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Helena Munín, director of Kinder nursery
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Kinder nursery - children at play
Sonia Gigler talks with Helena Munín about what led her to set up Kinder Barcelona (Poblenou), a multilingual alternative nursery and kindergarten for children up to the age of 6 years and their families, and about its development since its inauguration.
Where are you from Helena? I am half Argentinean and half German. I grew up in Argentina and I studied and worked in Germany for many years. My first language is Spanish, German is my second.
What is your professional background? I studied Education Science and Politics in Buenos Aires and Regensburg. As a researcher, I then worked at the faculty of pedagogy at the Technical University in Berlin. I have more than 20 years of academic experience in the field of education; topics I have worked on include international education policy, social mobility and differences in national education systems. In 1999, I was awarded a PhD - my thesis was on school autonomy.
When did you come to Barcelona and why? In October 2001 we moved to Barcelona with our oldest daughter. It was a professional and personal choice for my husband and I.
How many children do you have? How old are they? We have two daughters, one is 11 and the other one is 7.
What was important for you when choosing a nursery for your own children? When we came to Barcelona, my eldest daughter was only one year old and I looked at various daycare options. However, I couldn’t quite find one that I felt completely happy with and that met my pedagogic expectations. Hence, I developed the idea to open something myself. As I had worked in education for many years, I had a very good idea about what I wanted: child-centered learning through play with activities appropriate to the child's age, stage and personal interests; small groups per teacher; immersion in different languages; and stimulating interest in nature, animals and good healthy food.
When was Kinder founded? Tell us about its beginnings. It all started as a personal initiative at the start of 2002. I spoke to German-speaking mothers on the beach and in the streets of Barcelona, and I told them that I wanted to launch an early childhood education project. The undertaking started as a real adventure with the first meetings with interested parents held at my home. We quickly found a suitable place in the Casc Antic and we hired a qualified early childhood teacher and an assistant. In September 2002, we officially opened the doors of Kinder: the first two years were in the Casc Antic, then we moved to Carrer Fluvià for another two years and we’re now at Passatge Llatzeret where we have been for six years.
What is your recipe? What makes Kinder special? Kinder’s philosophy puts the utmost importance on very gentle and loving contact with the children. We celebrate the diversity in our groups and we focus on the needs and interests of each child. We work together as a team and we constantly talk and exchange ideas about every child: the development stage, the unique situation of the child, the child’s home.
Once a week, I meet each group to speak with the teachers about the children. While we observe the group dynamic, this is an opportunity to speak about the concrete problems or situations of individual children. We also have a child psychologist, Vera Hilb, who helps us, the children and the parents. Sometimes she comes to our parent-teacher evenings to explain how to intervene in various situations. From time to time, she offers counselling for parents if needed and wanted. The team and the parents value her work a lot. If we feel a child faces a problem, it is so important to be aware of the reasons. If a child, for example, refuses to eat we need to investigate the cause of the dislike - it could be a general fear of contact.
The personalised attention is given through an adult to child ratio of 1:3 and for babies 1:1-2. This allows us to work in small groups within the bigger language group and to respond adequately to every development stage. It also provides us with enough teachers to care for the daily needs of all children individually.
In Kinder we put the emphasis on the child and we invest time, love and affection in them. We find it very important that the children are in contact with the nature and animals, eat organic food, use ecological products whenever possible and develop an understanding for sustainability. We are very fond of our work and we take it seriously. We have made mistakes over the years and we have constantly improved our concept and our guidelines. It was hard work but it was worth the trouble!
What was the greatest challenge you faced in opening a kindergarten? We had to find the right kind of teachers for our project. I was looking for extraordinary, enthusiastic, energetic and utterly dedicated people. My quest wasn’t always an easy one but now we are an incredible team. It has become our life to know what’s going on with the children. The teachers take an amazing pride in their work and the day doesn’t end when the children are picked up. At home, maybe under the shower or while cooking dinner, the teachers come up with great ideas for new activities or projects. These are the kind of people I have been looking for because they are like me - passionate!
Another challenge was finding a suitable space. In the early years we tried to move into a school, however, due to various reasons it didn’t work out. Since then, we have steadily grown and we have established the different language groups (German, English, Catalan and Spanish). Now we are again looking for a new, bigger location that matches our concept; in particular, a big garden is at the top of our wish list.
What happens during the adaptation period after parents enrol their child? Adapting to their first ‘school’ is a major step for a child but also for the whole family. The child has to get used to being separated from the family for a few hours and to experience the outside world. For the child this means becoming part of a group and integrating in a given group dynamic. Moreover, the child will establish relations with other adults and he/she will participate in activities different to the ones used to at home. Families give us a great sign of confidence by enrolling their children in Kinder, especially when taking into account the great emotional importance of this change. The adaptation of a child must be accompanied by a familiar and trusted adult who will slowly and gradually leave the group over a period of time. We decide with each family individually who the child’s companion will be and how long the adaptation will last. Every adaptation is unique and is done at the child and family’s individual pace.
Language is an important aspect of Kinder - can you tell us more about it? Interculturality is the main idea; the children enrolled in Kinder are often from multicultural backgrounds and our staff is just as diverse, coming from Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, England, the United States, Latin America, Denmark, Finland…We have three morning groups in English, Catalan and German and one afternoon group in Spanish and the majority of our teachers are native speakers. We place emphasis on the one-person-one-language concept. The children are fully immersed in the chosen language and with a weekly volume of 25 hours it becomes an active language in the child’s life.
What extra-curricular activities do you offer? We have various after-school activities for families in different languages and for different ages. These activities are also open to children who are not enrolled in the kindergarten. El Niu del Kinder (the Kinder nest) offers play and craft in German or English, as well as yoga, dance, music, psychomotricity and parents’ workshops. We also offer weekly family play groups in German, English, Spanish and Catalan. We believe the involvement of the parents and good communication also between the families is very important.