How does a teacher with a commitment to the emergent curriculum respond to parent queries about school readiness programs? For Kurralee Children’s Centre Manager and IEU Member Jenny Green, describing what it means to be “in a disposition to learn” has started a broader dialogue.
As an early childhood educator of many years it is exciting to see the impact and influence of children’s curiosity directing and driving the program. This is in stark contrast to the predictive early childhood programs of previous years where learning outcomes were predetermined prior to the commencement of the chosen theme or topic.
We now find ourselves immersed in curriculum where at the start of the learning journey the destination is unknown, but guided by the interest and enquiry of the children. As we all know these journeys are inspiring but at time they have the potential to be challenging for educators. The learning that transpires for children from this open ended curriculum is authentic and meaningful to the individual and so, in keeping with the tenets of curriculum that is informed by children’s interests and learning disposition, I personally struggle with the concept of a school readiness program.
It is not that there is little value or benefit in a school readiness program. In fact I know that like the interest based curriculum that is reflected in learning environments in early years settings, if you were to promote a school readiness program it needs to be contextually relevant. But, in keeping with my personal philosophy, and maintaining the elements of the interest based curriculum, it is more authentic for me to promote the concept of “children being in a disposition to learn” – that is, fostering children’s natural curiosity and questioning.
Given my total commitment, enthusiasm and passion to embed meaningful curriculum, how is it I have managed the inevitable and unrelenting queries from families about ‘school readiness’? This was the reality for me last year, when new to a centre and addressing parents at the first open forum parent meeting the question: what was the school readiness program? A flippant response would have been “but aren’t we doing that now, with the children learning to be a member of a group, developing independence, completing a task, following directions, initiating an activity?” The list goes on. I shared my thoughts on children being in a disposition to learn. So, now it was out there.
It is with great respect that I do and always have incorporated families’ wishes in to the program, hence, the professional challenge for our team was to reassure families that being in a disposition to learn would give their child the skills and competencies to support them in their transition to school.
Now that I had unintentionally set this challenge, how would I allay parents’ anxieties about a school readiness program versus a disposition to learn? Through the natural course of events I found myself writing to staff and families about how the program was developing and the reality and potential for children’s learning. Initially I established an email forum with families. That allowed a very quick transfer of all these exciting aspects and moments of the day so that they could be communicated and shared. I highlighted the learning that was occurring for their children.
Like our peers, the staff and I have educational forums and discussions throughout the year with parents. Documenting the valuable discussion and commentary emanating from these forums provided another opportunity to reinforce the learning that was happening.
Exercise in curiosity
For the older children in our centre, taking walks in the local environment gradually became a feature of our program. These were a means to:
- promote curiosity
- scaffold learning
- provoke problem solving, and
- encourage a range of learning dispositions.
Sometimes we can overlook the immediate environment and the multitude of learnings that sit on our doorstep. Surrounding environments don’t need to be special or beautiful. All environments are unique and full of wonder. With the appropriate provocation from educators, children’s curiosity can be stimulated and encouraged whilst exploring their everyday surrounds. Yet again, the walks and the associated learnings were a great opportunity to share children’s learnings with families.
Children’s curiosity is pivotal to their learning, hence the tenets of the emergent curriculum support and promote children’s natural enquiry.
Moving on from prescription
From our field work, observations, readings and conversations we know that children’s learning is best served when the program is real, authentic and based on their interests and not prescriptive. For me, ‘school readiness’ has the potential to sound prescriptive so we just need to be mindful that the elements of following children’s interests and authenticity are embedded in the program. Being curious and enquiring about your environment will support a child in their transition to school.
My intention, in this article, has been to challenge and provoke. And I will continue to promote the concept of children being in a disposition to learn. After all, in this ever changing and technology driven society, it is the ability to be curious, seek research and challenge that will sustain us in our learning and quest of information.
Walking and learning
Excerpt from a story to families
Early on in our walk we notice the fire hydrants at the front of a block of flats. Some of our discussion and questions about the hydrants included “what are they?”, “what comes out of them?” “who uses them?” and “why are they at the front of the building”.
We talked about the many plants we saw and the fact that plants are brightly coloured to attract bees and insects. In particular we discussed the Jacaranda trees and the purple bells that covered the ground. I told the children about the jacaranda Festival in Grafton every November.
As we walked in to a new street, the children were told the name. We then asked why streets have names. The children might ask you about their address, as we established the purpose of an address for identification. We noticed lots of numbers and the concept of “odd” and “even” was introduced to the children.
We noticed a house being constructed and the scaffolding. We had a discussion as to the purpose of the scaffolding around construction. On one letterbox we saw a “rain water” sign. We asked the children what this meant. This was followed by a brief discussion about water conservation and its relevance in our society.