Czech and German preschoolers reach across borders


There are many ways to bring people together, but perhaps the most expedient is when children of different countries can learn each other’s language and culture from an early age. That is exactly the aim of a project taking place in kindergartens along the Czech-German border.

They might not understand each other now, but Czech and German children living just across the border from one another are being brought together by an EU-sponsored programme that facilitates language learning and joint activities between kindergartens. The Odmalička – or From Childhood – project has been underway since 2007 and is being organised by the Tandem centre an organisation established for the coordination of Czech-German youth projects. The centre’s Petr Vaněk told us more.

“Its purpose is to get kids from preschool institutions on both sides of the border together and allow them first to have some fun, to learn something about each other and to develop some skills that could help them to be together and to help them get ready for some later cooperation between two people from two nations.”

40 Czech and 30 German schools are currently involved in the programme and the primary focus is on language. The centre uses a self-developed method of “language animation”, which is less about teaching words and more about breaking down barriers and building understanding through play and similarities between languages – emphasising words that the languages both share. Maria Šíráková is the director of a school in the town of Liba that launched the programme in 2007.

“In 2007 we found a partner – another preschool – and we’ve been meeting with them since then. The children have begun learning – or at least getting a feeling for – the German language in an unforced and playful way. And it’s not only about learning language of course, the children meet new friends, they see what the German school environment is like and their customs, and they begin to communicate in a very natural way.”

The EU has provided the project with a 450,000-Euro fund for the years 2009 to 2011, and the Tandem centre is putting it to a wide range of uses. In addition to the continual development of the language animation method for preschool children, much attention is also being paid to the kindergarten teachers themselves. Seminars are organised to acquaint the teachers with the methodology and study visits are available so that the teachers themselves can appreciate first hand the work of their counterparts across the border.