During our immersion in both pre-primary and primary school, we have been able to observe how children of different age groups, varying from 3 to 8 years old, learn. We have also been able to take a look at certain aspects beside the ways in which learning occurs, such as the key factors for effective learning and understanding to take place as well as a few reasons as to why children face difficulties to concentrate.
One essential conclusion drawn at the end of our immersion was that each child learns differently. Each child has his or her own learning style be it visual, auditory or kinesthetic, irrespective of the teacher’s pedagogical approach or the curriculum perspective used. Moreover, the number of ways in which children can learn is great. Whether it is through observation, peer learning, by playing, doing or through trial and error, the list goes on and it depends a lot on the child’s individual learning experiences and extent of development at the cognitive and socio-emotional level. However, some ways seemed to work better than the others. Similarly, some were not really fruitful. The ones which failed to work wreaked havoc in children’s mind; between confusion and misconceptions, the children were unable to grasp the gist of the lesson and hence most of them were lost midway. As such, it is important to identify the different strategies which were successful and understand the ways in which effective learning occur in early years.
Amongst the numerous ways in which children learn, learning through play was found to be one of the most effective ones. While playing and having fun, children are actively engaged in their activity and as we know, learning requires the active and constructive involvement of the learner. Play hence serves as an important stepping stone to children’s learning. It is a means for motivating children to explore, discover, take risks, commit errors but they also learn how to better cope with failure in the process. Meanwhile, it is while exploring and discovering new things that children retain more information they deem essential. As such, through play children can develop social and cognitive skills faster, mature emotionally, and acquire the self-confidence needed to get involved in new experiences and environments. Play also helps children learn by connecting with their senses and enlarge their vocabulary and thus it enhances linguistic skills all which contribute to their learning.
Children also learn much by observing their surroundings. Right from infancy, the first means they use to learn is observation and they make use of all their senses to observe; sense of sight, smell, hearing, touch and later on sense of taste as well. In addition, according to a research published in Pediatric Institute Publications, infants and toddlers learn by observing adults around them, even when those adults aren’t deliberately trying to teach them anything. In fact, when they reach the age three, toddlers have reached the peak of their learning pace and capacity. It is the time during which their learning capacity is at their optimum and so they will learn many things much faster be it social behaviours, mannerism or how things work. While observing, they will also tend to copy the actions they see. They do so in an attempt to learn how things functions and what should be done with them. This was particularly visible in the first weeks of our immersion in one pre-primary class when one child slipped and fell on the floor. His friend, a girl, almost immediately started reprehending him just the way the teacher would and the girl was even using the typical hand gestures the teacher had the habit to use, as pointed out by the teacher herself. What more would be needed to testify that children learn by observing? Their way of speaking as well depends a lot on the way their surrounding talk; which is why children only acquire the accent their surrounding have and no other ones. The examples mentioned also demonstrate that children tend to copy the people around them.
As a matter of fact, the child brain is programmed in such a way so as to retain helpful actions the eyes see in order to reproduce them. By imitating, children are trying out what they can do. This type of learning is usually seen when the teacher makes a demonstration, like making a basket of eggs with modeling clay on for Easter Festival for example, and the children then have to do the same thereby learning how to manipulate plasticines and makes balls to represent the eggs. This is also an example of learning by doing. However, despite the activities are mostly teacher-led, the children extracted some fun in doing the work so far the activity is developmentally appropriate and not too challenging for them. Nevertheless, a more specific example was during a preschool class itself, while the children were pretend playing doctors with a toy stethoscope the teacher brought. The accuracy with which the children were acting like doctors and auscultating their friends was quite remarkable for their age.
Despite we hadn’t had more opportunities to witness such activities any further, what we had seen during the above-mentioned classes was enough to forward that children learn by observing and then imitating. Additionally, dramatic play was a very good way to put to practice what the children had been observing. Through dramatic play, children are making extensive use of language as they are actively participating, hence expanding their vocabulary.
Another means, very common in preschools, by which children learn is through hands-on learning. Learning by doing makes pupils get involved in the activity, the latter thereby gaining their attention. Closely linked to play-based, active learning involves many activities via which children learn. Having to concentrate, they are exploiting as well as developing their cognitive skills. The direct and immediate experiencing of objects, people, ideas, and events, also known as active learning, is a necessary condition for a restructuring at the level of cognition to occur and hence for development. Furthermore, while carrying out the tasks, just like in play-based approach, the children will be actively using language to communicate. This is a good way to develop vocabulary. Learning by doing also makes use of the seven senses of the human body thus further accentuating the learning process. This explains why the strategy is so widespread in kindergartens around the world.
Children also learn by asking questions. From birth to around eight, children have an intense interest in understanding the world around them and this is translated via incessantly asking questions about things. When the teacher answers them, they process the information and try to put it in a simpler way for them to understand and retain the information. The answers given are usually ingrained in the child’s mind for a very long time, so the teacher should imperatively give a correct answer.
While in primary, our observations on how children learn varied a little from preschool. This time, the emphasis was laid on repetition rather than, for example, active learning and it was during a French class when the teacher was doing a lesson on verbs that this was noted. As compared to pre-primary classes where children would mimic the action verbs with body gestures, in primary the children would simply recite the verbs several times until all of them got it correct. The teacher would then set tasks which consisted mainly of repetitive recitations and writings, to complete at home. For example, grade one pupils would have to write a set of 10 animals’ name 10 times in their copybook. As a result, the children were remembering their verbs and simultaneously learning their correct pronunciation.
Children also learn through trial and error. One key message here is one has to try until one is successful. This is particularly true for learning Mathematics. Even if this was not explicitly explained, the message was transmitted via the hidden curriculum. Through trial and error, children learn they should keep trying until they get the right answer by themselves. By doing this, not only is the right method retained for a longer time but it also gives students an ‘I can do it’ feeling which will help them to build their self-confidence and enhance their view of themselves.
In all cases, there seemed to be a key factor influencing the learning in the young children. The children who were learning faster and acquiring knowledge and skills more effectively had a few things in common. They were the ones who were feeling cared for, wanted and more importantly at ease in their environment. They were the children who were really enjoying school and the transition from preschool to primary had a key role in this achievement. On the other hand, there were some children who were still struggling to adapt to their new environment especially in grade 1 primary and the new pupils in pre-primary probably owing it to the detachment from their parents. They were the children who were having difficulties to concentrate and hence difficulties to learn. As such, a good framework is a necessity for children to learn effectively.
All in all, children learn by observing and imitating, doing, through play, through trial and error and through repetition among others. In fact, whenever there is a deep interest from the child in an activity or process, active participation, quality interaction and/or the children are having fun, learning occurs.
Briefly describe any 3 pedagogical approaches in Early Childhood Education.
1. Play-based Approach
As title suggests, in this pedagogical approach the children learn through play. In a play-based classroom, the environment greatly influences the children’s play. It is groomed in such a way so as to promote social and emotional development as well as language development in the child by teacher modeling. This approach also cultivates their interest in the world and their burning desire to understand how things work.
Much of the space of the class is usually divided into sections known as ‘learning centers’, to which the children can go and play after picking one voluntarily and most importantly spontaneously. The learning centers proposed are mostly dramatic play, miniature world, water play, arts and craft, numeracy and sensory tables with manipulatives among others. All of them present different activities designed to develop cognitive and motor skills as well as to encourage children’s innate drive to explore and discover things around them. This encourages the child to acquire mastery over their environment, favouring focus and concentration. It also enables the child to get involved in the flexible cum higher-level thinking processes deemed essential for the 21st century students. These include inquiry processes of problem solving, evaluating, analysing, applying knowledge and creativity. The materials available at the centers are also relevant to the specific theme and the latter is always a play version of real life situations such as kitchens, block areas, reading nooks and play house(s).
In fact, a key feature in such a pedagogical approach is the freedom the teacher offers the children to choose activities based on their personal areas of interests, after which, the teacher can incorporate academic skills via theme-based activities, often using theme-based props. This means that if a child wants to construct dams and bridges, for instance, he/she may be allowed to spend the major part of his/her center time at the sand and water table. Furthermore, the activities proposed are always contextualised with the real world such that the children can easily link the activity to real life situations and learn while having fun. An example would be extinguishing fires in firefighting services, as illustrated below. Such practices are very developmentally appropriate for young children aged 3 to 5 as this helps to develop the emotional, cognitive and motor skills.
As for the teachers, they act as a facilitator of learning rather than a lecturer of direct instruction with a clear intention to create an atmosphere of discovery, exploration and appropriate risk-taking. The progress of the students is monitored by the teacher via observational assessments and their level of participation in the hands-on activities with main concern being the process of learning rather the end product. The major objectives of this approach to Early Childhood Education are to promote the children’s socio-emotional skills, problem solving skills as well as to improve their attention span and their ability to concentrate. The above mentioned skills are especially important as they will be preparing the children for later formal schooling thus easing the transition from pre-primary to primary.
2. Thematic Approach
Thematic Approach to pedagogy is a way of teaching and learning whereby many areas of the curriculum are connected together and integrated within one single theme also known as thematic units.
In this approach to Early Childhood Education, the teacher’s lessons are geared towards one theme at a time. Examples of themes taught are vast in number but most of the time they include the different seasons, animals, the five senses, family, textures etc. ; things children can actually relate to in real life. However, this doesn’t mean the knowledge imparted concerns only the particular theme. On the contrary, the children learn about the world around them in a more methodical way. As opposed to play-based learning, in the thematic approach, it is the teacher who chooses the theme. The children then learn by performing the different activities the teacher proposes.
Students are also able to hold back more information when it is not presented as stand-alone facts, but instead as part of a whole. Thematic units favour the involvement of all pupils through topics pertinent to them. Children are thus more capable of relating to real-world experiences and build on prior knowledge of a topic, hence learn more effectively. This way of teaching makes it possible for learning to occur more naturally and in a less fragmented manner than the way learning takes place in traditional preschools where they use an academic approach. This is mainly due to the fact that such an approach crosses over subject lines and assists children in relating basic academic skills to real-world ideas.
Thematic units also aid educators teach to the different learning styles of their students whether they are visual, kinesthetic or auditory learners. Moreover, research conducted by renowned child-development scientists such as Vygotsky, Piaget and Bruner suggest that integrating subject matter across different content areas, such as math and science, engages the whole brain through active and hands-on involvement.
3. Holistic Approach
The holistic approach to Early Childhood Education encompasses an extensive range of philosophical orientations and pedagogical practices with an aim to achieve a holistic development in the preschoolers. Holistic development means acknowledging that a child’s physical, cognitive, linguistic, emotional and social development is interrelated, inseparable and each domain exert reciprocal influences upon the others. Higher-order thinking skills can also be developed through quality interaction with the teacher, who will challenge the child in a developmentally appropriate manner with regards to the child’s age and personal experiences. The holistic approach to education focuses on wholeness, and tries to include every significant aspects of the human experience. There is a strong sense of community and engagement between children, parents and educators where those members feel strongly to care for one another. There is also a great respect for children’s interior life, accompanied by methods ranging from environmental spaces which ease time out of competitive nosier environments, to time for deeper questions about the meaning of life and spirituality. It is an eclectic and inclusive movement whose principal trademark is the idea that educational experiences nurture a less materialistic and a more spiritual and greater dynamic and holistic view of reality.
In a view to reflect the inter-relatedness of all aspects of the child’s learning, the child must be considered as an active and equal participant in the learning process. This is an essential condition for the child to realise his own potential through the deployment of his prior knowledge. Curriculum and learning contexts, in response to the wholistic and complex personality of the child, must be child-centred and showcase the child’s interests. As for the educators, they must prepare meaningful activities and ways for the child to get involved actively with the learning process. Learning programmes, curriculum and content must equally reflect and support the child’s holistic development in which the child himself is actively participating and is a constructor of meaning.
Discuss the implications of any 2 of the above in the lower primary classroom.
Implications of Play-Based Approach in lower primary classroom
Although the play-based approach boasts among the most thriving pedagogical approaches in the world, it does have implications for the lower primary classrooms. Since the main pedagogy used in preschool was learn through play and the pedagogies used in primary are mostly academic, it is expected to have some children who will face difficulties with the transition from pre-primary to primary. More so if they were not expecting such a drastic change, considering they were enjoying experimenting and solving problems in imaginative and playful ways in preschool and now in primary, they have to do so in a more structured and formal way. As such, it is the duty of the teacher to smooth out the latter by choosing more fun-oriented and interactive activities with greater focus on activities which favour social interactions rather than those which concentrate on the basic academic skills. This should be done at least in the first couple of years in order to make the change as gradual as possible. Moreover, children who have followed a play-based approach to pedagogy have usually conserved their desire to explore the world and understand things and thus a good educator should be able to sustain the trend.
However, more commonly, the skills gained in preschool prepared them with a strong enough base to ace primary school. Research shows play-based learning enhances children’s academic and developmental learning outcomes. It can also set your child up for success in the 21st century by teaching them relevant skills. So if the teacher manages to render the transition smooth, she or he can very well make the most of it and build up on the children’s prior knowledge.
Implications of Holistic Approach in lower primary classroom
The holistic approach to Early Childhood Education undeniably prepares the child through the development of the child on all the domains that exist. The skills and values acquired will indeed help the children to better embrace future endeavors but what are the implications at the level of lower primary? The change in pedagogical practices does have some implications for the child as well as the educator. Holistic development in pre-primary focuses on the whole child development while at primary level, the focus is much more academic; whether the child will emancipate depends a lot on the teacher’s competence and the way the teachers grooms the transition and thus is very demanding for the teacher. Furthermore, parents are important stakeholders in the education of their progeny. This is much emphasized in preschools which use holistic approach to pedagogy. However, in primary, this focus is removed. As a result, children may have a sentiment of abandonment. This should be imperatively avoided since this feeling can lead to a lower self-confidence and lower self-esteem. Moreover, each pupil has his or her own learning styles. If this was greatly considered and accounted for in preschool, it may not be the case in primary where the educator’s focus is not on the whole child’s development. Hence, it becomes important that both parents and teachers work collaboratively to dodge such a situation. If they succeed, the children will be able to grow into a natural and healthy educational maturity without any feeling of being abandoned.