The National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care applies to early childhood education and care (ECEC) provision and the compulsory pre-primary year. It builds on the existing national documents, examples of good educational practice and the scientific studies on the achievements in the field of institutional ECEC. Furthermore, it builds on the early childhood education curricula and on the achievements in the field of initial education and training of educators and other expert kindergarten staff published in the last 20 years. The national curriculum was developed as part of the 2014 Strategy on Education, Science and Technology, which provides a holistic approach to education and focuses on several main goals: high-quality, efficient and relevant education available to all under equal conditions.
The principles forming the backbone of the National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care are as follows:
- flexibility of the educational process in the kindergarten;
- partnership of the kindergarten with the parents and the broader community;
- ensuring continuity in education;
- openness to continuous learning and readiness to improve practices.
The core values of the National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care include the comprehensive development of the child, the preservation and development of the national, spiritual, material and natural heritage of Croatia, European co-existence and creation of a knowledge-based society. The National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care promotes planning and educational activities based on the values that improve intellectual, social, moral, spiritual and motoric development of children:
- humanism and tolerance
The starting points of the National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care are the principles of freedom, openness and diversity. They should underpin the whole organisation and implementation of educational work in all kindergartens in Croatia. The curriculum affirms the ideas that constitute the basis for the development of various educational concepts in kindergartens, such as:
- pluralism and freedom in the implementation of pedagogical ideas and concepts;
- differences in types and forms of programme implementation;
- democratisation of the society towards programme carriers.
The National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care is directed towards achieving specific goals, namely:
- ensuring children’s wellbeing;
- stimulating children’s comprehensive growth;
- education, learning and developing competencies;
- right to equal opportunities.
The humanistic and developmental concept requires the application of democratic principles in the education and care of preschool children. This is based on the idea of the value of democratic relations among the people with whom the child interacts in their environment.
Areas of learning and development
According to the National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care, the focus of educational activities during the whole phase of ECEC is on encouraging full and healthy growth and development of children. The physical, emotional, social, intellectual, moral and spiritual development of the child should be promoted, in accordance with the child’s developmental abilities.
The education of preschool children is based on a humanistic-developmental concept consisting of the following:
- the idea of humanism (a child has value in themselves);
- knowledge of the specific characteristics and principles of development of preschool children, and knowledge of human development as a whole;
- knowledge of the characteristics of institutional education of preschool children.
The principles on which ECEC is based are:
- meeting the child’s basic physical needs as a basic prerequisite for their overall development;
- considering socioemotional needs as equivalent to physical development needs, and acknowledging that all areas of development interact;
- ensuring optimal conditions for development (i.e. flexible organisation);
- providing the child with a period of adjustment to the kindergarten and readjustment (after absence);
- preparing children for school;
- providing active protection;
- considering spontaneity as a working principle (always allowing the child spontaneity);
- providing constant child–adult interaction;
- applying an individual approach to children;
- carefully designing the space and material environment where the child spends time;
- flexibly organising the educational process directed towards the child, not for the child;
- respecting the principles of development (age abilities and integrity of development opportunities);
- evaluating the results of educational activities and conditions.
Standard programmes of education, healthcare, nutrition and social care for preschool children are provided in kindergartens. The programmes are adapted to children’s developmental needs, as well as to their abilities and competencies, including the programmes for preschool children with disabilities, programmes for gifted children, programmes for children belonging to national minorities, pre-primary school programmes, early foreign language learning programmes and other programmes with artistic, cultural, religious or sports contents approved by the ministry responsible for education.
Standard programmes are comprehensive developmental programmes of care and education for children from the age of 6 months until they start school, which vary in duration and are designed to meet the children’s needs and the needs of their parents or guardians.
With regard to duration, the ECEC programmes may be:
- full-day programmes, lasting 7–10 hours per day;
- half-day programmes, lasting 4–6 hours per day;
- several-day programmes, lasting 1–10 days (excursion programmes, summer vacation programmes and winter vacation programmes);
- programmes lasting up to 3 hours.
Special programs include:
- programs of early foreign language learning,
- music programs,
- art programs,
- drama and theatre programs,
- IT programs,
- sports programs and dance programs,
- environmental programs and sustainable development education programs,
- religious programs,
- health education programs,
- programs for children with special healthcare needs (children with acute illnesses and needs, children with chronic illnesses, children affected by body weight disorder, endocrine and other disorders),
- programs of work with parents, safety programs, prevention programs, and compensation and rehabilitation programs.
Pre-primary educational programme
The main task of the pre-primary educational program as stipulated by the Ordinance on the Content and Duration of Pre-Primary Educational Program is to develop and improve the physical, emotional, social and cognitive potential of a child, as well as to stimulate her/his communication skills needed for new forms of learning.
The content, the programmatic tasks and the organisation of the implementation of the pre-primary educational programme have to enable all the needs of children to be met, particularly the child’s needs for safety, belonging, love, self-respect and respect for others, as well as the need for self-realisation of their personal potential.
The competencies that a child needs to acquire and/or improve prior to starting primary school relate to:
- communication in the child’s mother tongue;
- elementary communication in foreign languages;
- mathematical competencies;
- basic competencies in natural sciences and technology;
- digital competencies;
- learning to learn;
- social and civic competencies;
- initiative-taking and entrepreneurship;
- cultural awareness and expression;
- motor competencies appropriate to the child’s age.
The National Curriculum for Early Childhood and Preschool Education came into force in 2014, having been piloted since 2010. The curricular framework for work with young children is structured according to three broad areas of learning and competence acquisition, namely:
- the child as an individual (e.g. self-image);
- the child in interaction with others (family, other children, immediate social community, kindergarten, local community);
- the child and the surrounding world (the natural and the wider social environment, cultural heritage, sustainable development).
Within this framework, the aim of ECEC is to foster a holistic and age-appropriate, humanist developmental approach. Within the framework specifications, each kindergarten designs its own centre-specific programme according to the local context. These programmes, which include the goals for working with parents or guardians, have to be approved by the Ministry of Science and Education.
A contemporary educator undertaking the main educational work is required to:
- be methodically creative;
- apply modern working forms and methods;
- use contemporary sources of knowledge to stimulate the child’s overall mental and physical development;
- achieve results through educational work with children;
- promote human rights, especially the rights of the child;
- maintain a healthy environment;
- cooperate with educators (i.e. professional associates, parents or guardians and representatives of the kindergarten’s social environment).
During all activities, the conditions are provided for children’s active establishment of interaction with the material and social environment, the result of which is the acquisition of important experiences.
Spontaneous and planned activities are undertaken. In both, the educator manages the current needs of the child, and their development opportunities, in order to achieve integrative effects on overall development.
Educators in preschool settings are required to have specific knowledge of child development and the needs of preschool children, individual differences and the characteristics of each individual child, and ways of observing the child’s behaviour.
Required abilities include:
- recognising a favourable moment for the establishment of trust and friendship with a child;
- creating a sense of safety;
- recognising when a child is ready to adopt something new;
- helping a child to create a positive image of themselves.
The educator’s personality affects the children; warmth, acceptance of others, caring for others are desirable qualities. The aim is primarily to satisfy the child’s physical needs for food, rest and movement, as a prerequisite to satisfy socioemotional, cognitive and other needs. The educator must have a professional education and access to training, learning resources, literature, seminars, etc.
Aids for working with children (i.e. for programme implementation, among others) may include:
- audiovisual aids, such as CD/radio players, televisions, DVD players, display boards;
- resources for artistic expression, such as picture books, spelling books, classic prose texts and lyrics, encyclopaedias and books containing images of works by the masters of fine art, and important Croatian and global historical and cultural monuments;
- resources for musical expression and creation, such as musical instruments including drums and triangles, audio recordings of songs and musical clips;
- resources for research, such as microscopes, magnifiers, scales, thermometers, magnets and various other materials.
The preschool curriculum reflects the values, goals, principles and starting points highlighted in the National Curriculum for Early Childhood and Preschool Education and contains features of the kindergarten curriculum. The preschool curriculum takes into account the specific context of the child’s growth and the culture and traditions of the environment in which the child and their family live.
Accordingly, educational work with children in the year before starting school is planned thematically as a project. In the curriculum, preschool contextual conditions (environment) are planned in order to support educational activities and the acquisition of educational experiences.
Preschool curriculum content planning is based on observing and listening to children, taking into account their interests and individual and developmental abilities. Children are encouraged to participate, reflect and plan new learning experiences with the educator.
Educational activities are based on research, discovery, reflection, problem-solving and discussions. Children are encouraged to express themselves through different types of activities: drawing, painting, building, constructing, etc. Direct interventions of educators in educational activities are based on good understanding of children and creating a supportive learning environment for each child.
The educational process should provide each child with a programme that is firmly connected to the child’s parents or guardians and to the child’s environment as a whole. Educators have autonomy in implementing the process of planning, programming, monitoring and evaluating direct educational work with preschool children. It is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the child’s developmental characteristics in order to ensure the optimal conditions for the development of the child. The ultimate goal of this approach is to train the child and to help them to independently build and acquire knowledge.
In kindergarten, the strategies for planning and evaluating the educational process are as follows.
- Long-term planning. A team of educators makes plans for the whole year (common essential tasks, projects, etc.) and decides on activities (themes) and developmental tasks (by area – motor skills, social and emotional development, cognition, communication) for each 3-month period.
- Weekly planning. Activities are carried out according to the orientation plan, and activity implementation (where, what, how) is determined based on the developmental tasks to be accomplished.
- Daily planning. This complements weekly planning by providing incentives for a particular activity or set of activities. The planned incentives are given in advance, whereas spontaneous incentives are added for the spontaneously created activities of children. The daily plan serves to evaluate the effects of the activity on children (how many children participated in the activity, specificities of children’s behaviour, specific contributions of each child).
- Evaluation of curriculum implementation (3-month curriculum). Comments are made on the number of children in groups, the effects of changes on financial, organisational and other conditions are stated, the implemented activities and contents for children that were especially valuable and attractive are given special attention, the results of collaboration with parents or guardians are stated and the achievements of children are assessed.
Pursuant to the Act on Preschool Education and Care the parent or guardian of a child has the right to be regularly informed of the development and progress of the child through individual meetings and meetings for all parents.
Transition to primary school
As stipulated by the Ordinance on the Content and Duration of the Preschool Educational Programme, the pre-primary educational programme has to ensure that every child in the year prior to primary school is provided with the optimal conditions to develop and improve the skills, habits and competencies that will help them to adapt to the school environment.
Kindergartens, primary schools and any other institutions implementing the pre-primary educational programme are obliged to cooperate with parents or guardians, other individuals and institutions that may take part in the education and care of children during that year.
Moreover, the Ordinance on the Content and Duration of the Preschool Educational Programme recommends that settings establish continuity and cooperation between ECEC and primary education. There are practical measures to foster cooperation between ECEC staff and primary school teachers, such as organised meetings to discuss children’s transitions, dialogue between the respective professional development services and familiarisation with each other’s activities and learning environments. It is recommended that children attending ECEC have visits to primary schools.