When I first began my journey in FDK 3 years ago I was taken by reggio-inspired learning environments. I had read about documentation, but really felt the push in our school board, in Ontario, was on the calming environment, the environment as the third teacher, and the use of natural materials. I focused on creating an environment that allowed our learners to learn in a calming environment, like highlighted in Dr. Stuart Shanker’s interesting read, “Calm, Alert, and Learning”. I eventually realized that our early learners were missing out on child-led inquiries and I was missing out on following the child’s lead. I started seeking out readings and videos about the emergent curriculum like the Hundred Languages of the Child. I realized how careful listening, documenting, and reflecting on the process was the key to child-led and child-centred learning.
In the past I had seen educators directing, interrupting, and managing the players and materials involved in play. I had been one of them. I had also seen when it was time for “free play”, educators would take that time to prepare for the next whole group instruction, organize materials, or other managerial types of activities. This was the time the magic was happening and we were missing it. This unstructured play is when we need to pay careful attention to what the learners are truly interested in, their passions. Our early years team now refers to “free play” time as purposeful play, unstructured play, play-based and inquiry-based learning centres with carefully selected materials set-up as invitations to learn and play.
Children have an innate sense of what they need to learn and some of the questions I was asking myself were:
Was I prepared to give up that control? Was I prepared to be a co-investigator alongside my learners?
Would I allow these 3-5 year olds dictate what learning is important to them at this moment?
Do I believe that what’s important to these early learners was more important than my personal agenda?
What is the competent child? Can I trust them?
How was I going to ask provoking questions to challenge student thinking? Maybe I needed an open-ended question bank to refer to as I started this journey?
How is this pedagogy similar and different to my familiar approach to teaching and learning?
How does my unique context and history help guide my way to be a successful facilitator of child-centred learning?
These questions and many more helped shape my thinking as it evolved. Originally, I thought if I pinterest searched whatever our learners were interested in that we would be following their lead. However, it wasn’t until I threw out my personal agenda and truly observed and listened, that the children invited me into their learning journey. Prior to that it was my learning journey for the children and what I believed they needed. I began to see the complexities of their play. It’s a place where the children are in control and able to explore putting intentional materials together and manipulate them to see what happens. A place where they can experiment in their own way, test their own theories, and discover what they want. I began to learn how my new role was to carefully listen, document, and reflect on these moments of play. It became my responsibility to help the children make meaning of their learning through these times of reflection of the documentation. Only then did I begin to realize where the children were taking their play and learning.
An example on careful reflection and how that shaped a responsive curriculum began when our learners were interested in peacocks and herons. They wanted to paint, draw, read about, and watch videos of them. We asked them what they noticed and wondered. My old practice would have wanted to create a peacocks ‘can, have, are’ chart. However, this time we listened, documented and reflected back on the many videos, photographs, and notes of conversations about these interesting animals. Instead of diving into what do they eat, where do they live, who are their predators, we recognized that our learners were more interested in the flight and design of these birds. They wondered why peacocks couldn’t fly very far or high. They looked closely at their design and thought perhaps they couldn’t fly very high or far because of their short wings, long tail, and fat belly. We set-out materials and a paper airplane design of the peacock for our learners to alter the design of the peacock so that it could fly higher and/or farther. They continued to test and manipulate their designs for days. It later evolved into other bird designs and even plane designs and other things that fly. How can a hot air balloon fly when it looks nothing like a plane or bird? What does wind have to do with flight? Had I gone down my journey of what peacocks eat our learners would have missed out on exciting STEM provocations and these amazing wonderings that they were passionate about. The learning captured through this process is something the families were also so excited about as well. It was authentic. It was from them.
Following the child’s lead has afforded our learners the opportunity to take ownership of their learning, be more engaged and responsible for their wonderings, and help them realize how their thinking is of utmost importance. Creating a responsive curriculum continuously takes our learning in surprising and unexpected new directions. Documentation in this process holds a magnificent power that connects our learning to our communities and families and affords new opportunities to build on each other’s ideas and thinking.
When we began this journey I had to make sure I wasn’t imposing my ideas on the children, that I wasn’t directing or interrupting their play, and to do this I kept reminding myself to talk less, document more.
My role as a reggio-inspired educator and child-centred facilitator became:
Seek meaning and understanding
Make learning visible
Create responsive curriculum in a cyclical process promoting student voice
On a side note, I believe in balance in teaching and learning. I believe there is a time for explicit teaching and a time for child-led inquiries. I believe in a partnership. See our Flow of the Day in FDK: https://inspiredbyplay.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/flow-of-the-day-in-fdk-with-day-plan/