Volume:2, Issue: 2

Aug. 1, 2010

“Preschool as a Setting for Children’s Personality Development and Self-Determination” Educational Program of the Preschool Department, Moscow Center of Education #734
Margarita F. Golovina [about]

TITLE: “Preschool as a Setting for Children’s Personality Development and Self-Determination” Educational Program of the Preschool Department, Moscow Center of Education #734 (abridged)

AUTHORS: Golovina, Margarita F.; Zhuravleva, Larissa V.; Orlova, Ekaterina M.; Melnikova, Elena Y.; Nikolskaya, Margarita L.; and Reutsky, Sergey V.

DESCRIPTORS: educational program, preschool, personality development, conceptual guidelines, interaction with oneself and social environment, primary educational principles, space organization, rhythm, peculiarities of a teacher’s position, specific character of a preschool educational community.

SYNOPSIS: This is not an article in its full sense; it is rather an abridged text of an educational program of the preschool department from School #734. Due to this fact, some parts of the text may not be clearly connected with others, and there are no quotations to prove any statements made in the program. But this is the way programs are written in Russia, and the editorial board decided to leave it the way it was originally submitted to us. This program is an expression of a successful approach to children’s development and is definitely worth the readers’ time and consideration.


 “Preschool as a Setting for Children’s Personality Development
and Self-Determination”
Educational Program of the Preschool Department,
Moscow Center of Education #734

Introductory Remarks.  Over the past few decades Russians have enjoyed more freedoms than during Soviet times.  During the Soviet era, many areas of social life were strictly regulated by sets of rigid requirements and standards.  Preschool education, notwithstanding, was also subject to this system, although, it may be observed that regarding the education of young children, the Soviet model had its advantages.  This is particularly true regarding how teachers modeled desired appropriate behavior for students.  As opportunities arose to nurture a child’s unique, independent personality in a post-Soviet era, however, ideas of how to do it were rather vague. It is understood that most parents sought to offer their children unrestricted freedom in this regard, but it was clear that schools remained committed to traditional, even out-dated, programs which often fell short of fast-changing social, emotional, and academic demands – creativity, original thinking and more humane treatment of people.  This dilemma called for balance between a child’s assumed independence and freedom, and the cultural experiences presumably transferred to him in smaller contexts of immediate interaction from adults. 

Comments by Daria V. Durnavo, a specialist in preschool education and a staff member: As you see, at the beginning of this program, we admitted that the country had been enjoying more freedom… Now, three years later we are facing the problem of the unification of educational demands in preschool education (though standardized tests in preschool education are gone for now). So the problem of preserving unique and original character of our institution in certain educational areas is even more critical today than before.

Recent developments in technology have revealed a diminished personal (acquired in the process of self-making and involvement/participation) experience.  People spend significant amounts of time in virtual worlds (VWs), which invariably affect their mental health and keep them from experiencing the fullness of life. Therefore, the increasing allure of VWs can and should be countered with experiences of practical world exploration (including the pleasure of sensual perception and physical activity.)

Another by-product of current social developments is the disappearance of a neighborhood environment in cities, where children would explore their surrounding world and make their first steps in socialization – playing, having fun and interacting with other children and adults.  The neighborhood environment was characterized by interaction of mixed age groups.  This interaction helped form a real (vs formal school) educational environment, in which children matured and grew up.  Our program is an attempt to make up for that shortage.  Modern life also creates a significant deficit of physical activity, and we do our best to meet that need too.

The whole preschool system is designed to maximize family support.  Current literature on parenting a preschooler, however, can be confusing and misleading because it is often fragmentary, contradictory, and of low quality.  We offer parents the most credible source of information on children’s upbringing – the child himself/herself as an author of his/her own upbringing program and the subject of his/her life and education (both current and future).  For us, the main roles of a preschool teacher are helping parents listen to and understand their children, and sharing insights in determining each child’s best developmental path.

Comments by Daria Durnavo:  In our work and cooperation with our preschoolers’ parents we consider it especially important to create a community of children and adults together since it is critical for providing sufficient conditions for children’s development.

Brief reference information. In 1989, Preschool № 869 became part of the “Center for developing a well-balanced and socially involved person in the setting of a metropolis,” which was founded within School #734. In 1992, the Center was transformed into a Research-and-Educational Association “School of Self-Determination”, established by the Russian Ministry of Education together with the Moscow Department of Education for the purpose of combining research of contemporary instructional content and techniques of personality-oriented education with teaching/raising children aged 3-7. In 2008, “School of Self-Determination” received a new status – Center of Education #734, and a preschool became a preschool part of the Center. The student body is diverse; no special selection of children for the program is conducted. Since 1993 all the preschool groups have been mixed in terms of age and composed of children aged 3-7.  Since September 2008, a preschool has been composed of six mixed-age groups and two groups of a preschool age (mostly, age 6). The experience of forming a special preschool environment for individual development is described in 3 books and brochures as well as in a number of journal and newspaper articles. In 2005 a documentary was shot on pedagogy of cooperation and self-determination, implemented in various areas of preschool education. ItwasentitledWheremysteryabides”.    

This educational program is complex and correlates with a wide scope of other preschool educational programs (“Golden Key”, “The Beginnings”, “Community” (“Step by step”) and “Birch-tree”). 

Principal conceptual guidelines. The goal and objectives of the process of formation and instruction. Grounds for creating a specific preschool environment favorable for children’s personality development.                 

The proposed program is based on the concept of self-determination developed by Alexander Tubelsky and Dmitry Ivanov. Other theoretical grounds include:

  • Preschool child development theory by V. Petrovsky, which proposes a personality-oriented educational model as one of the principles of state policy in the area of preschool education.
  • Theory of self-value of the preschool stage of development by A. Zaporozhets, which views development amplification, i.e. enrichment through the most meaningful (for a child) forms and ways of activity, as the principal way of child development.   

In developing and implementing this concept of preschool education, our staff proceeds from the idea that every person has a unique personality that is being realized throughout his/her whole life.  It is this personality that guides the process of one’s self-determination, and determines work (activity) selection and means of goal achievement. Therefore, the main goal of education for us is to help a child work out and develop patterns of interaction with him/herself and social environment, which would allow him/her to succeed in self-realization, being guided by humanistic principles

The main objectives of preschool education period are to develop each child’s self-recognition, encourage their gradual self-image development, and identify the most effective ways of interaction with the world, other people and one’s own self.  For a preschooler, such recognition is invariably of the experiential nature, i.e. it is acquired through trials and errors, and experimenting with objects.

Since the principle evidence of a preschooler’s development may be found in his ability and practice of empirical generalization, i.e. generalization of one’s sensory experience, this period is characterized by active world exploration using the five senses (i.e. by looking, moving, listening, manipulating with objects, etc.).  This exploration is facilitated in the same way a child learns about the social world, interpersonal relationships as well as about him/her self.  It is this critical role of sensory experience in the learning process at this stage that determines our special focus on providing the best setting for the development of children’s five senses: touch, smell, hearing, sight, body control.   

Children naturally express themselves in games.  Games encourage children to live out various states and identities, express feelings and emotions, explore will and fantasy, and acquire experience of corporate creative work.  A children play, they develop individualities and unique abilities to act.  Games are also a means of assimilating exploration-related experiences. This leading role of free play determines its priority over structured activities; the former creates a group in which a play unfolds freely.  

An age-mixed group is a living social entity.  It is assembled by the teacher and can resemble a big family, which gives each child an opportunity to assume various roles and to learn how to build relationships.  Thus, by pretending to be older or younger, and by learning from older children in a play setting, a child matures in a smoother and more balanced way:  a three-year old child is what she was a few years ago, and an older child is what she will be in the near future.  An age-mixed group also creates an environment for a timid and self-conscious child to “become an adult” who sets the rules and regulations, gives advice and provides assistance, which in turn helps this child to gain self-confidence.

Comments by Daria Durnavo: It is very important that in an age-mixed group a teacher can make a few steps backward and remain in the “shade.” Such absence of a direct influence of teachers on their students gives children the opportunity to independently regulate their behavior and rules in a preschool group. This also increases teachers’ responsibilities and demands their absolute engagement in the educational process with the help of observation only, excluding such methods as raising one’s voice or pointing at children. It is of utmost importance for a teacher to notice any invisible changes in the behavior of his/her preschoolers’ group.

Therefore, the main goal of our preschool as part of “School of Self-Determination” Research-and-Educational Association is to create the best psychological and educational (pedagogical) conditions for:

  • Discovery and development of a child’s identity, and the make-up of his/her personality;
  • Experience acquisition in selecting a certain type of activity, position and role;
  • Development of ideas of his/her individuality as well as ability to see individuality, value and uniqueness of other people;
  • Primary experience acquisition in building relationships with the world, other people and him/herself;
  • Full-fledged, eventful, abounding in experiences preschool life; motivation to live demonstrating interest to him/herself and others, feeling of being important and needed.

One of the school special objectives is to build relationships with the children that would facilitate their trust in and positive treatment of themselves.  This objective becomes correctional if by the time a child get into a preschool, he/she has already learned to substitute his/her sensations, feelings and affects with those of his/her parents (“You will be better off this way”, “You can’t be cold”, etc.) and has developed the idea of him/herself as a “bad boy/girl”.  

In addition, all preschool teachers promote humane treatment of a child in a family by encouraging parents to decipher their children’s demands, unique qualities and needs.

The aforementioned approach will help children realize themselves in a creative, effective and unique way, and to find their own ways in a free space of education.

While creating school environment, we proceed from the following principles:

  1. Trust in a child, his/her abilities and individuality.
  2. Unity of a child’s psychological and physical development, the need for more motor activity.
  3. Nature-congruity, understood as activity content being in line with peculiarities and objectives of a certain age.
  4. Priority of a free play as a preschooler’s most natural activity.
  5. Variability and flexibility of the educational process.
  6. Openness of spaces and, as a result, wide opportunities for decision-making.
  7. Mixture of ages as a space for socialization and experience-acquisition of various roles and identities.  
  8. Value of children’s community as a space for gaining experience in relationship-building and making one’s own borders while clashing with the borders of others.
  9. Cooperation with parents as a process of comparing values and ideas of the conditions required for a child’s identity development.
  10. The significance of the common (shared) field as a space for interaction, mutual education and cooperation.
  11. The principle of continuity of education at different age stages for the purpose of providing continuity of a child’s development.

Psychological and educational conditions provided at the preschool of “School of Self-Determination” Research-and-Educational Association can be considered in three aspects:

  1. Space organization of the preschool as a prerequisite of a child’s identity development.
  2. Rhythm as a prerequisite of a child’s life organization.
  3. Characteristics (peculiarities) of a teacher’s position in a free preschool space.

Let us consider them briefly.

1. Space organization of the preschool as a prerequisite of a child’s identity development. Space organization of a preschool in general, and in each group in particular, is realized through a combination of educational spaces (environments) in which a child acts freely, sets and keeps (along with others) norms and rules of these spaces.  In this context, an educational space may be defined as a set of specially created environmental conditions, including people, cultural environments, and diversity of forms in which a child is actively engaged.  It should be noted that each space is open and free, and offers a child a whole range of opportunities for activity development.  The space has a defined set of boundaries and rules (relating to behavior, interaction, safety, etc.) and the strictness of these regulations is directly proportional to how dense the space is and how limited the opportunities for direct teacher’s influence are within this space.  It is also important to note that all of the spaces are a part of the preschool integral activity system and therefore are not divided by strict boundaries – they are interconnected and interpenetrative. 

The main preschool spaces are:

  • Play space;
  • Artwork space;
  • Space of physical culture;
  • Space of the world exploration;
  • Space of personal and social development “Myself and Others”.

Besides, the preschool introduces elements of labor, legal and informational spaces.

2. Rhythm ad a prerequisite for a child’s life organization.  Rhythm is a foundational component for the healthy functioning of any living entity.  Everything in this world operates on a certain rhythm: the human body, natural objects and processes, the Universe.  Given that, in creating a rhythm as one of the major characteristics of our preschool environment, we follow the nature-congruity principle, which is critical for a child’s life and development.

The second reason for applying the factor of rhythm to preschool education is predictability of life which it creates and which protects a child from uncertainty.  It is important to emphasize a distinct borderline between rhythm and a daily routine or day regimen, the former meaning strict regulation and making a child (with his/her felt needs) fit a certain fixed structure.     

Children come to a preschool carrying baggage of their experiences, their family life-style with certain rhythms and relationships.  And our goal is to help them learn to live a rhythmic life together with other children, to provide smooth transition into the social world, demonstrate understanding and care rather than hostility, to make them feel, understand and accept the rules of living together with others.

Appreciating the uniqueness of each child, a teacher, when meeting a child and his/her parents, estimates the child’s potential for group interaction/involvement and can suggest a smooth way of his/her assimilating into the group: individual schedule, half-a-day attendance, presence and involvement of the parents at the initial stages, having specialists work with the children.  It facilitates careful tuning of the child on to the group rhythm, gradual transition from the habitual home tempo to the group one. 

3. Peculiarities of a teacher’s position in a free space of the preschool. The essence of this position is to limit direct teacher-child influence, to hold to a kind of “non-involvement” approach (except for situations of physical or psychological threat to a child or an adult).  The requirement of participant presence with a minimum of direct influence comes from the understanding that an adult’s goal in such a situation is primarily to help the child discover/demonstrate his/her talents, likings, and abilities with no adult assistance.  The adult’s role is to create an environment for the child’s positive experience of goal attaining. 

The adult’s major task is to report the child’s accomplishments by articulating what he/she is doing.  Such articulation, naming the child’s activities, becomes a basis for his/her further development.  Giving verbal expression to the kids’ behavioral and emotional manifestations, a teacher becomes the “mirror” which helps the child see and get an idea of himself/herself. 

Another essential principle for a teacher is to keep from programming the children’s activities.  A teacher in a free educational space is called to assist the kids in developing the kind of activity that fits the general mood of the group and each individual child; to create an environment for effective interaction, self-expression and independent, spontaneous activity.  However, the teacher’s personal interests (like needlework, doll-making, paper crafts, drama, sports, dancing, design, etc.) also have a right to exist and be implemented in an adult-child joint activity.  Having said this, care should be taken not to substitute the child’s interests with those of the teacher.  The teacher should, instead, enrich the group with her/his experience and let the children use it to meet their own needs and plans.  

4. Specific character of a preschool educational (pedagogical) community. The conceptual basis for creating a preschool special pedagogical community is the fundamental idea that a child’s development is impossible without development of adults who are part of this child’s life.  Therefore, we strongly believe that only a teacher who has an opportunity to develop his/her pedagogical identity is able to deal/work with a child’s individuality.  Thus we consider it critical to create an environment that implements common (equal) values with regard to both children and adults (taking into account all the restrictions related to the adults’ responsibilities, staff’s job descriptions, etc.).  Another important objective is to have all the preschool workers (not just teachers, but also care-givers, the care-taker, cooks, etc.) on staff be involved in decision-making and problem solving, as far as the school operation is concerned.

For the most part, the preschool pedagogical community is self-evolving.  Thus, the described educational program is a result of joint efforts of the Research-and-Education Association (its experimental work) and the preschool staff.  Over a number of years the preschool has been operating on a self-govering principle, which manifests itself in weekly “round tables,” joint planning of, organization and carrying out educational activity.  Thus, conditions are created for enhancement of the teacher’s subject position.

Another characteristic of the preschool is that it is a learning community.  It provides opportunities for advanced/refresher training for teachers, which is a practice-oriented form of experience exchange and acquisition through observing colleagues’ work, experimenting and, as a result, teaching a master-class.  On the other hand, those who share their experiences with others (and this is something any teacher can do, if he/she has something new to share) have a chance to record their educational “portfolios” and review the material they want to offer.    

One of the interesting forms of the preschool professional community’s self-development is a pedagogical club, initiated by teachers and serving as a free, voluntary space for discussing professional issues and problems.

Presented above is a general description of the main psychological and pedagogical prerequisites, principles and attitudes which aim to focus the preschool’s activity on a child’s identity development and his/her ability for self-determination.

Concluding remarks by Margarita F. Golovina. I would love to add just a couple of ideas which are crucial in our work. Since every child is born with an internal absolute trust to the world and with a spectrum of different capabilities, our objectives are:

  • To create conditions for the growth of children’s and adults’ belief in themselves and each other.
  • Not to overcome personal faults but to help blossoming personal merits.
  • To create conditions that will help children and adults to realize themselves.


1 The program was composed by a group of the teachers from Moscow Preschool # 869 under the supervision of Margarita F. Golovina. The team of authors includes: Larissa V. Zhuravleva, Ekaterina M. Orlova, Elena Y. Melnikova, Margarita L. Nikolskaya, and Sergey V. Reutsky. A more detailed information you can find online in the section “Preschool” on the website of the School #734http://www.734.msk.ru

Kay Crowell (Mar. 08, 2014)
I am American teacher who was a visiting teacher at the School #734 in 1995. I am trying to get to their website but am unable to go through the address listed above. Is there a new website? (Enjoyed the article on personality development in the preschool years!)

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