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What are Democratic Kindergartens?
Michael Selck, Director, AWO Schleswig-Holstein
Democracy in Kindergartens is a nationwide pilot project that aims to bring democratic decision-making to German kindergartens.
The rights of children, as set out in the UN Convention on Childrens’ Rights, is implemented in all kindergartens through the project. For the safeguarding and protection of childrens’ rights, all kindergartens practice democratic processes with the children. They examine these as a group and each individual kindergarten can verify their own democratic development through a certification process.
In a Democratic Kindergarten, the constitution is shaped by the children, with teachers transferring rights to children in an age-appropriate way. The specially trained teachers are equipped to distinguish between opportunities for children to wholly or partially make a decision on something, and to specify when there are times when the educators should take the lead. The focus is on the democratic process itself, not just the vote.
The constitution of the kindergarten is an open framework and is constantly changing through participation. Every new decision is made in this way, as a rolling process. Rules are discussed, negotiated and agreed by all participants to ensure they make sense and are fair. Through this process, children learn from a young age that the commonly agreed rules are mandatory for everyone. This reliability and fairness gives children a framework for their expected behaviour at kindergarten.
The approach also teaches young children that they won’t always get their own way, and that there are different opinions and ideas that are also valid and need to be accepted. This is a major learning objective and the hope is that children will learn to be valuable members of a democracy, tolerant of others and always searching for peaceful solutions. The main challenges are for the staff to share power and to monitor and lead complex discussions to reach a consensus. The parents are completely involved in and informed about the project.
This innovative approach to democracy and participation is the first of its kind to be used for children in kindergarten.Impact
Research demonstrates how children who design their own classroom environments & involving them in planning activities & where they eat & how have all had positive outcomes. This highlights that children, according to their age, can be more engaged and able to take responsibility for their issues. They can coordinate decisions and arrange meetings independently, to bring about change for the whole group. Additionally, the mindsets of adults have changed dramatically as they realise children are competent in being more autonomous and a flat leadership is possible even with young children.Scalability
The approach is being used in 60 kindergartens with around 900 pedagogical members of staff. The hope is that, in the future, the ideas will become part of the foundations of other kindergartens.