Vrtec Vrhnika: Report on building relationships with children, parents, local community and among staff members
In schools and kindergartens which could be seen as society on a smaller scale we deal with relationships a lot. There are our children, colleagues, parents, local community, outside experts and so on. So if we want to make a teaching process work, we need to be really careful how we make and sustain relationships with all these groups.
As a foundation for building relationships, in 2019 we set a list of values that we as an institution believe in. They are written in our three year developmental plan and are the basis for our long term goals. Our vision is to make our kindergarten a friendly second home that offers children safety, acceptance, love and freedom. It goes hand in hand with the values which are: family, respect, trust, friendship, good example and diligence. For example there is no freedom without trusting relationships with children, acceptance without respectful relationships, through relationships children can feel loved and safe. So most of our values are in a way dealing with relationships.
Slovenian preschool curriculum is very open, there are no set standards that children need to achieve, no set activities and themes. There are goals and principles which we use as guidelines when planning our activities. Values can be found throughout the curriculum but not in a way of specific lessons or instructions how to teach them. As researches among Slovenian teachers show values are mostly thought through good examples from teacher and daily routine activities. That goes for our kindergarten also.
Building strong relationships with children we take care of is very important to our teachers. We mainly build relationships in the morning circle time, where children are encouraged to take part in discussions about events and different happenings in their groups about events. Children often share their experiences from home, so this is an opportunity to get to know more about children. More in-depth individual conversations with children happen mostly early in the morning or in afternoon, when there are less children present. You can get to know a lot about individual children by engaging in their play, by observing and listening to them.
We are good at making close relationships with children. We do notice and accept individual needs of children, their different personalities and interests. We offer children a lot of free play. We know that through play children try to understand the world around them and reenact their experiences and this can also help us make stronger connections with them. We believe that we are good at designing activities that meet their interests. What we still need to work on is enabling active participation of children in matters that concern them (organization of events, organizing of spaces, buying new toys and materials, organization of daily routine) and teaching children how to state their opinions, reflect activities and events.
Parents are encouraged to take in different aspects of kindergarten life. They are welcome to come play with us, do some presentations, attend birthday parties, bring some waste material and so on. We of course have all formal forms of collaboration with parents: meetings, parent teacher conferences. Representatives of parents in a form of Parent Council can decide on some organizational matters of the kinder garden. Their opinion is valued but we still try to maintain the autonomy of kindergarten.
Every year we organize Christmas bazaar, parents help us with gardening, we do seed exchange, different cultural events and tea parties for parents where parents have some time to discuss different themes and get to know each other. In the meantime, we take care of the children.
4. LOCAL COMMUNITY
For some of these events kindergarten is also open for the local community - for example seed exchange events, where locals can swap seeds, see our garden and participate in workshops and seminars about gardening. We take part in different cultural events organized by our municipality. We also visit different local institutions or they come to visit us. We try to teach children that we are a part of the local community, which we help to build.
5. STAFF MEMBERS
In kindergarten documents there is a lot written about open communication among teachers, how to respect each other and be responsible. We could say that we are more or less successful but as in all large institutions sometimes relationships can be stressful.
To keep our spirits high there are team-building events, free seminars, healthy lifestyle activities, support group for new employees, meetings where we discuss our schoolwork and coffee breaks and informal gatherings for more relaxed conversations.
6. INCLUSION IN THE LITTLE FOOTPRINTS PROJECT
All of these different groups of people are a crucial part of the project. There would be no point in doing the project without their support, but project is also something they can benefit from a lot. So it is important that we keep them informed about everything that is going on. As we deal with younger children, they are not directly informed about the project but they do participate in many project activities without knowing specific goals and stuff like that. They do like the activities as every teacher adapts them to specific age groups and interests. Parents on the other hand know about the formal aspect of the project but do less practical activities. We inform them about our project at a meeting, through email, kindergarten website and Erasmus billboard. Municipality, which is the founder of the kindergarten, is informed about the project through our director. We also invited our mayor to visit us during a project meeting in Slovenia. Teachers that are not in Erasmus+ project group are informed about project happenings at conferences. All feedback so far was good and we have full support from parents and the municipality. Teachers mostly support us, but it will take a bit longer to persuade a few teachers that Erasmus+ is more than just travelling around. During corona times, we started doing virtual project group meetings for our Erasmus+ project, which is a new thing for us.