Is Head Start Education Wrong or Real


Dagmar Kasüschke

Prof. in Dr. Dagmar Kasüschke, born in Dortmund in 1964, teaches elementary education and its didactics at the Schwäbisch Gmünd University of Education. Her work focuses on historical-systematic pedagogy in early childhood, didactics in day-care centers and Cultures of Early Childhood Education and Care. Most recently, she published "Child-Strengthening Pedagogy and Didactics in KiTa".

An interview by Benjamin Edelstein

Today it is undisputed that daycare centers have an educational mandate. But what distinguishes it and how does it differ from school? The early childhood education professor Dagmar Kasüschke on development phases, age-specific learning goals and the tasks of educational professionals.

Language promotion with picture boards. Depending on their age and development, children perceive the world differently, they think and act differently and sometimes incomprehensible to adults. (& copy picture-alliance, JOKER)

To what extent is the education of young children fundamentally different from what is commonly imagined as school education? And what does that mean for the profession of educator?

Dagmar Kasüschke
Dagmar Kasüschke: Children are different from adults. They are people in development. When children are born, the world is alien to them. In every phase of life they face different and new development tasks, but as a rule they are equipped with all the potential to cope with them. Depending on their age and development, children perceive the world differently, they think and act differently and sometimes incomprehensible to adults.

The education of small children has to adapt to this. When a child starts kindergarten at the age of three, they face several challenges: They are separated from their parents for a long period of time, they have to develop relationships with other children and adults, and integrate themselves into a play and learning community. The child still learns holistically, that is, it learns with all of its senses. The whole body is involved. You can literally watch the child's thinking. A young child can be very volatile in their attention. They may have little patience and want to know everything immediately. If it does not understand something, it turns to something new after unsuccessful attempts. If you let children, they examine everything. Thirst for knowledge and motivation to learn are practically inherent in the cradle. What children need is a supportive environment, which means, for example, stimulating play materials, free play opportunities with children of the same age as well as younger or older children and attentive adults who are ready to answer questions and get involved with the thoughts of the children.

The task of the educational specialists is therefore to support the child in his or her curiosity and cosmopolitanism. The child should have the opportunity to play intensively and for a long time with other children. It learns the ability to concentrate and stamina. Suitable (play) materials such as building blocks or creative offers such as role play, building games, painting, making and experimenting can encourage the child's curiosity and joy of discovery. In this way, they continue to be motivated and enjoy learning. By taking on small tasks and responsibilities in everyday life, it learns social skills. And ultimately, by participating in everyday group life and following a regular daily routine, it increasingly learns to organize itself. These are all important requirements for school. According to Ludwig Duncker, a primary school scientist, during primary school the child should be led from playful learning to systematic-methodical learning, from learning with all the senses to abstract learning, from independent learning to guided learning. Both in school and in kindergarten, the task of the pedagogical specialist is to support the children in their specific developmental tasks; this is what they have in common. The difference lies in the content and methodological approach, which is determined by the age and development phase.

To what extent must a distinction be made between the education of under-three-year-olds and those over three-year-olds, as is often the case with the distinction between daycare and daycare or the separate groups of "small" and "large" groups in practice?

Dagmar Kasüschke: Here I can only tie in with what has been said so far. Many children come to an institution earlier than they did 20 years ago and stay longer each day. If a child attends all-day care in the first year of life, then it will have experiences here that it used to gain exclusively in the family. It learns to walk and speak here, it learns to deal with several other children much earlier, it learns to accept other adults as caregivers. Education at this age is much more physically bound than that of a kindergarten child. It is important to perceive your own and other needs, needs such as hunger and thirst, security, sleep and rest, to develop trust and to discover the world. The pedagogical specialists have to be even more relational partners. That is why you need more skilled workers here for fewer children. The skilled workers have to be emotionally and physically approachable much more intensively and give loving and warm attention. You still have to initiate all areas of education, such as language, physical experience, the development of sensory perception such as hearing, tasting, smelling and touching, etc. You have to give the children the opportunity to learn a variety of forms of expression such as singing , Dancing, painting or building. You have to give the child much more support in establishing contacts with their peers and in dealing with conflicts. Education is much more likely to happen automatically here, on the side and in everyday situations such as eating, dressing and undressing or examining objects. Children do not differentiate between toys and everyday objects such as a spoon or a mobile phone. Everything is equally interesting and attention changes quickly. Therefore, play circles and group (handicraft) offers for the youngest should be the exception. Because ultimately they have to be introduced into our world first.

From the age of three it is important to build on these experiences. The older the children get, not only do they have different interests, but they are constantly developing their skills. What I described as the initiation with the youngest must now be differentiated and deepened with the older ones. You can already follow more complex role-playing games, get involved with several children at the same time, play in larger groups. They want to test their physical strength, they stick to the matter longer and want to understand the laws behind things and ask why is that? While the pedagogical specialists have to be more present with the younger children, they have to be more withdrawn with the older children.

I am often asked if mixed-age groups are good for the little ones at all. Well, there is no empirical research to confirm or disprove that. Rather, it is crucial that educational work must be more differentiated in mixed-age groups than in classic daycare or kindergarten groups. That means there must be times when the youngest and the elderly are separated and their respective developmental needs are met. The little ones need rest periods and small, manageable rooms much more often. The preschool children need space in which they can pursue their own interests and do not always have to be considerate of the little ones. Space in which you can, for example, leave a building standing without a toddler destroying it out of curiosity. But there is also room for other offers that satisfy their thirst for knowledge, such as building a bird house at the workbench or "writing" a story book.

Froebel, Montessori, Freinet, Reggio, situational approach, open kindergarten, a mixture of different approaches - parents today encounter a barely manageable variety of educational profiles when looking for a daycare center. Regardless of all the pedagogical differences: from the perspective of early childhood education, are there common essential characteristics of good and supportive didactics? What should parents pay attention to when choosing a daycare center?

Dagmar Kasüschke: In a nutshell? The most important features that you will find in all approaches and that also prove international studies are a stimulating learning environment and qualified pedagogical specialists. Well-qualified specialists have appropriate specialist knowledge of children's learning processes, for example what two-year-olds can do in the areas of language, motor skills, feelings, etc. and what overwhelms them. They have didactic knowledge, i.e. knowledge of how offers, rooms and materials are designed so that they stimulate learning processes in children. They have the competence to adapt to the child's language level, to challenge children to think and not to provide answers immediately. Asking children what they mean when they ask or say something. We often think we know what children want to know. But when we ask them, we often find that we are wrong. Pedagogical professionals have the ability to support children in conflict situations and parents in bringing up their children.

Today daycare centers are increasingly perceived as educational institutions. However, representatives of early childhood education in particular warn against narrowing the daycare center to promoting school-based precursor skills. What should a child be able to do at the end of daycare? What is important and what is the significance of the so-called precursory school skills?

Dagmar Kasüschke: In the last few years in particular, the public discussion about the "spirit of research in diapers" and "early education" as the most important time has unsettled many parents, daycare centers and elementary schools or put them under pressure in some cases. As a result, many parents believe that their children need more support in kindergarten and at home through support programs so that they do not fall behind at the beginning of school.

So the question is what does the school expect? As a rule, the school expects a child to be able to put on and take off their jacket and shoes themselves, to sit still and listen for a long time, to pack their school bag themselves, to keep exercise books, folders and books in order, and notes from the teacher the parents and vice versa. She expects it to follow the teacher's instructions and fit into a class. The school does not expect the children to be able to write, read or do arithmetic. That is not the job of the kindergarten. The initiation of so-called precursor competencies takes place through what I described at the beginning. But the children come to school with different requirements and also with different talents. That is why the teachers try to do justice to this in the first few weeks in order to pick up all the children where they are. For some parents, things don't go fast enough. If a child can already write their name, mom, dad, grandma, etc., they may get bored in the first few weeks. While parents who have made a conscious decision not to train their child in school techniques before they leave school are dismayed to find that 90 percent of all other school beginners can already write their name and more.

In politics, the expansion of day-care centers is also expected to reduce social inequalities. Children from socially disadvantaged families would particularly benefit from early support. So far, however, there are hardly any studies that prove this. To what extent can daycare centers actually compensate for disadvantages related to origin? Is that also a question of the "correct" didactics?

Dagmar Kasüschke: You are right, there are few studies on it, but these few are long-term studies and therefore very informative. Various international studies such as the HEAD-Start program, the EPPE study or national studies show that the so-called origin-related disadvantages hardly play a role in kindergarten, that is, the kindergarten already reduces social inequalities between children and does a good job here. These studies have shown that children from socially disadvantaged families in particular benefit from attending daycare in all areas of education, be it in language, in promoting physical activity, in comprehension or in social integration in children's groups. The earlier they go to daycare, the better. It does not matter whether you visit them half-day or full-day. The social gap will only widen again in the course of school when it comes to acquiring cultural techniques such as reading, writing and arithmetic. In this respect, the causes must be sought more intensively here. At the moment we are struggling with the growing number of children who cannot speak the German language or can speak only a little. We are a migrant society and need other answers here, which only have to do with social origin to a limited extent. And here, too, we do not yet have any conclusive findings in the field of didactics, even if there are already diverse language support programs. However, we still have too little empirical knowledge about which language support concepts make sense. More research is needed.

But to go back to your question about a "correct" didactic method: There can be no didactic method that is forever valid because we are constantly dealing with different individuals and changing social challenges. These challenges always require new thinking and new answers. If we want to understand correct didactics as one that supports the children in the best possible way, then we have to talk about the framework conditions of good didactics, i.e. about quality standards: in the equipment of facilities and the qualification of specialists. And here, too, the results of the studies are clear. The questions how many children have to be looked after by a professional and what level of qualification a professional needs have a statistically significant effect on the quality of the educational work performed. In other words, the better the child-care worker ratio and the higher the qualification of the pedagogical specialists, the better the quality of the pedagogical work.

Read one here Specialist contribution by the author on pedagogy and didactics in institutions of early childhood education.