Teachers' Hub

The magazine to cross ideas in early childhood education

Rituals in kindergarten:

between professional routines and specificities of a profession1

 

 

 

"It would have been better to return at the same hour, said the fox. [...] But if you come at any time, I will never know what time to dress my heart ... It takes rites. [...] This is what makes one day different from the others [...] ".

                                      Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

Rituals are omnipresent in the nursery classes and have always been at this level of schooling, thus resisting the diversity of the educational objectives carried by this school during its history.

 

Particularly in this early childhood structure, the word "ritual" may however refer to different realities: the activities that come every day (the date, counting attendance, counting absent, the moment of history ...), personal behaviour (lifting the finger, line up, come together in a dedicated space ...), the formulettes or sound signals and / or video to mark a change of activity ...

 

It remains that when it comes to rituals in kindergarten, it is commonly referred to those that fit into the time of the morning grouping, no doubt because they are massively represented in classes and in forms often almost similar as if there was a kind of morning ritual in kindergarten: a semi-circle arrangement of the children in front of the teacher, welcome greetings, recalling rules of life in a group, counting of presents , identification of absent students, update of the date, presentation of the morning workshops. We have therefore chosen to focus on these welcoming rituals, even those about which a 2011 report on the French nursery school pointed a naturalization of practices meant to characterize kindergarten and not revisited practices2 . Hence, what meaning should we give to this time of morning regrouping that exceeds that of a ceremonial orchestrated around ritualized tasks and inherited from the only school tradition? What are the major concerns of teachers and what do they mean in their practice during this ritual? In the end, would the specificities of the profession of teacher in kindergarten not make it possible to better understand these "ways of doing" that are found from one class to another?

 

 

These are the questions we have attempted to answer in the context of research. For the sake of authenticity, our reflection was based on the daily life of a class. We then analyzed the ordinary act3 , and professional gestures implemented by a education lecturer in early kindergarten (3-4 year old age group), at a morning meeting ritual. The multi-agenda model developed by the multidisciplinary team at Montpellier University (ERT404), France, was used as a framework for reference analysis5 .

 

In kindergarten, education, schooling, socialization and "make learn" must co-exist. Thus, it does not differ from other levels of schooling. What is specific to it, is that it is the first school to be responsible for building foundations for very young children without a schooling background who, because of the immaturity of their brain development are in a period of great fragility and vulnerability.

 

As a first place of schooling, the kindergarten is therefore necessarily and especially a transitional time between the child coming from the family environment and becoming a school’s pupil of the school, a passage that is both delicate and essential to accompany.

 

As an early childhood institution, it has to organize specific learning modalities adapted to young pupils, taking care not to reduce this learning to disciplinary content alone.

 

An ubiquitous practice in nursery school, the morning ritual, can therefore be understood in the light of the specificities of the teaching profession in pre-elementary context, given the stakes of this first school.

 

It can also allow parallels with anthropological rites which, like the rites of passage, remain largely attached to spaces of transition where it is a matter of dedicating as if to better to control them, changes of places, time, social spaces from which behaviors are expected.

 

Regarding specificities of the kindergarten teacher's profession and the rapprochement with anthropological rites: these are two axes that we have endeavored to keep throughout our research work, after which we have been able to draw three essential teachings.

 

 

Teaching n ° 1:

 

In the ordinary practice of rituals, especially those associated with the morning grouping, the professional gestures of the nursery school teacher attest to this founding intention of a positive ritualization: to promote an emotional, social and cognitive integration of young children.

 

The morning ritual in kindergarten (children gathered in a circle in a dedicated space around the teacher, repetition and regularity of the activities carried out) cannot be reduced to an obscure tradition empty of meaning. On the contrary, it can be thought of as a safe transitional space between the home and the school, between the child and the pupil.

In a skillfully orchestrated staging by the teacher, on the basis of ritualized activities and professional gestures, it allows young children to enter serenely and confidently into socio-educational codes and practices. This is why we have defined it as an integrative space-time from the social, emotional and cognitive point of view. Its rhythmicity contributes greatly to maintain the attention of the group and to engage the interest of the children. And if one can easily admit the importance of this morning ritual in the context of first schooling, is it nevertheless a practice specific to the nursery school?

"There's the morning call. To hear his name pronounced by the voice of the teacher is a second awakening. The sound of your name at eight in the morning has vibrations of tuning fork.

- I can not bring myself to neglect the calls, especially the morning one, explained another teacher - math, this time - even if I'm in a hurry. Reciting a list of names such as counting sheep is not possible. I call my lads by looking at them, I welcome them, I name them one by one, and I listen to their reply. After all, the call is the only time of the day when the teacher has the opportunity to address each of his students, even if only by pronouncing his name. A small second where the pupil must feel that he exists in my eyes, he and not another. As for me, I try as much as possible to grasp his mood of the moment to the sound that his "Present" makes. If the voice is cracked, it may need to be taken into account. The importance of the call ... "

                                                  Daniel Pennac, 2007, Grief of School, Gallimard

 

 

Daniel Pennac testifies eloquently to the importance of the ritual of the calling in secondary school, through its integrative function. What he evokes here is amazingly what we observed in a morning ritual in an early kindergarten class (3-4 years old): giving importance to everyone when starting a new day, hearing his pupils here and now to be able to take them into account in future interactions. The morning ritual is ultimately the necessary diapason for a new day that begins, at the kindergarten as at all stages of schooling. Every day, it comes back to secure, to regulate behavior, to gather, and differently, to bring pupils into this strange and foreign world of school.

 

"I would serve the tea and we would taste it in silence. We never took it together in the morning and this break in the protocol of our ritual has a strange flavor.

"It's nice," whispered Manuela. Yes, it is pleasant because we enjoy a double offering, that of seeing, consecrated by this break in the order of things, the immutability of a ritual that we have fashioned together so that, from afternoon to after -midi, it encyges itself in reality to the point of giving it meaning and consistency and which, being transgressed this morning, suddenly takes all its strength - but we also taste as we had made of a precious nectar the wonderful gift of that incongruous morning when mechanical gestures take a new leap, where to smell, to drink, to rest, to serve again, to sip, is to live a new birth. "

                                                  Muriel Barbery, 2006, The elegance of the hedgehog, Gallimard

 

On the other hand, what is specific to nursery school, to this first school, is the ceremonial dimension of the ritual around a spatial staging and ritualized activities that create conditions favorable to a socio-educational integration. We believe, however, that these ceremonials, symbolizing and accompanying ruptures, "by magnifying the features", would have their place at other stages of schooling: going to college, going to high school, going to university …

"Participating in a ritual is synonymous with integration into a community, as escaping would be meaningless" (Leneveu, 2013).

 

 

Teaching n ° 2:

 

The morning ritual at nursery school is an "instituted" professional practice which refers to the core of the nursery school teacher's profession. It establishes a framework of collectively shared and secure operations, symbolizing a transit space between the child and the pupil and in which knowledge, skills and know-how are staged and taken on conditions of an early emotional, social and cognitive integration of young children, while respecting their development.

 

In kindergarten, the learning to be taught cannot be disciplinary or systematic.

 

Kindergarten is a special school: it welcomes young children, it is the first school and is not mandatory6 . This last specificity implies that it has first and foremost to be an educational school. So, when speaking of young children’s education, there would undoubtedly be great interest in clarifying whether this formula actually refers to their schooling or, in the words of Elisabeth Bautier, to their school socialization7 . Moreover, since it is both a school and not a compulsory one, is its place not ambiguous?

 

As a school, instruction can be central to the profound logic of teachers, not to mention those of parents. For this reason, it is possible to consider that, in order to make learn- essential role of the school- disciplinary content and the construction of a learning relationship are confused. And this confusion bears witness to tensions in teaching practices. It is this ambiguity that we perceive when rituals are often condemned on the altar of didactics, or when they are defined only in terms of content without even questioning the underlying intentions: laying out a framework which reassures, restores body to the class group, gives a place to everyone to share a common culture around which hard and soft skills will take sense in a school situation.

 

The morning ritual can therefore also be seen as an "intermediate area of experience" 8 , Just as nursery school is a space-time where objects and school practices are staged in authentic situations to make sense.

 

In the end, would this school socialization that aims to "teach school to learn in school" (Bautier, 2006), to accompany the child becoming a pupil, to guide him so that he understands what school is, how it works, not be an alternative to the so-called school form and in which the morning ritual would have a special role to play? Such as participating in this school socialization "[...] whilst laying a framework that reassures, which is the same time that the group conditions of learning and knowledge objects9 .

 

That would refer to the core of the teaching profession at nursery school, and its integrative function makes it, in our opinion, a specific stake of this school: to bring the pupil into school culture. It bears witness to a professional kind which refers to invariants, shared gestures, which are specific to the kindergarten, underpinned by integrative intentions. The fact remains that, in situations, these gestures necessarily and naturally become actualized in a style, that of the singular actor who by personal and professional imprints will reinvent the genre.

 

Prescribing tasks, using artefacts, among others, are part of the teacher's job. But real professionalism also depends on this ability to take a number of decisions, to regulate, to adapt, in the dynamics of the teaching-learning situation. "Doing" the class is an activity that mobilizes professional gestures simultaneously ensuring group cohesion and consistency in acquisitions of knowledge and skills10 . And, if ensuring group cohesion and coherence of acquisitions is indeed a concern of every moment for all teachers, that of kindergarten has necessarily and especially to adjust between early childhood development and learning.

 

It is in this adjustment that the teacher’s professionalism is expressed through his own style. It can then be characterized from the point of view of the adjustments implemented between an organizational focus of ‘scaffold learning’ to "make" the child enter a socio-scholastic culture and practices, and take into account the development of the young child and the singularities of each.

 

 

Teaching n ° 3:

 

In its ordinary practice of rituals, especially those associated with the morning grouping, the professional gestures of the nursery school teacher reveal a delicate professional skill and probably specific to adjust between early childhood development and learning objective ; a skill for which a knowledge and a consideration of the singularities of each child  guarantees the efficiency.

 

A specificity of the kindergarten is to inaugurate the meeting of young children with the complex world of teaching situations "(Soulé, 2014). The specific issue, the heart of the trade so that the level of education is to create favorable conditions for the integration of these children into this new, strange and foreign world, to help them understand school to learn in school. This integrative intention is ceremoniously staged in the practice of the morning ritual. During this time, a concern for adjustment between early childhood development and this learning of the school is expressed through the professional gestures of the teacher. This specific adjustment is necessary. Knowledge of the stages of early childhood development is just as important.

 

The education lecturer we observed, a psychomotorian by training, obviously possessed a good knowledge of the young child. And undoubtedly this first profession that she has exercised, has participated in the development of this professional skill which is her own, to hear and to take into account at the same time the group and the individualities.

 

Depending on how she perceived the situation and the evolution of the situation, she could oscillate between different professional positions to help, re-focus, maintain the group's attention. Obviously, her young pupils, probably influenced by the group dimension, the rhythmicity, and the repetition of the tasks and the scenarios of the ritual, were more or less acutely aware of these changes of support and the nature of their expectations teacher. During the session, their gestures’ study would then also vary between first posture, school, reflexive, playful creative-11 and that first-academic posture of the "do-as" the ritual widely installed and which seems essential to us essential to support the overall development of young children. We often observe, especially among neo-titular teachers that we are led to accompany in our role as education lecturer, that these adjustments rely more on representations of early childhood, on personal memories the teacher has from his time as a pupil, on real knowledge of the development benchmarks, and the learning which the nursery school has to build.

 

Therefore, should such learnings not be given a special place in the initial kindergarten teacher’s training so that this specific professionalism can be built up, in order to be adjusted between development and learning?

 

 

Proposals for initial and in-service training

 

Our research on rituals in nursery school, with a focus on the ritual of the morning grouping, allowed us to envisage that this one finally crystallized the heart of the teacher’s job in the context of first schooling. Therefore, it would be of great interest to make it an initial or continuous training medium to understand the specificities of the teacher’s job with very young children, through the orientations below:

 

- Training that assumes explicit ambiguities brought by the French kindergarten through its history and its specific characteristics today: it welcomes young children, it is the first school, it is a school but not a mandatory one.

 

- Training that clarifies development the needs and benchmarks of emotional, social, sensory, motor and cognitive development of young children, so that education can respect and support this development.

 

- A training which takes on and specifies the stakes of this first school, as well as its educational form: think of teaching-learning from the point of view of real activity sustained by language, both on the part of the teacher and the pupil, to break with the supremacy of the task and doing for its own sake, develop learning strategies to ‘learn learning’, to foster research, experimentation in the most authentic situations possible, respect the phases of trial and error, rely on repetition.

 

- A training that clarifies the notion of a domain of learning, specific to the nursery school, making a parallel with the disciplinary contents of the elementary school.

 

- Training that explains the challenges of school practices in kindergarten and the intentions behind them. For it is not a question of observing practices to order to "do like". It is essential to be able to give them meaning, a meaning necessarily guided by explicit intentions; otherwise we run the risk of seeing these practices become empty routines of meaning.

 

- Training that develops self-reflexive postures leveraging the mirror effect of a confrontation with different ways of doing, building on the analysis along with the professional actions of an ordinary act in context (self-confrontation but also allo-confrontation). And therefore a training that differentiates the type and professional style of training, because it is not just about knowing what to do or to have observed it, yet it must also be done. If it is necessary to account for a professional type that refers to shared invariants, it is necessary to organize and structure the activity of the teacher, so that the teacher can find an anchor point, examine adjusted professional gestures, a style specific to each and everyone, with the multi-agenda prism, for example, is a source of professional development. This reflective aspect of training is certainly not specific to the kindergarten but it will become so if it is thought in terms of the issues that are attached to it.

 

It is by questioning how, and not exclusively what, the nursery school teaches, how the young child learns, that nursery school teachers will develop professionally.

We can not close this brief statement on this essential question of vocational training for teachers, without adding that if, in our view, it should integrate components that are both specific and differentiated, depending on the context of practice, at no time must it be compartmentalized, so that the action of each one, here and now, is inscribed in a before and after.

 

                 To conclude

 

It was through three complementary perspectives that we proposed a reading, an understanding of the rituals in the nursery school, and in particular of the unavoidable time of the morning grouping.

 

Thus, our view as teachers has led us to consider the nursery school as a specific place of practice, a place where the young child will have to learn the school, where he will gradually gets into his pace in school practices. A place where the morning ritual will accompany the passage between the house and the school and participate in school socialization.

Our vision as trainers reinforced our conviction that a specific course module was needed in the initial training of teachers, with compulsory education focusing on the needs and development of the young child, both subject, social subject and learning subject. On the other hand, continuing education will undoubtedly gain more and more reflection from the point of view of the teacher's professional gestures, through three generic questions: What? Why ? How? The ‘what’ in particular deals with this central issue of learning in kindergarten. The ‘why’ which will refer to explicit and conscious intentions. The ‘how’ will address the concerns partially pre-thought and updated in the professional gestures.

Our view as researchers has convinced us of the interest of theoretical models such as the multi-agenda, to grasp the depth of a practice, to go beyond the genre and to appreciate the style. And is it not precisely in this quest for a style that professional development can take its source?

 

As part of our research, we then studied the dynamics existing in the reciprocal adjustments between the teacher and her pupils, observed during a morning ritual. So, by analyzing the "scaffold learning postures"12 implemented by the teacher during the ritual and crossing them with the "study of gestures" of children (what they do, their involvement in the tasks), we have been able to demonstrate a correlation between "the accompanying posture"13 of the mistress and reflexive posture of children. In other words, when the teacher accompanies, the children engage in tasks, act, seek to understand ...

 

In school, and especially in kindergarten, the ritual is a pedagogical approach conceived, underpinned by real intentions, and intended to install the child in an affective security, to guarantee the favorable conditions to make do, to make speak, to evolve of its own movement. It then necessarily calls for a real professionalism on the part of the teacher, a certain capacity to adjust his action so that the children are present ,here and now and not where she would like them to be.

 

The ritualized morning regrouping makes it possible to recreate the class group by integrating the singularity of each one, and to find functional reference points in a context that, in many respects, may seem strange for a newly educated young child. And if the imposed framework of rituals may seem paradoxical with a view to develop autonomy, it must be remembered that fixing constraints also means setting up the necessary conditions for benchmarks to be built and so that autonomy can eventually develop. That said, a compromise has to be found between an immutable functioning which reassures, and novelty which forces to adapt to progress. Rituals must therefore be both continuity and rupture, regularity and change so as not to become meaningless routines, which would create a climate of apathy, lack of enthusiasm, of enrollment, and of commitment among children.

Septembre/2017

Christine Chesa

educational adviser in Hérault, Academy of Montpellier, France.

Geneviève Coli

educational adviser in Hérault, Academy of Montpellier, France.

 

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1 Christine Chesa, Geneviève Coli. Research paper submitted in June 2014 under the direction of Yves Soulé, University of Montpellier II. <back

 

2 Bouysse, V. Claus P. and Szymankiewicz, C. (2011). L’école maternelle. Rapport à monsieur le ministre de l’éducation nationale, de la  jeunesse et de la vie associative <back

 

3 By "ordinary", we mean that the practice of the teacher is not subject to any instruction

from the researcher. <back

 

4 Technology Research Team. <back

 

5 The multi-agenda is a tool to understand the teacher's work in its complexity. A more detailed modeling of scaffold learning postures, at the heart of the teaching profession is developed through the teaching postures and postures of students. The multi-agenda consists of a set of  multiple requirements oriented toward what teachers "must do"http://neo.ens-lyon.fr/neo/formation/analyse/le-multi-agenda <back

 

6 In France, education is compulsory from the age of six. <back

 

7 Bautier, E. (2006). Apprendre à l’école, apprendre l’école. Des risques de construction d’inégalités dès l’école maternelle, Lyon: Chronique sociale. <back

 

8 Winnicott, D. (1975). Jeu et réalité, L’espace potentiel. Paris: Gallimard. <back

 

9 Passerieux, C. 2002. École maternelle : La socialisation, un préalable ou une construction scolaire ? Dialogue, n°108 « Des idées qui ont la vie rude » GFEN. <back

 

10 Amigues, R., Faïta, D. & Saujat, F. (2004). Travail enseignant et apprentissages scolaires. In E. Gentaz &Ph. Dessus (Eds). Comprendre les apprentissages: Psychologie cognitive et éducation. Paris: Dunod. <back

 

11 Cf. Bucheton, D. & Soulé, Y. (2009b). Les gestes professionnels et le jeu des postures de l’enseignant dans la classe : un multi-agenda de préoccupations enchâssées. Education & Didactique. Volume 3 n°3, 29-48. <back

 

12 These "scaffold learning postures" were highlighted by the work of LIRDEF Montpellier (Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Research in Didactics, Education and Training). They make it possible to account for the diversity of the forms assistance that can be implemented by a teacher to enable his pupils to learn. Five postures were highlighted: posture of accompaniment, control, release, teaching, and the so-called "magician" posture. Cf. Bucheton, D. & Soulé, Y. (2009b). Les gestes professionnels et le jeu des postures de l’enseignant dans la classe : un multi-agenda de préoccupations enchâssées. Education & Didactique. Volume 3 n°3, 29-48. En ligne : https://educationdidactique.revues.org/543 <back

 

13 Accompanying posture: the teacher brings, laterally, one-time assistance (partly individual, partly collective, depending on the progress of the task and the obstacles to be overcome). He does not think specifically of the pupil's place, but instead opens up time for exploration. He is mainly positioned as an observer to intervene as appropriate. <back