The conditions and detailed professional aspects of nursery care are regulated by the national core programme of nursery education and care.
The aim of the national core programme of nursery education and care is to provide a framework for professional work in institutions providing nursery care and services in Hungary. The content and approach of the core programme are in line with the Fundamental Law of Hungary, the legislation on the education and care of children under 3 years of age, the traditions and values of nursery education, national characteristics and the results of recent research studies in the field of early childhood education.
The chapters of the core programme apply to both centre-based and home-based types of nurseries (nurseries, mini-nurseries, workplace nurseries and family nurseries), taking into account the specificities of each form of care.
According to the core programme, the principles of nursery education are:
- approaching family as a system;
- incorporating an early childhood intervention approach;
- respecting the primacy of family care;
- respecting the personality of the child;
- the decisive role of the early childhood practitioner;
- creating security and stability;
- achieving gradation and stepwise education;
- individual care;
- the importance of specific situations in care;
- supporting children’s competence development.
The tasks of nursery care are:
- supporting families, building on their strengths and developing parental competence;
- health protection and providing the foundation of a healthy lifestyle;
- developing emotional and social competencies;
- helping the development of cognitive processes.
Nurseries develop their own pedagogical plans.
The binding document setting out requirements on the content of kindergarten education is the national core programme of kindergarten education. It is valid for all kindergartens regardless of the operator. This core programme is a framework-type regulator; it formulates the government’s expectations for kindergarten education by providing guidelines, main tasks, organisational frameworks and activities. On the basis of the core programme, kindergartens prepare their individual pedagogical programmes at institutional level; these regulate, in detail, the activities and methodological directions of the given kindergarten, as well as the rules and timeline for documenting the pedagogical work. The pedagogical programme is prepared by the kindergarten’s early childhood education and care staff and the method of approval depends on the operator. In the case of a kindergarten operated by a local government, the head of the kindergarten is the approver; the consent of the operator is required only in the case of additional costs. In the case of church-run institutions, the operator approves the pedagogical programme of the kindergarten. The pedagogical programme must not be in conflict with the national core programme of kindergarten education, and this is ensured by multiple levels of control. The law stipulates that kindergarten teachers can plan the methodology of their group’s activities based on this pedagogical programme but that the methodology should be differentiated according to each child’s individual development plan. The central regulation highlights both the child’s individual development plan (differentiation) and the kindergarten teacher’s professional activity (portfolio). This process (the core programme, the institutional pedagogical programme, the individual children’s development plans and the teachers’ portfolios) ensures the consistency of regulated common content in kindergarten education and the diversity of local needs.
Stages of pedagogical programme planning
Source: Szent-Gály (ed.), Óvodavezetési ismeretek: Pedagógiai program újra gondolva (Kindergarten management: Reconsidering the pedagogical programme) December 2017, Raabe Kiadó, 2018.
Educational tasks and methods
According to the national core programme of kindergarten education, various pedagogical aspirations, including innovative ones, may be incorporated into kindergarten education, as the core programme ensures freedom regarding the pedagogical views, values and methodologies of kindergarten teachers, and sets restrictions only in respect of the protection of the child’s best interests.
Areas of learning and development
The following areas and activities are covered by the national core programme of nursery education and care.
Early childhood learning takes place in real-life situations: care and play, group activities and communication with adults and other children. Learning happens in any process of gaining experience or information that brings about a lasting change in behaviour or thinking and helps the child to get to know themselves and their environment. Learning is embedded in activities appropriate to the child’s age and stage of development.
Care is an intimate interaction between the teacher and the child, the primary purpose of which is to fully meet the child’s physical and bodily needs. The quality of care significantly influences the development of habits and the process of becoming independent.
Play. Play is the most important activity in childhood; it helps children to get to know and understand the world and it promotes physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. During early childhood, games provide the primary opportunity to develop social relationships. Being with other children is a source of joy, and the behaviour of peers provides a model for children, helping to develop their social skills.
Physical activity. Infancy and early childhood are a period of formation and development of basic forms of movement. Young children’s need for physical activity is extremely high, and it is a source of joy for them. Therefore, it is necessary to provide them with as much space as possible, both indoors and outdoors, and for them to play movement-development games. While supporting their efforts to become independent, active participation in care provides an opportunity to practise and refine physical movements.
Rhymes and songs. Observing the sounds of the environment, listening to the singing and speaking voices of caregivers, spontaneous humming, rhythmic speech, listening to instruments creating melodies and rhythms, and singing together provide opportunities for diverse musical experiences in nursery. They support the acquisition of the mother tongue and an understanding of the national musical heritage, as well as the development of the children’s personalities on an emotional level. Furthermore, they contribute to the mental health of the child and to the creation of a cheerful, friendly atmosphere in the group.
Poems and stories. Poems and stories have a great impact on the emotional and intellectual development of children (including the development of speech, thinking, memory and imagination), as well as on their social development. The rhythm of poems and the content of stories affect children’s personalities through their emotions. Both folk and literary works have a place in nursery education.
Creative activities. The source of joy is the activity itself – the processing and expression of emotions (self-expression) – rather than the result. The most common forms of creative activity in nursery care include the use of prints, scribbling, plasticine, gluing, creasing and tearing materials, finger painting and painting with a thick brush.
Other activities. These activities are related to joint preparation for and solutions relating to real-life situations, actively gaining knowledge of the environment and caring for each other and the environment (e.g. bathing a doll, watering flowers, raking autumn leaves, making Christmas cakes and fruit salads). The sources of joy are in the feeling of ‘I am doing it’, the sense of togetherness, working together, and the importance and usefulness of the activity.
According to the national core programme of kindergarten education, the main principles in kindergarten education are:
- the child’s personality is accepted, respected, loved, cherished and trusted;
- education promotes and supports the child’s personal development and the development of the child’s individual skills and abilities;
- the pedagogical methods used in kindergarten education should be tailored to the child’s personality.
The task of kindergarten education is to meet the physical and mental needs of the child, including:
- learning to lead a healthy lifestyle;
- emotional, moral and value-oriented community education;
- intellectual and mother tongue development and education.
Kindergarten education aims to enable children to reach the physical, mental and social maturity necessary to start primary school education by the end of the kindergarten programme. The expected outcomes are as follows.
- A physically healthy child is able to move more harmoniously and in a more coordinated way by the end of kindergarten. The child is able to intentionally control their movement, behaviour and the satisfaction of their physical needs.
- A mentally healthy child is ready to go to school with an open attitude at the end of kindergarten. The child’s learning skills mean that they are ready to start school. In addition to involuntary memory and recall, intentional memory and recall improve. The intentional attention that underlies learning emerges, and elementary conceptual thinking also emerges. Of particular importance is the development of spatial perception, visual and acoustic differentiation, spatial awareness, spatial movement development and the formation of the body schema.
- By the end of kindergarten, children are socially mature enough for school. A socially mature child can adapt to an increasing number of rules and defer gratification. Their task consciousness is developing, and it is manifested in their understanding of tasks, focus on tasks and increasingly effective performance of tasks. The development of their perseverance, pace of work, independence and self-discipline supports them.
Kindergarten activities and the tasks of the kindergarten practitioner are as follows.
Poems and stories
Kindergarten education is expected to provide alternative opportunities for children’s self-expression in activities, and it is expected that folk, classical and contemporary literature are introduced to children. Rhymes, humming and poems, which are mostly combined with playful movements, contribute to the child’s emotional security and mother tongue education. Stories are particularly suitable for shaping the child’s attitude and their view of the world. This area acknowledges the anxieties of the child and at the same time it offers a resolution and a solution. The creation of their own poems and stories, combined with movement and/or representation, is a way for children to express themselves. Daily storytelling, rhymes and verses are vital for the child’s mental hygiene. In kindergartens, folk, classical and contemporary literary works are offered.
Singing, music and games with songs. Musical folk games and a sophisticated selection of contemporary works of art serve as an important tool in shaping a child’s musical abilities (rhythm, singing, listening, movement) and musical creativity. When choosing music to listen to, the kindergarten teacher is expected to consider the children’s national or ethnic affiliation. In kindergarten, observing the sounds of the environment, certain sitting games children’s folk songs, singing and playing games alongside singing and music gives joy to the children, and at the same time these activities stimulate musical interest and shape their musical taste and aesthetic receptivity. During the singing and musical activities, the child discovers the beauty of melody, rhythm and movement, and the joy of singing together. Singing and listening to folk songs, folk dances and folk games help children to get to know traditions and keep them alive. Successful kindergarten singing and music education establishes and promotes the development of the musical mother tongue.
Drawing, modelling and arts and crafts. Drawing, painting, modelling, building, making pictures and handicrafts as different types of representation, as well as getting to know works of art, folk art and the aesthetic environment, are important tools for the development of a child’s personality. The task of the kindergarten teacher is to acquaint the children with the use of artistic tools, various materials, and basic elements of and procedures for drawing, painting, modelling and handicrafts. The kindergarten teacher provides space and various tools for activities related to arts and crafts throughout the day.
Physical exercise. In accordance with the principles of kindergarten education, special attention is paid to the planning, organisation and provision of daily physical education. Regular healthy exercise, games and tasks adapted to children’s level of development are means of establishing, shaping and developing psychomotoric skills and abilities. Games, activities and tasks incorporating movement have a positive effect on the development of strength and endurance, which support stamina and the healthy development of the children’s bodies. Spontaneous, free-play physical activities are complemented by controlled activities encouraging movement. Kindergartens encourage cooperative movement games, which are particularly useful for children’s development.
During kindergarten education, children belonging to a national minority must be given the chance to be able to conserve, preserve, strengthen and convey their identity, and must be guaranteed the opportunity for multicultural education based on integration. Children of families that were forced to leave their home countries (migrants) must be given the chance to be able to conserve, preserve, strengthen and convey their identity and social integrity.
The nursery documents the development of the child as set out in methodological recommendations in order to monitor the child’s development and to gather information on the development process. The methodological guide published by the Hungarian Nursery Association provides educators with professional pedagogical documentation. Education in nursery is based on observing the child. The kindergarten teacher observes the children in their group and documents these observations. These notes demonstrate that they understand the nature of children’s development and the characteristics of each stage of development. Based on the documentation, they formulate a plan for the care and development of the child, which is adapted to each child’s individual development programme, pace and emerging competencies. The basic features of educational work are planning and awareness. On the one hand, the development of a child is considered and documented according to a pre-planned schedule. On the other hand, the educators constantly monitor what is happening in the group and, according to the children’s needs and the phases of gaining experience in various fields, they plan the main framework for the entire group.
The documentation is in no way intended to evaluate children. The purpose of keeping records is to provide the highest possible standard of care and to make the child’s development more effective. In the case of disadvantaged children, the aim is to mitigate the disadvantages and their consequences.
The process of documentation helps teachers to engage with the child’s family and to maintain effective communication with them. When a child starts nursery, two systems meet – the family and the nursery. Both can only perform their duties effectively if they learn about each other’s experiences and educational goals, and coordinate them with sufficient sensitivity. When the methods and instruments used are chosen, special attention should be paid to the greater need for the security of young children (the stability of the personal and physical environment, the similarity of a given situation to the situations familiar to the child). The methodological guide helps early childhood practitioners to understand the importance of documentation, to have an overview of the range of documents that are required to be kept, how each type of document builds on the others and the essential differences between their functions. The description of each type of documentation reflects the regulatory framework and current professional protocols and good practices. The guide includes both forms and sample documents that provide guidance on the structure and content of each document.
Basic principles of the documentation
Objectivity. Description, evaluation and observation must always be objective. Judgements should be avoided.
Credibility. When keeping and storing records, objectivity, as well as privacy rights and data protection rules, must be fully respected.
Regularity. An accurate, constructive conclusion can be drawn only from continuous observation. In the child’s development documentation and in the family booklet, the child’s development is documented every month until the age of 1 year and then every 3 months. In addition, it is recommended to make short notes in the family booklet on a monthly basis according to the concepts set out in the relevant section of the guide.
Professionalism. The use of terms must always be professional, accurate and proper. It is important to make a conscious use of scientific concepts and knowledge related to a particular type of document.
Expediency. The documentation ensures continuous control of the effectiveness of the work. The aim is not only to record observations but also to utilise what has been experienced. Depending on the pedagogical situation and observation, the educator must describe the methods used, how they were used for the child’s development and based on what set of criteria they were chosen.
In accordance with the EU general data protection regulation, restrictions on data processing also form a basic rule regarding documentation kept on children. Parental consent must be obtained to keep records, and records must be shown to parents upon request. The child’s parent / legal representative is entitled to consent to the processing of data and to receive information about the ongoing processing of the child’s personal data, as well as to the purpose and duration thereof.
Nursery education is based on observation of the child. The caregiver observes the children in their group and documents each child’s experiences.
The paediatric medical record is a document used to record a child’s state of health. It consists of three main parts: anamnesis, admission status and documentation of development in nursery. The paediatric medical record is completed with a development sheet. By keeping the medical record, nursery professionals obtain comprehensive information on the child’s state of health for the period before entering nursery (circumstances of birth, developmental history, possible diseases), then they record the child’s physical development and absences and their causes (e.g. illness, holidays), as well as possible accidental injuries while attending nursery.
The purpose of the message booklet is to keep the parents and teachers informed. It includes information on the child and the parents, contact information and any allergies to medicines or food. The more modern family booklet is a special form of contact between the nursery and the family. The booklet should not replace direct contact and daily interaction but complement and reinforce them. It contributes to a good relationship and the establishment of trust between the family and the nursery, to coordination of family and nursery care and to the support of parenting.
The development journal tracks the child’s personal development and the development of their abilities. Its aim is to demonstrate the progress of the child in comparison with themselves, and the pace and direction of changes, because comprehensive information about the child is indispensable for individual care. The development sheet can truly fulfil its function only if the cooperation with the families is continuous and regular (i.e. the parents are regularly given information). The child development documentation must be kept in the archives after the end of the child’s nursery care and cannot be discarded for 15 years.
The keeping of a nursery group diary is mandatory, and both the early childhood practitioner and the childcare assistant are involved in its administration. The nursery group diary forms the documentation of a group of children being cared for in a nursery or mini-nursery. It is one of the mandatory official documents of the institution, which contains important information about the physical, mental and social development of children. It facilitates the exchange of information between early childhood practitioners, helps in planning and evaluating pedagogical work in the group, and supports the keeping development journals for the children. The group diary provides information on the planning and implementation of educational tasks. It includes the names of those absent, meals, current events in the group and anything else that affects the lives of the children or the group.
Continuously recorded observations of the children’s development provide an opportunity to identify individual and group needs, implement individual approaches, focus on prevention and, if necessary, make adjustments. The group diary is the basis for the continuous exchange of information between parents and the early childhood practitioner. Any problems with specific skills also come to light through these observations, increasing the effectiveness of early intervention and thus helping the children’s development.
The national core programme of kindergarten education defines the followings:
When defining the pedagogical principle of kindergarten education, the followings must be essential:
- the child, as a developing entity, is entitled to loving care and special protection
- educating the child is primarily the right and duty of the family, kindergartens have a complementary or sometimes a compensatory role therein;
- kindergarten education must encourage the full development of the child's personality, with respect for human rights and the rights of the child, and to ensure that all children have equal opportunities to benefit from a quality education.
According to the national core programme of kindergarten education, kindergarten education may include a variety of pedagogical approaches, including innovative ones. It ensures that the pedagogical views, values and the methodological freedom of kindergarten teachers are respected, and contains restrictions only to protect the rights of the child.
According to the core programme, the main principles in kindergarten education are that:
- the child’s personality is accepted, respected, loved, cherished, and trusted.
- education promotes and supports the child's personal development, the development of the child's individual skills and abilities.
- the pedagogical methods used in kindergarten education should be tailored to the child’s personality.
In order to implement the principles, kindergarten education ensures:
- that the needs of the child are fulfilled, and a cheerful, loving and emotionally secure atmosphere is created;
- that the individual and age-specific development of the child’s physical, social and intellectual skills is provided;
- a rich variety of (age- and development-related) activities in the community, with a particular attention to play, which cannot be replaced with any other activity; and through these activities, the teaching of cultural contents and human values; and
- the personal and physical environment necessary for the child’s healthy development.
In nurseries, the pedagogical approaches used rely on a set of documents for monitoring children’s progress (see previous section).
The planning of kindergarten education and the observation and development of children are based on various notes and documents prepared by kindergarten teachers. In the framework of the child development monitoring system, from the time they enter kindergarten until they start school, all children receive planned professional observation and support. Based on the examination of their development, a judgement can be made on the extent to which a child has reached the necessary level of development as prescribed in the core programme. The core programme specifies school-readiness as a goal of kindergarten education.
Monitoring the child’s development is mandatory, and the form of documentation is selected by the kindergarten teachers from its available versions according to the regulations, in accordance with the local pedagogical programme, or they create their own documentation.
The Diagnostic System for Assessing Development is a method/tool recommended for examining development, which is available to kindergartens as well as schools. It is an assessment tool suitable for assessing basic skills that are critical for progress (writing coordination, listening, relational vocabulary, basic numeracy, empirical inference, empirical understanding, social development).
The system allows the detailed monitoring of the acquisition of these critical basic skills for children aged 4–8 years using the so-called development indicator. This assessment tool also describes the acquisition processes of these skills and highlights the opportunities and tasks for more effective development. By applying the system, so-called criterion-oriented skills development becomes feasible (i.e. the individual development of the children lasts until the critical basic skill in question is functioning optimally).
Every kindergarten records the indicators of child development, such as the results of the assessment of speech, hearing, vision, mental and movement abilities, as needed, at least every 6 months. Measures, findings and suggestions regarding the development of the child should also be recorded. The kindergarten teacher informs the parents of the child’s development on a regular basis. The aspects of development that are typically recorded in development journals include the following.
- body schema development
- improvement of movement
- spatial orientation
- side dominance
- fine movement
- development of the child’s drawing
- movement coordination.
- willingness to talk
- speech problems
- speech rhythm
- picture interpretation
- text comprehension.
- visual perception
- acoustic perception
- spatial orientation
- attention and imagination
- cognitive operations.
As required, the pedagogical expert committees are responsible for the examination of children’s abilities in order to identify special educational needs and disabilities. In order to monitor the services, an integrated monitoring system has been applied since 2015 for children eligible for early childhood development support. An integrated follow-up system makes it possible to keep track of all expert pedagogical services received by the child (all forms of care) and ensures the transparency of the child’s development path (i.e. changes). The advantage of the system is that the child’s development path can be monitored, even in the case of a change of educational institution.
Transition to primary school
Support for the transition from kindergarten to school has long been a focus of Hungarian public education, and has been partly funded by EU projects.
Facilitating this transition and making it as problem-free as possible is a priority for both kindergarten teachers and primary school teachers. Several projects and studies (e.g. Kende and Illés (2007), Golyán (2013) and Nagy (2018)) deal with this topic. The range of collaborations, joint projects and initiatives is expanding.
A recurring topic of Hungarian central (national- and regional-level) and local (institutional-level) incentives, continuing professional development training for teachers and professional forums is the harmonisation of the pedagogy of interinstitutional transition. Good practices and the development of innovations have begun to be shared, and several EU projects have been planned to coordinate the pedagogical toolkit in the field of kindergarten–school transition, including projects implemented in the educational authority (EFOP-3.1.1, EFOP-3.1.5, EFOP-3.2.15 Emberi Erőforrás Fejlesztési Operatív Program (EFOP) - Human Resources Development Operational Programme).