The principles of education policy in the early childhood education and care sector are laid down in the Joint Framework of the Länder for Early Education in Day-Care Centres (Gemeinsamer Rahmen der Länder für die frühe Bildung in Kindertageseinrichtungen) which was adopted by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) and the Youth Ministers Conference (Jugendministerkonferenz – JMK) in 2004 and updated in March 2022. This binding framework applies to centre-based settings across the whole phase of early childhood education and care.
According to the Common Framework, the focus of the educational mandate of the day-care centres is on the early strengthening of individual competences and learning dispositions, on language education integrated into everyday life, on the expansion, support and challenge of children's urge to explore, on the formation and education in values, on the promotion of learning competence ("learning to learn") and on the appropriation of the world in social con-texts. Child day-care facilities also have the task of living inclusion as a comprehensive pedagogical principle and to offer all children good starting opportunities and development conditions. The aim is to enable participation, to promote a self-determined life and to enable all children to communicate and interact in the different areas of life.
On the level of the Länder, education plans specify the basic notion of education and describe the day-care centres’ independent responsibility for education and upbringing. The educational plans make educational processes in day-care centres transparent and at the same time provide orientation for professionals, day-care workers, parents and teachers as well as for all other places of education and learning where children spend time and are cared for. In particular, educational plans have the task of laying the foundations for early, individual and talent-oriented support for all children and thus, through an inclusive approach, to promote the social participation of all people regardless of gender, cultural affiliation, socio-economic background or physical limitations.
Each day-care centre must draw up its own pedagogical concept, which must be approved by the regional or local Youth Welfare services. The responsibility for the quality of educational work performed in the individual day-care centres lies with the maintaining body. Whether the existing educational guidelines developed by the Länder for ECEC apply to childminders depends on the regulations of the Länder and the age of the children.
In November 2009, the national working group of the Land youth welfare services (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Landesjugendämter) adopted Specialist Recommendations on the Quality of Education, Upbringing and Care for Children Under Three Years of Age in Day-Care Centres and Child-minding Services (Fachliche Empfehlungen zur Qualität der Bildung, Erziehung und Betreuung der unter Dreijährigen in Kindertageseinrichtungen und Kindertagespflege) .
Areas of learning and development
The legal mandate of child day care is a holistic one and combines the triad of education, upbringing and care. Subjects and weekly teaching hours are not laid down for the sector of early childhood education and care, and there are no curricula such as those in schools. The Länder have laid down educational objectives and educational areas in Land laws which are concretised in educational plans and educational programmes and whose implementation has been agreed with the providers of the day-care centres.
According to the specialist recommendations of the national working group of the Land youth welfare services of November 2009 on the quality of the education, upbringing and care of children under three in day-care centres for children and child-minding services, early childcare must respond in particular to the basic needs of small children. The specific needs of children under three include:
- loving attention;
- sensitive care based on stable relationships;
- sympathetic support appropriate to development stage;
- empathy and support in stressful situations;
- unconditional acceptance;
- safety and security.
Educational support at this stage in life is primarily understood as shaping relationships with the child and as holistic support complementing development. It is accompanied by educational partnership with parents. The educational processes take place through social interaction and communication, and above all through play. Special development themes of early childhood education include supporting communication, language and motor development.
The aim of supporting the development of children from the age of three until they start school is to develop their intellectual, physical, emotional and social abilities. According to the Joint Framework of the Länder for Early Education in Day-Care Centres, educational areas are:
- Everyday integrated language education and communication
- Personal and social-emotional development, value orientation and religiosity, cultural-ly sensitive competences
- MINT – Mathematics, Informatics, Natural Science and Technology
- Media and digital education
- Aesthetic education
- Body, movement, health, prevention
- Environmental education and education for sustainable development
These educational areas are not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive. In the educational plans of the Länder, different boundaries may be drawn between the individual areas. The decisive factor is that the contents presented are reflected in the concrete pedagogical work.
The pedagogical profile in the day-care centres is characterised by the principle of holistic and inclusive educational support for all children. Here, the individual educational needs of the child are taken as a starting point and the right of children to an unrestricted, comprehensive education oriented towards their individual needs is emphasised. The content-related educational focal points in the education plans do not stand in isolation, but interpenetrate each other and are not to be handled in a subject-oriented manner. Through holistic educational offers, it is possible to implement several educational areas at the same time. The pedagogical practice specifically maintains and shapes this connection and interpenetration of the educational areas.
Project work is a good example of holistic learning. Learning contents are recommended which, in the sense of co-construction, relate to the children's living environment and tie in with their interests, as well as forms of learning which promote self-directed learning, open up scope for creativity, enable teamwork, strengthen the productive handling of mistakes and allow the children to explore freely and try things out.
The educational work in day-care centres for children is essentially based on the situational approach: it is guided by the interests, needs and situations of the individual children. The pedagogical staff therefore have to observe the children, document their development and talk to parents regularly.
The promotion of communication and language is a core educational task, especially with regard to children under three years of age. Children acquire language skills not in isolation, but in daily interaction with adults and other children. Language development is promoted in an emotionally approachable atmosphere. Educational staff are expected to support workflows and care processes with language, and to structure them as language-stimulating situations. Language development is also supported by the language model provided by educational staff, through customs including songs, finger play and verse, teaching work with picture books, and much more besides.
Another development aspect is the promotion of motor development in the sense of basic physical education. Extensive opportunities for motor activities are designed to support secure movement and the development of body awareness, self-acceptance and the attentiveness of the child. This includes inter alia a wealth of physical activities taking into account the "National Recommendations for Physical Activity and Physical Activity Pomotion" ('Nationale Empfehlungen für Bewegung und Bewegungsförderung'), open spaces, programmes such as rhythmic early education, and song and movement games. Children should also have enough time to make motor advances by themselves.
The work of the day-care centres is inclusive and takes into account the needs of all children - with and without disabilities.
There is no assessment of performance in day-care centres for children, as there are no lessons in the traditional sense. Regular observation and documenting of development and the abilities and needs of the children allows educational staff to support individual development tasks competently. Staff incorporate these observations into dialogue with the child and conversations with the parents.
Transition to primary school
In June 2009, the Standing Conference and the Conference of Ministers of Youth and Family Affairs (Jugend- und Familienministerkonferenz – JFMK) adopted a joint resolution entitled "Making the transition from day care for children to primary school meaningful and effective – optimizing the interaction between elementary and primary education”. They have thus agreed on a set of common principles that can serve as guidelines for action for the educational institutions involved, their employees and parents. Day care centres and primary schools should support children in their curiosity, willingness to learn and methodical learning competence by enabling a variety of learning experiences and promoting their abilities. This also includes reliable promotion of skills in the German language.
Furthermore, with regard to the cooperation between day care centres and primary schools, the Standing Conference and JFMK consider it necessary for the Länder to formulate binding goals for the transition and cooperation between day-care centres and primary schools through legislation or agreement and to ensure their implementation through appropriate instruments.
The "Common Framework of the Länder for Early Education in Child Day-Care Centres" also emphasises that the transition process is to be understood as a joint development and support task of child day-care centres and primary schools.