A couple of days ago, while flicking through the TV channels I heard a psychologist talking about ”burn-out“ even in pre-school children. Though we should be careful in diagnosing by using today ́s catchwords, there is some truth in it.

It is commonly accepted that childcare institutions, such as kindergartens, should not only be the places where we leave our children to be cared for by others while we are working. Instead, these places should provide inspiring surroundings for children, offer a place for creativity, socializing, making friends, and, above all, learning and preparing for school.

By the way: It might be accidental, but it came to my mind that German and English offer different notions for the childcare establishment in question: Namely, while in German “kindergarten” would translate to “children ́s garden”, —the English dictionary offers “nursery school” as an expression, therefore seemingly inferring a learning environment rather than a playful one.

Nowadays you have to look at children in a professional, science-informed way. That necessitates professionalization of personnel working in the nursery school; Nursery teachers have to be trained in caring for small children, they need to know how to react to their cries or moans and, if necessary, how to interpret their mimics. They should be aware of their well- being and have an idea of the meaning of social interaction between the children. Professional training is well and truly needed. In addition to this, and especially so, nursery teachers should prepare children for school because children should already start to learn in a proper sense of the word: Perhaps languages, writing or even math. Step by step, children should also become accustomed to the daily school schedule.

This is a significant change to the former times when children grew up more or less unguided in their homes and supervised by their siblings rather than by their parents. There is certainly no desire to return to the old ages and most would surely agree that the advantages of child care institutions are vast.

The problem, however, is that rationalization and professionalization might have negative consequences when overemphasized. And I think that it is already overemphasized

One of the consequences of this is a de-institutionalization of childhood. Children’s living arrangements already show many characteristics of adult life: scheduling, performing, and rationalizing. I do not think it makes much sense to fight against this development because the science, as well as most parents, support this approach as almost a need if children want to perform at school or, better said, if parents want children to perform at school. But I do believe that we should and even must think of the unintended outcomes: Loss of creativity, psychic disorders, and symptoms such as burn-out that the psychologist I mentioned above spoke about.

George Herbert Mead, a classical sociologist in Chicago in the 1930’s made the distinction between “game“ and ”play“: game entails rules, while play does not. I believe we should now give our children more room to play simply and only to play, rather than to play games.

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