The International Children’s Creative Center (ICCC) in Sofia, Bulgaria, is here to help local and expat families. Children find a safe place to adjust, learn and feel at home here.
At the beginning of the new school year ICCC celebrates 25 years. Snezhana Daneva, Director since September 2010, tells us more about what this kindergarten in Sofia, Bulgaria offers. What makes it a special place for children and families?
Hello Mrs. Daneva, can you tell us more about what makes ICCC exceptional for the children and their parents?
Every aspect of life at ICCC is special – if I have to single out one thing – we are like one big family. Our teachers create a truly warm and caring environment. Also we are constantly looking to improve. Our families bring diverse cultures, experiences, and very high expectations so naturally we set ourselves high standards.
What is also special about our pre-school is that parents and staff are partners. Not just in the day-to-day life and learning of children but in the management of ICCC through the Parent Board who represent the parent community in the policy and decision making.
What is your educational philosophy?
Pre-school education is so special! It is about sowing seeds – the seeds of love and care for people and the environment, the seeds for respect and cooperation, the seeds for learning. In early years teachers sow the seeds with love, patience and professional knowledge.
Young children learn all the time through their daily experiences – they learn to understand and manage their emotions, to communicate effectively, to move confidently and safely, to manipulate and explore objects and materials. They study how to make discoveries and make connections about things around them.
Unlike in ‘big school’, teachers can’t pack this knowledge into structured lessons because children can’t ‘sit down and learn’ when you want them to. Every pre-school teacher knows that children gain information when they are curious and interested. The job of the teacher is to support them when it happens – to capture the interest, spark that curiosity and provide rich opportunities for interactions that naturally lead to learning.
In the same way, the teacher should support children to be independent and competent socially, emotionally and physically. Teaching children strategies to solve conflicts, look after their physical and emotional needs. This is a very important shift – support rather than direct, offer children strategies rather than do something for them. This is the direction we follow at ICCC, and it is a long journey, but totally worth it.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a kindergarten director?
I see my role as helping children, their families and my staff feel safe, happy and confident.
I often say that I have the best of both worlds – I work equally with teachers, parents and children. I am so lucky to interact with children every day, to have conversations with them, laugh with and help them. At the same time I have my ‘adult world’ responsibilities and communication, and this is a great and rare balance I can enjoy in my work every day. A smile or a hug by a small child brightens my day!
How do you prepare both parents and children for their first entry into the kindergarten?
For young children who haven’t been separated from home yet, starting school is like jumping from a cliff. They are thrown into the unknown which, naturally, is very distressing. I always explain to parents what their child is likely to experience and how to support them. We want them to trust us, to have confidence in the process and how we handle it.
Our strategy for the start, when new children transition from home to school, is to have a very short stay in the first week, and gradually increase the hours as they become more confident and comfortable.
But before we get to this stage it is important to establish connection with the new families and find out what they want for their child, and if we are looking in the same direction. We are partners, we need to build trust which rests on common values like respect, open mindset, international mindedness, etc.
Who is your favorite children’s book author, and why?
Julia Donaldson, Valerie Thomas with her Winnie The Witch series, Eric Carle, David Shannon, Anna Dewdney and many more. We have a rich library at ICCC, and children love listening to the stories we read every day.
It is a tradition at ICCC for children to donate a book for school on their birthday, and we also have parents come and read a favorite book. This is how we discover new authors and books.
How would you describe the perfect day in ICCC?
No accidents! On a more serious note, a perfect day means a good buzz in each classroom with children busy playing; happy noise from the playground; a happy reunion and a good word from parents at the end of the day.
What would be your inspirational message for the children and their parents?
Trust play! Playing is the key to high quality learning. Trust your child, they are able to do amazing things. Value every moment spent with them. Give them your best because all paths in their lives start from childhood. And you won’t notice how quickly it ends!