The infans concept of early childhood education
Ever since the joint decisions of the youth and culture minister conferences in 2004, day-care centers in Germany have been considered educational institutions that are believed to be able to provide crucial services for the early educational processes of children and tend to be required. Since then, the federal states have gradually drawn up educational plans for daycare facilities, which, however, hardly seem achievable without far-reaching educational reorientations and improved framework conditions.
Structural improvements are making very different progress in the various federal states. In 2015, the childcare key alone varied between 1: 3.1 (Baden-Württemberg) and 1: 6.5 (Saxony), for the kindergarten between 1: 7.7 (Baden-Württemberg) and 1:14 , 4 (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) (Bertelsmann Foundation 2015). For a reorientation of pedagogical work that is oriented towards the increased expectations, useful, overall, but heterogeneous and not always readily available texts, further training offers and sub-concepts are available. In terms of content, there are, among other things, the serious WIFF publications and cross-border projects such as “The House of Little Researchers” offer opportunities for further training and participation.
Compared to such information on sub-areas or individual topics, pedagogical concepts contain, in a broader sense, basic orientation options for pedagogical work, which usually (new) define and expand the relationship between education and upbringing, the image of the child and the pedagogical method. In the best case, they take into account the state of the relevant knowledge and examples from best practice and are developed further in cooperation with the practice. This does not preclude orientation towards classic concepts such as Froebel or Montessori, but raises questions about how the early concepts are embedded in today’s knowledge. This also applies today to the fundamental initiative for a reorientation of early childhood education in the Federal Republic through the situation approach in the 1970s.
It was only at the beginning of the 2000s that two new concepts for early childhood education were presented almost simultaneously: the concept of “educational and learning stories” adapted by a working group of the German Youth Institute for the Federal Republic under the leadership of H. Leu, which was originally developed in New Zealand, and the “infans concept of early childhood education” developed by the Institute for Applied Socialization Research / Early Childhood (infans), which takes a fundamental new start, taking into account the state of research and examples of best practice.
The history of the concept
The concept was based on the results of the federal model project “On the educational mandate of day care centers” (1997-2000) by Beate Andres and
Hans-Joachim Laewen and funded by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport of the State of Brandenburg and developed between 2002 and 2005 in 68 day-care centers in Brandenburg and Baden-Württemberg to check their practicability.
In 2005, two working versions of the concept appeared under the title “Education and upbringing in daycare centers” in the publishing house “das netz” and in the municipal association for youth and social affairs in Baden-Württemberg (KVJS) as “Working aid for education and upbringing in daycare centers.
From 2005, infans eV offered numerous further training courses and information events due to the high demand from providers, especially from Baden-Württemberg, and continuously evaluated the experience with the concept. In 2011, Andres and Laewen published a thoroughly revised version of the concept entitled “The Infans Concept of Early Childhood Education and Education in Day Care Centers” together with all the instruments published by “das netz”.
From 2009, in cooperation with the Swiss group “bildungskrippen.ch”, the development of an extension of the concept for working with children under three years of age, which was tested in crèches by various providers in German-speaking Switzerland, began. In 2013, a further development of this concept was published in a special print by Laewen and Andres entitled “Basics for Quality Development in Nurseries” and at the specialist conference “Taking Responsibility – Improving Quality” in Bad- organized in the same year by infans-StEG eV Krozingen has been presented to the specialist public.
Basics of the concept
Education, upbringing and care
The infans concept clearly differentiates between the terms education and upbringing. “Education” is assigned to the educational staff as a comprehensive responsibility for the educational opportunities of the children. Education as a process is understood as children’s activity. Education as a result results from the interaction between adult education and children’s educational work. Upbringing is understood as an adult activity directed towards defined goals and oriented towards the interests and topics of the children, as a “call for education”, as Ludwig Liegle called it in an essay. In the meantime, educational science has (re) discovered this connection.
The concept of care has found its way into the concept in the form of a general concern for the well-being of children. A food and material supply that is free of environmental toxins is taken for granted. Particular attention is paid to the children’s early relationships, the establishment of which is required during a carefully planned settling-in period and the securing thereof afterwards through personnel management oriented to the children’s attendance times. This applies in particular (but not only) to children under three years of age.
Goals and general procedures
The concept offers the professionals in the day care centers a framework that challenges them to transform their team into a learning organization. A – in this sense – learning team designs ambitious goals for its work, comes to a deep understanding of the meaning of each child’s actions and measures its pedagogical work against high quality standards. The concept contains instructions for the reorganization of the entire pedagogical practice of day care centers and places high demands on the professionalism and willingness to innovate of the specialists.
The declared aim of the concept is to take up the natural curiosity of the children, their interests and topics and to relate them to the defined and reflected educational goals of the day care center. The educational processes of the children are supported and challenged at the highest possible level: through a sophisticated material and spatial design of the day care center and through educational interactions that are based on the individual will of each child as well as on the will of the adults, which is specified in the educational goals.
The concept offers ways of working with the strength of children instead of fighting against them, without losing sight of the adults’ legitimate and sustainable goals. It is taken seriously with the principle that sustainable learning is always best possible if the learner is also interested in the subject of his efforts.
As part of the concept, there is no training, but the pedagogy follows the children with great care and gives them the freedom that children need. The educators pay attention to the will of the children, take it seriously and set ambitious goals. This happens on the one hand through the range of materials and the design of the rooms, which also bring complex contents of our culture (sign systems, art, architecture, construction drawings, movement offers, etc.) into the children’s sphere of experience. On the other hand, through the systematic planning of pedagogical activities that relate to each individual child, which forms the basis for the pedagogical dialogue and should lure each child to its limits and lead it gently beyond. However, every child has wide spaces,
Requirements and methodology of the concept
The infans concept can only be fully implemented by a cooperating team, individual specialists would be overwhelmed. This presupposes that there is a high degree of agreement in a team to strive for excellence in their pedagogical work and to support one another in this way. The establishment of a powerful system of internal (and external) communication is the necessary prerequisite for such a project and cannot be achieved without the prior consent of (almost) all members of the team.
The infans concept cannot be prescribed (e.g. by the sponsor), but must be based on a clear will of the employees. This is not possible without a thorough discussion of the pros and cons, for which one should take the time. The concept is unsuitable for institutions where the educators are happy to do what they have always done or lack the passion to want to achieve high and highest quality in their work. The infans concept is intended for teams with high demands on the quality of their work.
Educational goals and interests of children
An essential part of the implementation of the concept is the development of educational goals, which are formulated in every day-care center and specified at the action level according to a proposed procedure. It is based on the personal goals of the educators, which are supplemented in further steps by the goals of the parents, the sponsor, the requirements of the education and upbringing plans of the federal states and by social goals deemed important. The specific educational goals, taking into account the current educational processes of each individual child, provide direct guidance for pedagogical action.
The now widespread method of systematic observation of children falls within the scope of the concept to the specific task of tapping the level of the children’s will to be able to include them in the pedagogical action. Various instruments are available for this. The interests of the children are identified through targeted observation, their documentation and evaluation procedures based on specialist knowledge and methods of peer-to-peer counseling, which are then examined in further steps to reflect on the underlying issues.
Before the topics and interests of the children are dealt with in the pedagogical work, the specific educational goals are checked to see whether they contain references to the very same topics and interests of the children that can be linked to. Conversely, if pedagogical offers to a child seem sensible in the pursuit of educational goals – for example in the area of language education – these offers are also oriented as reasonable topics to the interests of the child. Then e.g. with a view to language competence, created occasions in which the child is interested in the use of language rather than enforcing training situations.
Depending on whether a topic of the child was chosen as the starting point for the educational work or an educational goal was in the foreground, one speaks of responding to topics of the child or of imposing a topic on the child. Both the answers to topics of the child, each aiming to enable the child to work at the highest possible level, as well as the challenge of educational processes of the child through the imposition of topics belong to the central methodology of the concept.
Individualization and documentation
The highly individualized approach offers a very good basis for inclusive pedagogy in day care centers. The concept expects specialists to be very willing to understand the (subjective and objective) importance of children’s actions, to take them seriously and to take them as a starting point for the challenge of educational processes. This applies equally to children with or without a handicap.
All observations and evaluations are documented in a portfolio that is created for each child. The portfolio provides the basis for pedagogical planning and the “individual curriculum” to be developed for each child at least once a year. With every educational offer, attention is paid to the child’s answer or reaction. If there is no positive reaction from the child, a check is carried out to determine whether the child’s topics and interests may not have been recorded with sufficient accuracy when evaluating the observations. Parents and children have access to their portfolios at all times, but they are primarily the working basis for the specialist staff.
Both the development of educational goals as well as the evaluation of the observations and the pedagogical planning, which is expressed in the individual curriculum for each child, require a high degree of cooperation between the specialists. Regular team meetings of sufficient duration on exclusively educational topics are required.
The infans concept in practice
The concept presents every daycare facility with very big challenges. It can only be implemented in full if the entire team is ready to work (and usually also to work overtime in the first few months). The team and its internal communication structure are therefore of great importance. An excellent team cooperation includes E. on the basic requirements for sophisticated pedagogy at the highest level. Initial research data support this assessment.
The transition process takes about a year. The focus of the task is a change of perspective, as a result of which the child is taken seriously as the subject of his educational processes and as an actor. It must be understood that educational pathways follow individual interests and topics, and that the pedagogical task is to support and challenge the educational processes of every child at the highest possible level.
For the team, it is central to the development of a common vision, which can serve as the basis for transforming the facility into a “learning organization”. At the beginning, each specialist reflects on their own goals that they want to achieve with their work and publishes the most important of these in intensive discussions with their colleagues. This step, if implemented seriously and authentically, leads to a better mutual understanding within the team, it strengthens the willingness to cooperate and forms a good basis for the successful work with the infans concept in the day care center.
The first year of familiarization with the infans concept is (rightly) difficult because fundamental perspectives on the children, the team and the educational work are changed. Qualified support from one of the trained multipliers of the concept can be very helpful during this time. In spite of all the efforts that are necessary at the beginning, the very large majority of those who have accepted it have not wanted to go back to the old conditions. According to our estimate (exact data are not available), around 2,000 facilities in Germany and Switzerland are currently working with the infans concept at different quality levels .
Adjustment of the internal structures
In a child daycare facility that works successfully with the infans concept, regular observation of the children, evaluation of the observations and the development of “individual curricula” for every child are, of course, part of the professional everyday routine. Over time, experiences with the identification of interests and topics of the children are collected, which can then be taken into account in the educational work with increasing effort. The systematic evaluation of the observations in the team or – in the case of larger facilities – in sub-teams also becomes one of the familiar performance routines of the facility.
Internal quality control procedures are developed that cover both professional training and daily work processes. The work in the facility is made transparent by professionally commented photo documentation that can be found everywhere in the daycare center. In addition, as already mentioned, a child’s parents have access to their child’s portfolio at all times, which includes all observations, evaluations and educational plans for their child. Two detailed parent-child interviews per year are standard and can be easily prepared based on the educational documentation collected in the portfolios and the educational process.
Public recognition and research data on the infans concept
In addition to direct feedback from practice, there is now some evidence of public recognition of quality development that can be achieved by working with the infans concept. As early as 2005, i.e. immediately after the trial phase of the concept had been completed, the youth welfare office in Stuttgart, which was involved in the implementation of the concept in practice with eight institutions, was awarded first place among 330 applications in the McKinsey “Promote All Talents” competition. Management consulting awarded.
In 2013 the municipal facility “Haus für Kinder am Hirzberg” in Freiburg was awarded “KitaStar in Gold” for “Best Kindergarten in Germany” and in 2015 the “KSA Zwärglihuus” facility in Aarau was awarded the “Swiss Prize for Early Childhood Education”.
Data from five studies are currently available, in which correlations between the work with the infans concept and the quality of the pedagogical work – partly in comparison with other concepts – were examined.
This includes the study by the group led by Wolfgang Tietze at the Free University of Berlin, in which infans facilities showed a significantly higher quality standard on the KES-R scales compared to 80 other day care centers (Tietze et al. Without year).
The youth welfare office in Stuttgart had the concept carried out a small survey after the end of the trial phase. Kindergarten teachers from eight day-care centers, who had taken part in the test under the title “Einstein in the day care center”, as well as parents and teachers of the primary schools who had taken in children from infans -Kitas, said as follows:
The children have “high expectations”, which makes it difficult for them to deal with boredom. “On the other hand, they (the children, HL) would do particularly well with homework and other tasks to be done independently, especially those that require their own research, material search and creative answers.” The teachers confirm this: “Einstein children can have different sources of knowledge develop more independently. They also dedicate themselves to their tasks with greater perseverance. ”They are extremely curious and motivated, particularly inventive and active in the classroom. Their comprehension is high, they question a lot and look for everyday relevance in all tasks. They also accepted rules well, were insightful and particularly capable of working in a team. Group work leads to the best results for them.
Parents, teachers and after-school managers rate the work with the concept as good school preparation. It complies with the new educational plans and the desired opening for new forms of teaching. It is desirable that all children go through such an educational institution and start school with similar experiences. ”(Stadt Stuttgart 2005, p. 30)
The Ev. University of Applied Sciences Freiburg carried out a comparative study with over 200 children in three day-care centers in Rastatt in 2009/2010, including one that works with the infans concept). The results show that the children in the infans daycare center showed significant advantages on two of the seven (relevant for the development of thinking) subscales of the Vienna development test, the parents were more satisfied with the work of the educators and they felt less stressed by their work , (including Wunsch et al. 2012).
In German-speaking Switzerland, the Marie Meierhofer Institute in Zurich conducted a study in cribs from 2009 to 2011 that compared the quality of the infans concept, the concept of “educational and learning stories” (Leu et al. 2007) and a control group. The results show that after the introduction of the infans concept, the institutions achieved significant quality gains with some advantages over the concept of “educational and learning stories” (Hofmann, T. and Bolz, M. 2012; Wustmann-Seiler, C. 2013) ,
The evaluation of pedagogical quality in day-care centers in the city of Stuttgart by Tietze et al. Showed an almost identical result. for kindergartens. Significant advantages of the “infans facilities” over other concepts. (Tietze et al. 2011).