How disadvantaged children can grow mentally and physically safe: an educational framework to accompany children age 0–3 years in their physical, mental and psychological development, assuring higher birth-rates in Europe.
The forest kindergarten is a peaceful place, situated on the edge of the forest with plenty of opportunities for outdoor playing. Like every late afternoon, Anna carefully puts the toys together, arranges the building blocks and takes the balls back to their place. As she picks up the blue game ball, her thoughts turn to little Augustin, whom his mother brought to daycare for the first time a fortnight ago.
Augustin is two and a half years old and still very shy; he wouldn’t talk to the other children and usually only plays on the edge of the small group of children, of which the elders are already very vivacious at the age of three. Even though she and her pedagogical colleague Bea always invite the little one to play in the group, he remains remarkably shy in the background and does not dare to get involved in the other children’s play. On some days it seems as if he wants to take a step into the circle, but then he recedes in silence and seems at a loss while the other children are playing catch in the circle or are cooking together in the kitchen corner. The small boy seems trapped in his world, unable to connect with the others.
Tomorrow professor Ulrike Loch, specialized on the sociology of cultural and communicative processes, will come by. She is currently working on the framework plan for early childhood education for the family agency in the region. Due to her expertise, she should know which pedagogical accents could be set for the little one.
Mentoring for growing confidence
The meeting with Ulrike is important for the two pedagogics, especially as the wellbeing of their protégés means a lot to them. “The aim of education is to accompany children in the development of their physical, mental and psychological independence and personality development so that they can participate in the wider social environment in a way appropriate to their age”, Professor Loch explains. “Yes, mentoring is a good keyword”, Anna sighs. “We are a bit at a loss here, as we are trying to integrate little Augustin into the group, but he reacts very introvertedly. His mother has hinted to us that as a single mother she is having a hard time, that the little one has been alone a lot or with his grandmother, who because of her frailty was also unable to play with Augustin to the extent she would have liked to.” “The stronger a child’s trust is, the more interested and confidently it explores its surroundings,” explains Professor Loch. “Little Augustin seems to be afraid. Give him some time and try to play with him outside, first alone and then with the other children. Being outdoors sometimes helps to open up and slowly find one another through intentional play”.
Staying home or choosing childcare?
“Maybe it would be better if the child’s mother would spend more time with him instead of bringing him to us where he apparently doesn’t want to stay,” Bea dares to interject. “No”, emphasizes Ulrike Loch. “This is an old wives’ tale, children have a right to quality care, and we are aiming for a general childcare rate of 33% for children in the age group between 9 months and 3 years in Europe. It is good for children’s development, and quite apart from that, good care also has an impact on the birth rate, which is declining throughout Europe.”
Why socio-economic backgrounds still matter
Ulrike Loch is upset, she could have talked about how an excellent a nationwide early childcare of 44% in France makes the birth rate increase up to 2.01 per woman, but at the moment she doesn’t dwell on it. She has a flashback at her early childhood, growing up with four little sisters and brothers and as the oldest of them having had to assist her mother, not being able to play outside with the neighbour children or going on weekends to museums with her family like her friends at school.
I know how much good educational care can stimulate your brain and can contribute to your healthy development and educational success.
Prof. Ulrike Loch
How well does she remember that being poor her parents couldn’t afford to send them to any childcare institution before the age of six, and god she knows how much good educational care can stimulate your brain and can contribute to your healthy development and educational success. She herself devoured the two picture books they had in the house night after night. Her own childhood experience made her study pedagogy, and with every step in her career, she was more convinced and more working for helping to reduce social inequalities and to reduce the skills gap between children from different socio-economic backgrounds.
Ulrike fights back her memories and turns her attention to Anna and Bea: “We are digressing. We should turn our attention to little Augustin. Take him out into the woods, let all the children look for stones, fir cones and branches. Through the shared experience they will relate to each other and maybe this is a first step for him to participate in the group.”
Getting confidence in nature
After the first little snack, the sun had come out so far that a stay outside would be pleasant. The carers dress the toddlers in their jackets, sing joyful songs together and take the children for a walk in the nearby forest. “Let us now try to find different materials and lay a small course together — one with stones only, one with fir cones, one with branches. We will then all walk barefoot over our path and everyone can say exactly what they feel on the soles of their feet.” The 2 to 3-year-old children shout with joy and start running into the woods, whereas the youngest in the group from the age of nine months are carefully placed on a blanket, from where some of them manage to crawl into the grass, exploring their surroundings.
Can you put your experience into words?
A little later, the children walk giggling over carefully arranged rectangles with different materials, including stones of different sizes, branches and small fir cones collected in the forest. Next to them is a field of small branches that the older children have collected. With many “Ahs” and “Ohs” the children walk across the fields and try to communicate their feelings in simple words. Augustin also places his bare feet carefully on the stones and branches and finally smiles at Anna and says “it tickles” while pointing to the pebbles under his feet. Anna laughs with relief and gives Augustin a hug. At last, they managed through this shared experience to open him up and to draw little Augustin into the group.
Experimenting, exploring and learning are important aspects of early childhood development.
Prof. Ulrike Loch
When Anna the following day tells professor Loch about this experience, and about the toddler’s better integration into the group, Ulrike is delighted. “Yes, experimenting, exploring and learning are important aspects of early childhood development. Therefore, we have included those experiments in our recently completed framework plan for early childhood education, training and care for children aged 0–3 years. Our aim is to support the development of equal and high-quality early childhood care in order to provide equitable development opportunities for all children in the region”.
And looking at Augustin, the first steps have been taken.