There are no top-level steering documents to guide ECEC settings for children aged under 3 years in their educational activities and pedagogy. The government decree of 22 May 2014 sets minimum provisions for the Kinderkrippen. Based on these minimum provisions, the Kinderkrippen must draw up their own pedagogical plans.
In Belgium, pre-primary education has become a fully fledged, integrated part of the general education system. The majority of laws and regulations concerning kindergartens are the same as those for primary schools. In most cases, the guidelines apply to the entire primary school (i.e. to both the kindergarten and the primary school). The legal provisions were reformulated and laid down in a decree of 26th April 1999 on regular basic education.
This decree set the general objectives for the entire basic school system (pre-primary and primary school). The Catholic schools of the free subsidised education system additionally pursue objectives of a religious nature, which are rooted in their educational ethos.
In addition, an activity plan for pre-primary education which is binding for all pre-primary schools in the German-speaking Community, came into force on 1 September 2004. It corresponds to the recommendations of the decree of 16 December 2002 concerning the definition of the development goals for kindergartens. The activity plan was drawn up by a working group that took into account targets based on numerous scientific texts and practical studies from Germany and elsewhere. It was distributed to all teachers in the kindergartens of the municipalities and the German-speaking Community for review, and was submitted to the Department of Educational Sciences of the Autonomous University of East Belgium (previously the Autonomous University in the German-speaking Community) for comment.
Areas of learning and development
According to the decree of 26th April 1999 on regular basic education, the objectives of pre-primary and primary education are as follows.
- Basic education contributes to the child’s development by ensuring that the child’s personal development and learning processes complement each other in the best possible way.
- It involves the acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities through pupil-centred teaching.
- Basic education contributes to the child’s socialisation. The child is taught what it means to be a citizen of a society. In doing so, the school supports the child’s integration into society and the development of behaviours and skills so that they can, from a very early age, actively participate in the development of the society in which they live. The school should take care to respect the child’s identity.
- Pre-primary education pursues the goal of stimulating the maturation process, developing children’s independence and sense of responsibility so that they are able to tackle basic learning processes when they begin primary school.
- Pre-primary education is also the first phase of learning social behaviour. The aim is to develop children’s independence, sense of responsibility and cooperation.
These general objectives include the following goals.
- Socio-affective goals. Helping children to develop, helping them to accept themselves and to get to know themselves (by motivating children, showing them their limits, emphasising their successes and helping them to understand the consequences of their actions).
- Intellectual goals. Helping children through a variety of experiences to increase their understanding (through observation, experimentation and developing their language skills).
- Psychomotor goals. Helping children to know themselves better and to gain confidence in themselves (through bodily expression).
- Artistic goals. Making children aware of beauty and poetry, to develop their sense of art and aesthetics and to give them space for creativity.
Following the development objectives, the activity plan for pre-primary education defines the following subject areas:
- language of instruction
- listening and speaking
- reading and writing
- foreign language activities
- listening and understanding
- psychomotor skills
- motor skills
- movement and health
- movement and socialisation
- world orientation
- the child as an individual
- the child and nature
- the child and society
- the child and technology
- the child and the time–space dimension
- artistic education
- expression and movement in performing play (music and dance)
- visual arts
- development of mathematical thinking
- sizes and measures
- numbers and operational concepts.
In the German-speaking Community, children start learning to read in the first year of primary school (i.e. at the age of 6 years). However, they are introduced to reading as early as the age of 3 years in pre-primary education, not through premature or forced formal teaching, but through the acquisition of functional skills by means of exploration of the written environment in which the child finds himself or herself and in which non-formal learning processes that arise naturally through life, activity or play are to be encouraged.
The introduction to the world of numbers takes place under the same conditions.
The activity plan for pre-primary education does not provide for a strict division of time: the number of hours to be devoted to the various subjects is not fixed. Many teachers attach great importance to regular changes between static and more active exercises. There can be significant differences between pre-primary classes.
Foreign language activities are prescribed for pre-primary education in the decree of 19 April 2004 on the teaching and use of languages in education. A minimum of 50 minutes and a maximum of 200 minutes have been set each week for all years of pre-primary education, which makes it possible to have a 10- to 40-minute activity in French, the main foreign language, each day. Since September 2011, it has been possible to offer bilingual teaching in all years of pre-primary education under certain conditions.
The methods used are aimed more at concept formation than at imparting knowledge. Play is at the centre of pedagogical activities. According to the decree of 26th April 1999 on regular basic education, welcoming the child, observing him or her thoroughly, and listening to him or her are considered the pedagogical pillars of children’s development. The rhythm of each child should always be respected, and all activities should always be integrated into a functional framework.
The activity plan also recommends good cooperation between the various members of teaching staff, cooperation between the preschool and primary school teachers aimed at continuity, and interactions between school and family.
The children learn through play in specially equipped rooms. The most common furnishings and materials are play tables, toys, books, colouring boxes and materials for psychomotor activities. There is also an outdoor play area. Most educational institutions also have video and audio recording equipment, and digital equipment such as computers and tablets.
In general, specific spaces or places are designated for certain activities.
- Affective space. This space creates a feeling of safety, is for working out thoughts and has a table on which tasks are distributed.
- Creative space. This is for games, drawing and bodily expression (aimed at consolidating one’s personality).
- Cognitive space. This space allows for experimentation (including understanding plants and animals) and has a library, television and computer.
- Psychomotor room. This is for relaxation and for building reason and tenderness (it is equipped with pillows, stuffed animals, etc.).
The activity plan emphasises the importance of projects adapted to children’s interests and needs.
Projects should allow for action, acceptance and voluntary participation, with a view to achieving the objectives. The pupils are divided into groups to work on the various activities organised by the teacher (e.g. painting, construction, library projects, mathematics, stimulation, role play, puppets and shops).
The usual daily routine involves:
- reception of the children – songs and free oral expression;
- daily schedule – planning and deciding on the day’s activities;
- activities organised in groups.
Whenever possible, activities are organised in groups of fewer than 15 pupils.
In the Basic Decree of 31st August 1998 (“Grundlagendekret”) applying to pre-primary and primary schools, assessment is described as an essential part of the teaching and learning process, which serves to determine the level of development of each pupil. There are guidelines on the specific methods to be used.
In pre-primary education, there is only formative evaluation. Formative evaluation involves the ongoing collection of information on the developmental status and/or developmental progress of pupils. It is thus diagnostic and serves to improve learning.
The developmental goals (“Entwicklungsziele”) laid down in the activity plan for pre-primary education, that are pursued in pre-primary education take into account the children’s holistic learning and their progress from pre-primary education to primary school. The developmental goals form the basis of formative evaluation.
This evaluation is based on observation of the child. The results of the evaluation are recorded in writing and commented on at regular intervals. Parents are regularly informed about the development of their child.
In 2021, an extensive process of revising the development goals began, involving various stakeholders.
Transition to primary school
There are no top-level guidelines on measures relating to the transition to primary education.