and hold the children in times of crisis.
Of course, the kindergarten conveys and practices responsible handling of natural resources (avoiding waste, separating garbage, recycling food waste through the organic waste bin, guidance in economical use of water and electricity, etc.).
In order to process and deepen the morning's experiences creatively, the children have the opportunity after the midday break to express their impressions artistically, through building and construction games as well as by role-playing. For this purpose, the workshop area provides various materials, e.g. things brought from the forest, various kinds of paper and cardboard, textiles, wool, wood, clay, various crayons and paints, as well as different kinds of glue. It is especially important that the materials can be used in a variety of ways. This allows the children to explore, change, and shape the materials imaginatively, following their own ideas. The projects don't only take up the children's interests, but also work on environmental themes in an age-appropriate way (e.g. How do we build a nest box and why? Who lives there now?). Gradually, the children also learn through the practical work how to handle tools like knives, saws, and hammers responsibly.
Free play is of great importance. It schools communication skills, getting into contact with each other, and processing experiences. To that end, it's important to not schedule something for every minute of the kindergarten's daily routine, but rather allow the children to really decide themselves during free playtime who they want to play with, what and how long they play for, or what they wish to explore, alone or with others. In this way, children can deal with their interests, and also playfully process issues such as fears, anger, sorrow, as well as joy.
Toys can break - experiences never die.
It is an advantage to encouraging imagination and developing communication skills if there are no, or few, prefabricated toys. The kindergarten only uses a few, predominantly natural play materials that can be used in a variety of ways, e.g. a costume box for role-playing, blankets, sandbags. The space, as a "third teacher", should not be overloaded with toys, but mostly be empty, to leave a lot of space for extensive playing (such as "building shacks" with chairs, benches, large boxes, ropes, and cloth) and the children's own designs (for example on the walls).
In the morning, in nature, sticks, bark, grasses, and stones stimulate the imagination, and take on the parts e.g. of dolls, animals and building blocks.
The use of books is integrated into the daily routine. Books relate to situations in the children's environment and offer support in coping with current life events. The content of the books is mostly conveyed in both languages.
Picture books as well nonfiction books are freely available to the children.
Daily, weekly, and monthly rituals, and those that return in the year's cycle offer the children stability and orientation, convey a sense of security as well as being integrated into a community and nature. That is why we give them great importance in structuring our kindergarten. Some rituals already exist, others are developed together with the children.
We welcome parting rituals from the parents in the morning, they make separating easier and offer security.
In this kindergarten, there is no pre-school work in a conventional sense.
Instead, we place great value in developing social and emotional skills. We focus on acquiring manual skills, the ability to self-organize, independence, experiencing nature, as well as orientation skills.
Working with Media
As using electronic media at kindergarten age is questionable in terms of multifaceted and healthy development of a child's body, mind, and spirit, there should be a certain consciousness surrounding their use in the families of the children in our care. It is expected that electronic media are used sparingly and age-appropriately. There will be opportunities to inform one's self at the parents' evenings. At the kindergarten, they are not used at all or only as a well-motivated exception.
Teachers play a very special role. Children learn things best which they are currently interested in. Following Maria Montessori's principle "Help me to do it myself", the teachers assume an assisting role on the level of a partner.
One the one hand, the teachers work according with a "situational" approach, that is, they observe the children carefully and help them to learn what they want to learn in order to realize their inner potential. The journey is their destination; we don't focus on the result of learning but rather on a holistic approach. Projects and activities emerge, building on this idea.
On the other hand, nature's cycles guide the children's learning opportunities and the teachers accompany the children through the seasons' special features: For instance, in spring, we harvest and process wild garlic, in summer, we tend to the garden patches, in the fall, we harvest pears and apples, and in winter, we practice walking longer distances.
In order to strengthen the teachers in their personalities, they are supported in taking courses at wilderness schools, depending on the kindergarten's financial situation and further education planning. We don't only focus on the teachers improving their professional expertise, but also give great value to the event's integrating, personality-strengthening elements. As with the children, we start from the inner strength inherent in everyone that offers multifaceted potential, based on a grounded personality, a good, appreciative environment, deepening all sorts of skill sets, that children, parents, and staff members can experience as being very enriching. Therefore, the staff members can be true life role models for the children, who are able to help orient them in many areas.
With a few exceptions, the staff has weekly meetings. They serve to connect with each other, exchange information on the group situations and processes, the children and their families, for mutual support in problematic situations, and to learn from each other. Topics relevant to the kindergarten are dealt with together (organization, behavioral problems, potential danger to a child's welfare…), and we reflect upon our actions as individuals and as a team, in a solution-oriented way. Common projects are developed, work with parents is discussed, parents' evenings, activities and celebrations are planned.
Topics in staff meetings include cooperations and networking in the neighborhood, but also sharing the hard as well as the beautiful moments of working in a kindergarten together.
Regular participation in team development processes adds to the staff's stability, contributes to ensuring the quality of our daily work, and supports synergy effects.
Work with Parents
Parents' evenings take place every four months, or as needed. For special topics, we invite experts, for instance a pediatrician on natural remedies, or the director of Lernwerk Pankow (a local tutoring organization) on preschool learning. Parents and teachers also regularly spend weekends together to practice previously learned topics, such as coyote mentoring, or perceiving nature.
There is also the possibility for individual talks between the parents and the staff on the children's current situation and development, including space and time to deal with family issues. Spontaneous talks in passing are often possible as well, and message books also simplify daily communications.
Not only the celebrations together (e.g. a Thanksgiving breakfast at the Botanical Gardens) build community, but also the "building Saturdays" which take place several times a year, and during which we work and clean together for the kindergarten, and eat together.
In the kindergarten, there is a cozy corner with a couch, a bulletin board, and a small reading corner with books on pedagogical subjects. It provides an opportunity for mutual exchange between the parents or with the teachers, and to inform one's self about current events, projects, or appointments, and deepen one's pedagogical knowledge.