Today was the second full day of the British Kodály Academy’s Early Years Study Tour to Budapest.
We used public transport to travel to Városligeti fasori Kindergarten, within the city limits. The Kindergarten was built in 1911 and since 1930 has served as the main music training centre for Kindergarten teachers for Budapest. There are five classes in the Kindergarten broadly arranged according to age (markedly different from yesterday’s visit) with between 20 and 24 children per class. I was amazed to discover that this Kindergarten of around around 100 pupils has, on site, a psychologist, speech therapist and a physiotherapist! Imagine if this level of specialist expertise was available in every British school; I can only dream!
The Kindergarten places an enormous emphasis upon the importance of ‘free play’ for young children (Hungarian Kindergartens cover the 3-7 years age range). In Hungary, free play is recognised as essential for the mental and physical health of young children. The aim is that when children return home, if asked what the have done in school that day, they can reply that they’ve played all day. The children learn while they play and although they will have some more focused classes such as music, art and PE, the children are not forced to participate. We witnessed a couple of 4-5 year olds who were mentally and emotionally unable to fully participate in a class and instead they played quietly in a manner that didn’t appear to surprise or distract the other children. The teachers ensure that these more focused sessions are always followed by a free play session and on this occasion they then went outside to play.
We were advised that music is considered a very important part of the life in Városligeti fasori Kindergarten. Katalin Forrai used to teach there and her ‘Music In Pre-School’ is considered their music ‘Bible’. The children are exposed to music every day with singing in class plus regular dedicated music lessons plus weekly visits from live musicians. The aim is for the children to develop a love for and a positive attitude towards music not to just develop musical ‘skills’.
These first two study days have made me re-examine the importance of ‘play’ in the Early Years and how the Hungarian approach seems to be so far removed from the way attitudes to education seem to be developing in many British schools. I have a feeling I will be frequently thinking about this issue as my Hungarian Kodály Adventure continues.