By Eva Quinn-Walters, Early Childhood Educator at the Professor Lynn Corcoran Early Learning Centre: FROEBEL Parkville)
Whilst travelling through Europe this summer, I had the pleasure of visiting the FROEBEL Kindergarten Lützelsteiner Weg in Berlin. Theresia, the Director of the Centre (previously Assistant Director at FROEBEL Fitzroy North in Melbourne), was very welcoming, showing me around and giving me an overall idea of our parent organisation in Germany. Theresia’s experience working at FROEBEL Fitzroy North led to interesting discussions about the similarities and differences of FROEBEL Australia and FROEBEL Germany. I also talked to Susann, the Kindergarten teacher about their program and culture within this specific service.
One of the first things I noticed about the children was their sense of freedom. There seemed to be a lot of trust given to the children to make the right (or wrong) decisions and to then learn from these experiences. The Centre’s atmosphere seemed relaxed and open for anything to occur. There was a group of children in one room singing and dancing to a popular German song that they had blaring out of a small CD player. The CDs were readily available for the children to choose what music they wanted to listen to. They all sang along and danced whilst the Educator sat quietly in the corner, interacting with another, quieter child. They seemed unfazed by the loud music and the Educator acknowledged how much fun the children were having with a smile.
Later on in the morning, whilst discussing the program with Susann in the common coats, shoes and bags area; the same group of children suddenly started piling into the room, laughing and pulling at their clothes. It took me a while to realise they were rummaging for their bathers and were all helping each other to undress and change into suitable swimwear. The children then ran outside to cool off in the blow-up pool that was lying on the lawn. The yard was large and there were planter boxes growing vegetables, sunflowers and all sorts of things. The other end of the garden had a mini forest with a cubby house sitting on the edge of the trees. The area was filled with wonder and space. The cubby house was covered in paint and Susann explained that this particular project was a house that the children could do whatever they wanted with. One day the children decided to paint the hole cubby in one colour and another day decided to scrub all the paint off together so the wood was visible again. She said the project is for them to have freedom and to learn how to solve problems together as a collective.
The Kinder program is designed to have planned activities for a segment of the morning and more spontaneous experiences for the rest of the day. The layout of the indoor area is designed for the children between the ages of three and six to roam freely through the space and to be able to choose what activities they want to take part in. Each room has a purpose. One of the rooms that I found impressive was the “Movement Room” which has mats, hula-hoops, climbing frames, balls and more, to participate in any given movement possible. The other rooms were set up for arts, craft, music/theatre and reading. This meant the children could freely choose an activity and space to participate in something they felt like doing without being disturbed by others. The outdoor area was shared by all age groups. Theresia explained how FROEBEL in Germany tries to split up the age groups of the children as little as possible, as each child is developing at their own pace and the children can help each other through the varying developmental stages by learning from one another.
The main elements from my time at FROEBEL Lützelsteiner Weg that I want to take with me back to Australia are: giving the children more space to work things out for themselves and just be; have more trust that the children know what is best for them; less of a rigid routine and more spontaneity!