The stories were developed by Prof. Raingard Knauer and Rüdiger Hansen from the Institut für Partizipation und Bildung (Institute for Participation and Education) in Kiel as part of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s “Jung bewegt” project. We spoke with the two experts to find out more.
What led to the idea of using picture books to teach democracy?
RÜDIGER HANSEN: Actually the idea has been around for a while. Our colleagues suggested a number of times that we should explain the concepts of social participation and democracy to young children. We always thought using picture books would work well.
PROF. DR. RAINGARD KNAUER: These topics have often been treated second-hand. But books that put it in the title and talk about it directly – that’s new. What’s also new is the combination of children’s books and reference manual.
What approach do the books take?
HANSEN: Children and teachers always encounter problems that have to be solved somehow. What are needed are processes that allow educators and children to work together to come up with a solution. The books describe how to do this.
KNAUER: Often things aren’t that way in practice, however. In preschools, decisions are made on behalf of children. That robs them of the chance to solve problems themselves. The situation that comes up again and again in the books is: Here’s a problem. What can we do to solve it? For many people this was a completely new approach.
Were teachers and parents surprised?
HANSEN: Yes. For educators it’s a paradigm shift. When we visited child-care centers we asked if babies should have the right to decide for themselves if their diapers are changed. The parents and teachers thought we were just trying to provoke them. But we were serious. After all, children are individuals from the moment they are born, which means they have the right to have a say in what happens to them. If you were in a nursing home and your diaper were changed against your will, of course you would object. So what right do we have to do that to our children? Once you begin looking at it, issues that normally seem clear begin to get fuzzy. And that’s when things get interesting.
KNAUER: Educational relationships always have to do with power. Many teachers do not realize that. We want to make them aware of it, since that is the only way we can protect children from misuses of power and give them the opportunity to experience democracy.
What age group were the books written for?
HANSEN: Children between the ages of four and six. The stories are relatively complex. But some parts are understandable even for very young children.
What is the first moment that children discover democracy?
KNAUER: From the very start, children find themselves in a group in which they experience certain basic cultural situations. They ask themselves: Am I seen? Does what I say matter? This starts in the family. At the latest, democracy education begins when they find themselves in a public setting such as preschool, since that’s where they experience how people who are not related to each other deal with each other.
How did you come up with the stories?
KNAUER: They were told to us in preschools. Basically, they all happened in real life.
HANSEN: We alternated between theoretical ideas and practical implementation, reacting to what actually happened.