How Shamut set up an alternative kindergarten for its children, step by step

To ensure early childhood learning for every child UNICEF has developed an alternative kindergarten model for small communities.

Zhanna Ulikhanyan
3 year old Mariam is in alternative preschool established by UNICEF. She is holding her favorite toy.
UNICEF Armenia/2016/Malkhasyan
23 July 2018

This is little Mariam. She lives in Shamut and has been going to the pre-school centre in the village for a year. Just one year ago, Shamut, like many other communities in Armenia, did not have a kindergarten.

Because Shamut is a small village with a modest population of children, building a traditional kindergarten here would have been too expensive and it was not part of the community’s plans. Consequently, dozens of children in the village were unable to receive a pre-school education, which is now considered a vital part of any child’s upbringing. A recent analysis by Harvard University looked at 22 high-quality studies conducted from 1960 to 2016 and confirmed that children who had received early childhood education were more likely to perform better at school and go on to get a university education, compared to those who had not received an early childhood education.

In order to provide every child with a pre-school education, UNICEF has developed an alternative kindergarten model for small communities, based on evidence from studies that what matters is the regularity of children’s attendance in terms of years, rather than the duration of each session in terms of hours.

Here is the example of how Shamut set up an alternative kindergarten for its children, step by step.

Step 1. Naturally, the first step is an assessment by the community of its need for an alternative pre-school solution.

Step 2. The issue of space is no less important. In contrast to a traditional kindergarten, which needs a separate building, the alternative small community model presented by UNICEF can be implemented in any of the following structures –

  • Community building
  • School
  • A private space, even a residence

Each community must choose the option that is best for them, and then allocate a room there. The alternative kindergarten in Shamut was set up in one of the rooms of the village school, because the school was centrally located and safe. The selected room is in a separate wing and is very close to the lavatory and the yard. Perhaps this is just another small room to us, but for the children of Shamut, it’s a whole new world – a colourful place where they can meet their friends, play with them, and learn new things.

Aram, 2 y.o, and Artak, 4 y. o , entering the new established preschool in Shamut village.
UNICEF Armenia/2016/Malkhasyan
May 2018 Village of Shamut, Lori region, Armenia. Children in preschool. This alternative preschool is developed and established by UNICEF Armenia, ensuring early learning for children in small communities.

Step 3. Once the best option has been selected, the next step is to organize a public discussion and meet with community members. During this meeting in Shamut, UNICEF representatives presented the project in detail, including the importance of pre-school education and the risks of its omission. Following this, a meeting of councilmen was assembled in the consolidated community of Tumanyan, of which Shamut is a part. At that meeting, a decision was taken to start a pre-school service in the village of Shamut.

After the lessons children of the preschool are running in the corridor. They look so happy.
UNICEF Armenia/2016/Malkhasyan

Step 4: Next, the selected room is renovated, a process in which the residents of Shamut participated with great enthusiasm. “Everyone took part – they painted the walls, assembled the furniture, moved it around. What do you expect? They’re doing it for our kids – we save money and do the job with care!” said a representative of the Shamut village administration.

 

Five children are playing a board game in the kindergarten of Shamut village.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan

Step 5. After the room is renovated, it needs to be furnished. In Shamut, this step involved the purchase of furniture and toys. It probably goes without saying that—actually, it’s worth saying this explicitly—the furniture and toys selected were all high-quality, safe items that had no toxic substances.

Children are drawing on the board sitting on the floor of their kindergarten.
UNICEF Armenia/2016/Malkhasyan

Step 6. Simultaneously with all this, work is done to find kindergarten teachers and train them. Given that the number of children is small, this alternative kindergarten model requires only two or three teachers. The teachers are selected from among the women of the village. A competition was organized in Shamut. Based on their education, relevant work experience and an exam, two teachers were selected. “I’m so happy that I managed to find a job in our little village. I had lost hope of that long ago,” said Mané, a teacher at the centre.

Adolescent girls jump up with happiness
UNICEF Armenia/2023/Ginosyan

“I’m so happy that I managed to find a job in our little village. I had lost hope of that long ago.”

Miss Mane, a teacher at the centre

Courses were organized for the teachers in the following thematic areas – child-centred teaching, pedagogical methods, planning, learning environment organization, working with families, the importance of games, speech development, and so on.

 

Mane, a teacher of the preschool, reading a story to the children. All four are sitting on the floor.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan

A few months later, the programme coordinators organized a monitoring visit to the centre. After a full-day monitoring session, the existing gaps are discussed and solutions are developed with the teacher to overcome them.

We almost forgot to mention something very important! The traditional kindergarten in Tumanyan was chosen as the ‘mother kindergarten’ of all the alternative kindergartens being set up in Tumanyan community villages. This connected is designed to secure the stable and sustainable development of the programme. Another important thing to note here is that Tumanyan has taken on the costs to cover operations at the centre in Shamut.

 

It's time for physical education. Children are dancing together with their teacher.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan

The centre was finally launched! Mariam and her friends got the opportunity to get the education that is such a priority for them – they have a right to it, after all, don’t they?

Meanwhile, the children in the neighbouring village—Anna, Davit, Narek, Marie, Naré, Suren, Hakob, Alen and Anahit—eight out of every ten children, are still waiting for people like you and me, hoping we will take action to give them that same opportunity.

They’ll get their turn too, won’t they?