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09.04.2013 - Ausgabe: 2/2013

Early Excellence - The PFH model

By Christian Loderer, plancontext gmbh landschaftsarchitektur


The Pestalozzi-Fröbel-Haus (PFH) is a model establishment of the federal state of Berlin, which as a trustee of children’s day care centres and other social-educational institutions provides important impetus for child and youth welfare. It is also one of the oldest training centres in Germany for social professions. At present, about 440 employees work in this alliance.
Since its foundation in 1874, the work of the Pestalozzi-Fröbel-Haus has been guided by the principle of making a self-determined and responsible start to life possible for children. Taking account of the individual and family backgrounds of each child is at the heart of our educational work.

Development of the Early Excellence approach

It is out of this tradition that the PFH has, under the leadership of its director Prof. Dr. Sabine Hebenstreit-Müller and in cooperation with the British Pen Green Centre in Corby/UK, since 2011 been developing today’s key educational concept, the Early Excellence approach, which is consistently directed towards the individual needs of children and their families.
Early Excellence is all about promoting the abilities and strengths of each child individually and communicating these to parents. The aim is not only to care for children in the Early Excellence centres, but also to create optimal conditions for their cognitive and social development.
Ms. Hebenstreit-Müller writes: “The goal of Early Excellence is precisely not to promote a little educational elite. The demand for excellence is not directed towards the children, but to the quality of the education work: this is intended to provide the opportunity for the best possible education of a child, that is, to offer excellent opportunities for the child to develop”. [1]

Implementation of the Early Excellence approach in the design of outdoor facilities

The Early Excellence approach also demands particular quality in the design of outdoor spaces. It should meet all the children’s needs and requires an individual, location-related solution.
Since 2008, the plancontext landschaftsarchitektur agency has designed a number of facilities for the PFH. These include the main house with a training facility for carers in a listed ensemble of buildings, as well as a number of day care centres.
First, all plans and requirements were agreed on, a process involving intensive consultation with parents and carers. The active involvement of the children themselves formed an important part of the planning. It emerged that the following prerequisites for design should take priority.

Stimulative character

The mere provision of furnishing for outdoor areas with typical play equipment generally leads to a low potential for stimulation. They predominantly promote fixed movement games, which, however, already become uninteresting to children after brief use. Children want to try out their motor skills in free play. They want to leave behind individual traces, go on journeys of discovery and exercise their imagination in role play.
In order to meet all the needs of the children, we try to further develop the play areas as spaces for experience through play. This includes involving vegetation, the possibility to play with water and muck around, as well as the modelling of the terrain.

The design of space is important for the quality of outdoor facilities. It has to be possible to see into play areas for small children. Nonetheless, an appropriate spatial structure with trees, shrubs, low walls and structural free space elements makes possible the creation of different play zones or retreat areas. Along with this, large related areas make large-scale and self-determined movement and letting off steam possible.

We generally give a theme to the design of the playground as a whole, on which the overall design is based. Imagination and creativity thus become stimulation for the children’s play.

Play as challenge

The artificial world of a playground today gives children a sense of security, which they will not find outside their world of play. A child who is overprotected does not learn to assess risks correctly.
Children have to try things out, for only then are they able to develop healthy self-confidence. Through play, they develop their motor skills and mature into independent personalities.
Of course, the risk of injury and other hazards have to be avoided in the design. Nonetheless, the playground equipment should not make too few demands on the children, but intensify their awareness of risk. The targeted training of self-confidence and risk awareness is a declared goal of the Early Excellence approach.

Free play

By free play we mean play under supervision, but without fixed instructions. Children should have possibilities to make decisions so that they can pursue their specific interests, and no specific outcome should be expected.
In our experience, children want places which support their urge to explore and discover and inspire them to play. This is why we do not want to create well-defined and thus inflexible play themes, but places that remain changeable and leave many possibilities open. Sequences of movement should be able to unfold flexibly and individually.

In play together, children learn to move competently, make social contacts, behave in larger groups, assert themselves and accept rules. Thus meeting points are important, since these enable the children to interact. But areas for retreat with many different possibilities of use, which each child can interpret for him or herself, are of equal importance.


Photos: Lichtschwärmer, Berlin


[1] http://www.pfh-berlin.de/pestalozzi-froebel-haus/early-exellence

Anniversary brochure: Ten Years of Early Excellence, 2010
On the occasion of the symposium “Zehn Jahre Early Excellence in Deutschland”, the PFH published the anniversary brochure “Zehn Jahre Early Excellence” in September 2010.

Early Excellence in the PFH - The Berlin Model, 2008
Since 2000, inspired by the British government’s programme and supported by the Heinz und Heide Dürr Stiftung, the Pestalozzi-Fröbel-Haus has been developing Early Excellence into its own educational approach. This has resulted in the PFH model of Early Excellence.



Christian Loderer
plancontext gmbh landschaftsarchitektur
Greifenhagener Straße 39 • 10437 Berlin
Tel.: 030 - 44 71 88-31
Fax: 030 - 44 71 88-32
Mail: info@plancontext.de
Web: www.plancontext.de

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