by Geraldine Zimmermann
On May 3rd, I found myself on a plane heading to Germany, as I was given the opportunity to attend the biennial FROEBEL Leaders Congress. More than 250 centre directors, managing directors, members of the board and other FROEBEL partners and sector stakeholders participated in this event which was held at the most impressive Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid.
Before the congress started, I spent a day with a former colleague in Berlin who I used to work with in Australia. Together we reflected on the way she had to readjust in Germany, after having taught in Australia for a couple of years. We also discussed the differences and similarities in regards to the early childhood education system, in general as well as in terms of regulations and funding. Different to Australia, childcare is almost entirely publicly funded in Germany, and I keep wondering why we seemingly cannot achieve a similar model here.
Olde Lorenzen (our Managing Director in Australia) and I at the FROEBEL Leaders Congress (top left) and experiment stations at the Phaeno Science Center (above)
On the first day of the FROEBEL Leaders Congress in Wolfsburg, we listened to inspiring keynotes and leadership talks by Peter Rösner (Member of the Advisory Board and former CEO of the Little Scientists House Foundation in Germany) and Rainer Borgmann-Quade (Chairman of the Supervisory Board). We then started exploring the Phaeno and its many scientific experiments in smaller groups of delegates while discussing reflective questions on leadership and management. As the theme of this years’ congress was “Phenomena Leadership: Discover, Invent, Decide”, we looked at the role of a director/manager and how we can achieve to keep the children’s best interest our top priority while – at the same time – living up to high expectations and needs of families, managers, team members, the community and the organisation.
Stefan Spieker, speaking to congress delegates
On Day 2, we further exchanged ideas on how to lead, manage and further advance early childhood education in various workshops. The day ended with a science show and Stefan Spieker (our Chairman of the Board) announcing the location of the next congress in 2020. It will be held at the Loris Malaguzzi International Center in Reggio Emilia / Italy – the birthplace of the Reggio Emilia education approach. Wow! After saying goodbyes to my fellow delegates, I traveled to Cologne where Arndt Kortwig (Regional Manager for FROEBEL in Cologne) and Petra Loebach (Early Childhood Consultant at FROEBEL) took me to three wonderful FROEBEL services in their area.
I vividly remember my visit to ‘An St Peter’ kindergarten. Imagine you walk into a childcare service. You step outside to explore the outdoor play areas and the first thing you see is a 5-year-old, carving into a stick with his carving knife. Around him approximately four more children and an educator. Amazed by the confidence of the children, you turn around and observe two boys climbing up an old bunker entrance (don’t worry, it is closed off). My first instinct was to step in to ensure they don’t cut themselves or fall off the approx. 1.8m high concrete bunker entrance. But they showed me their great climbing skills and the educators seemed to have confidence in their children, too. This is when I realised that living and practicing in Australia – with its more risk-adverse regulatory environment – for over 5 years, has somewhat sadly changed my level of trust and confidence in children. I am and will always be a believer in appropriate risk-taking experiences for children. But this visit has given me reassurance and confidence that it works and that children are capable of much more than our society often seems to believe. They can be independent adventure seekers, risk takers, inquisitive thinkers and confident human beings if only we trust them more.
Looking back, this trip has encouraged me to further explore and implement challenging experiences, ‘real-life’ tools and excursions which facilitate appropriate risk-taking as part of our educational program at FROEBEL St Leonards. When we start teaching children to take risks whilst listening to one’s instincts and gut feeling, they will grow into self-aware and capable young adults who conquer the world with confidence.
Exploring electrostatic forces at Phaeno Science Center