Dunja Marinkov’s years of ascent

Dunja (7) has cerebral palsy and has undergone various surgeries and suffered from health issues that have meant long-term treatment and that have deprived her of a carefree childhood.

Vladimir Banic
Dunja with her friends and her preschool teacher Radmila Miladinov
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Shubuckl

04 July 2018

Dunja Marinkov is a seven-year-old girl. She likes to play, to tie her hair in pigtails and to go to kindergarten.

She likes to draw and to colour in, to play with bricks and to spend as much time outside as she can, where her favourite game is dodgeball.

“My best friends are Dijana, Maja and Kasja,” says Dunja, pausing between rounds of dodgeball, her friends waiting for her to get back into the game.

“My favourite part of the day is when I go to kindergarten,” she explains as the hectic ball game carries on behind her.

But it takes a lot of effort for Dunja to take part in this game. Behind the simple movements she makes now, are years of exercises with doctors and with family.

She has cerebral palsy and has undergone various surgeries and suffered from health issues that have meant long-term treatment and that have deprived her of a carefree childhood.

 

Dunja looks at the camera and smiles
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Shubuckl
Dunja Marinkov, aged 7.

For the last year, Dunja has been attending the preschool preparatory programme in the kindergarten “Zvoncic” (“Bell flower”) in a little town of Kac, north Serbia, following the new concept of the Preschool Curriculum Framework, which emphasises an integrated approach to learning through developing projects together with children.

In line with this concept, there are no ready solutions. Instead, ideas and plans are developed jointly.

Within the preparations for Dunja’s enrolment, the kindergarten installed an access ramp and adapted the space to allow unhindered movement.

Through joint efforts, a plan was devised to include all children into assisting Dunja to adapt to kindergarten activities. Parents talked to their children at home, and in the kindergarten, they read a picture book about diversity together and talked about walkers.

In the beginning, Dunja was shy and it was not easy to establish communication.

Following Dunja’s interests, her preschool teacher got the idea to have her use a microphone, which turned out to be a great solution.

Dunja has now significantly reduced the use of the walker, she is more confident in communication with others and more independent in everyday activities, with the support from her friends.

Following the new curriculum concept, the preschool teacher organizes activities in a way that has Dunja fully involved in the kindergarten life.

Dunja Marinkov with her friend
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Shubuckl
Dunja Marinkov with her friend.

“In this process, the children, the parents and teachers are partners,” says Dunja’s preschool teacher Radmila Miladinov.

“Together we choose the topics and activities that we are going to cover, based first and foremost on what the children want and are interested in, and not according to some set schedule.

This makes the children more motivated, and for us, teachers, it means we are constantly exploring new ways to teach them, and not to blindly to follow schedules and curricula where we just reel off information and there it ends.”

This approach positively impacts all the children because it helps them to more easily assimilate the knowledge and skills they need for future development, to develop empathy and cooperation.

“Being in kindergarten means a lot to Dunja,” her mother Josipa says, and adds that ”in the twelve months she has been going [to kindergarten], she has changed a lot. It is important for her self-confidence and for preparation for school. Now she is much more confident expressing herself in a group, among peers, which was not the case before.”

Dunja plays dodgeball with her friends.
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Shubuckl
Dunja plays dodgeball with her friends.

The Serbian Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, the Institute for the Improvement of Education, the Institute for Pedagogy and Andragogy of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade and UNICEF, with the support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, are implementing a series of initiatives aimed at improving preschool education.

The new Curriculum Framework, symbolically titled “Years of Ascent”, represents a unique framework for developing diverse programmes for education and care of children, from the nursery age to starting primary school.

It is based on modern theoretical concepts of childhood, learning and development of children at the early age, promotes respect for diversity, understanding learning as a process of exploring through play, and acquiring life and practical experiences.