Natalija Djokovic's Secret Code

Natalija learned the alphabet using secret codes linking numbers and letters. And she did this by making perfumes.

Jelena Terzic
Natalija and her friend Kasja are describing a drawing of the river Danube.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Pancic

03 September 2019

Belgrade, Serbia, 3 September 2019 - Natalija Djokovic is a six-year-old girl with carefully combed curls.

Seemingly shy, until she takes the helm of a little boat and, together with her friends, sets sail down a long river.

Natalija and her classmates, together with their teachers at the “Zemunski biser” preschool, made the little boat and the river from recycled materials.

To do this, they evoked a recent trip they made to the nearby Danube river, which they visited with their preschool teachers and parents. Everything she learned then, Natalija also drew on a canvas with her friend Kasja.

“This is a colourful fish that lives in the Danube”, Natalija explains the drawing.

“There’s a rainbow in the sky and a swan by the water. There’s a ship here.”

Natalija’s dad, Vladimir, is visibly proud. Particularly because his daughter also wrote her name above the drawing.

“When we heard there was this new curriculum in Natalija’s preschool, we were a bit sceptical about it. It’s not the standard concept where today children learn the letter A, tomorrow the letter B. After a couple of weeks, months, I realized she knew all the letters and how to read. She learned this in a fun and interesting way, without any pressure or anything being imposed on her”, explains Vladimir Djokovic.

Natalija and her dad Vladimir fondly recall their joint school trips with the preschool.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Pancic
Natalija and her dad Vladimir fondly recall their joint school trips with the preschool.

She learned the alphabet using secret codes linking numbers and letters. And she did this by making perfumes.

It was, in fact, the children who had the idea to create a perfume laboratory. The preschool teachers supported them, and parents helped them gather fragrant ingredients for a perfume factory.

They packaged the perfumes into little bottles and they wrote the name of the perfume and the ingredients on labels.

“I called my perfume Gala, after my little sister. And I made it from roses and water”, says.

That was the birth of the secret codes that lead to the alphabet.

Natalija while she’s in the preschool’s hallway, submerging real seashells into a blue bathtub, which resembles the sea.

Some children wanted the ingredients of their perfumes to remain secret. That’s why they made a deal with preschool teachers to replace the letters with numbers.

That was the birth of the secret codes that lead to the alphabet.

Children made a little ship from recycled materials with their preschool teachers.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Pancic
Children made a little ship from recycled materials with their preschool teachers.

“When a child shows interest in something, we observe them and, together with the child, we explore the things that matter to their experience. Through these experiences we are trying to find out something that will deepen and expand their insights which can stimulate their further development”, explains preschool teacher Bojana Kuzmanovic.

The preschool years is when new knowledge is acquired in an intensive and easy way.

That’s when children foster a relationship with learning and develop creativity, curiosity, and initiative.

The new preschool curriculum, “Years of Ascent”, encourages the joint participation of children and adults through play as the most natural way of learning.

Every corner of the preschool is filled with objects and other content that are provocative and inspirational for children. The children, together with teachers, made everything using mostly natural materials which stimulate their senses.

Until her parents enrolled her in “Zemunski biser”, Natalija didn’t like going to preschool.

“There were tears and dissatisfaction when she was attending her previous preschool. We even thought about giving up. But since she’s been coming here and following the new curriculum, Natalija is happy when going to school and that’s the most important thing for us”, says Vladimir.

Natalija has opened up and her creativity is being stimulated. “The benefits of the new preschool curriculum framework were obvious when Natalija had her assessment for school. Natalija will be 6,5 in September, but the pedagogue said that she’s mature.”

Children are making the river Danube as they recall it from the trip.
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Pancic
Children are making the river Danube as they recall it from the trip.

Vladimir explains that Natalija was also very dedicated to working on various projects at home. These projects are designed in such a way as to also involve parents in children’s preschool activities.

The “Years of Ascent” curriculum is not about ready-made solutions that adults present to children. But rather, children and adults are partners in play and learning, while developing ideas together and acquiring important life skills.

By 2022, all preschool institutions in the Republic of Serbia will start implementing the new Curriculum Framework.

The Preschool Education Curriculum Framework was developed in partnership between preschool staff, the 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 of the University of Belgrade, and UNICEF.

By 2022, all preschool institutions in the Republic of Serbia will start implementing the new Curriculum Framework.

Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, in cooperation with UNICEF, is realizing a programme for the capacity building of 12,000 preschool teachers so they can implement the new Curriculum in their preschools.

The project is funded from a World Bank loan.