Heidrun Mayer

Ashoka Fellow
Augsburg, Germany
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Heidrun Mayer was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
Heidrun is changing the face of early childhood development in the education system through her newly developed, comprehensive approach to teach empathetic ethics and emotional literacy in German kindergartens. The program grew out of initial research from an international study on resilience factors for drug addiction and violence conducted at the beta Institut, an Institute for Research and Development. Heidrun, who worked at the institute, recognized the broader potential of the research. Drawing from it, she developed the PAPILIO program to focus on building resilience factors in young children. She skillfully brought together a broad coalition, including scientists, 100 kindergarten teachers, over 700 children, 1,200 parents, as well as the world-famous puppetry of Augsburger Puppenkiste (i.e. Germany’s most famous puppet theater), to develop the 2005 pilot program.

One of the central elements of the PAPILIO program is the use of storytelling to reach young children. Four puppets representing the emotions of anger, sadness, fear, and happiness are introduced to the children without any judgment that one is better than the others. To teach emotional literacy, Heidrun’s model incorporates these figures, as well as other pedagogical tools in the form of a children’s game, into the daily routine of the kindergarten classroom. The children learn to communicate their feelings, to overcome irritations about the behavior of other children and grown ups, and to empathize with others. These simple instruments have measurable long-term impact, such as reducing aggressive and violent behavior, improving the working environment of kindergarten teachers, as well as facilitating children’s transition from kindergarten to school.

Today there are 137 PAPILIO trainers who have trained over 3,200 kindergarten teachers, reaching 58,000 children across Germany. To date, the Augsburger Puppenkiste has performed the PAPILIO story Paula and the trunk pixies in 122 cities, reaching nearly 30,000 children.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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