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July 2018

Learning 1/4: the image of a Child.

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We believe every child is a unique individual, who capable, creative, curious and intelligent. In order to fulfil their potential, we also believe that every child should be an active participant in their education, learning and development.

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Throughout ten weeks of research into innovative models of education, we have experienced schools that are prioritizing and valuing the rights of the child to quality and inclusive education all over the world. Many of these schools had developed unique approaches that give children the opportunity to discover for themselves in authentic situations, and to construct knowledge with others. The approaches we’ve observed enable children to develop knowledge, understanding and skills which are necessary to fulfil their aspirations and relevant for today’s society.
The Reggio Approach – which we first experienced in the city of Reggio itself, but saw influencing schools in New York, Tel-Aviv, Auckland and Sydney – encourages teachers to work in partnership with children’s interests and ideas in the design of projects (particularly with 0 to 6 year olds). Reggio sees learning as a dynamic process in which adults work with where children are ‘at’ and provoke them to move forward by encouraging them to oscillate between what is known and unknown.

With children aged from 2 to 13 year olds, New York’s Blue School, balances the development of academics, i.e. math, language and science, with ‘project work’. Project work facilitated the integration between subjects and development of key skills in creative thinking, collaborative problem-solving and self and social intelligence. Teachers planned taking students’ interests and current knowledge in to account.

New Zealand’s Department of Education is steadily moving towards an inquiry approach to project based work, where children determine a path of inquiry related to their interest. ‘Inquiry based learning’ represents a way of enabling children to develop skills in collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity. This approach is used alongside the teaching of key skills in reading, writing and math.

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What is known as a ‘classical curriculum’ was being utilized for 4 to 18 year olds by Ad Fontes Academy in Centreville. This approach enables children to develop foundational skills in language, math, logic and writing and also to become independent learners with the ability to think for themselves.

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What all of these approaches have in common is that they assist and encourage children to ‘own’ their own learning. Our observations of children benefiting from this approach revealed well motivated individuals, as a direct result of the value that was given to their thoughts and ideas. These approaches were supporting the development of academics, alongside the kind of skills the World Economic Forum (2015) acknowledges children will need to be effective as adults in the workplace, namely the skills of collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, innovating and creativity.

In those early childhood education centres where more than one culture was represented – for example, Auckland, Harlem, and Jerusalem – language was given a high priority. Each age group having teachers who spoke the languages enabled children to develop skills in speaking both languages fluently.

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Where schools worked with a wide range of ages – i.e. pre-school to middle or high school – a great deal of thought had been given to what approach/es were most appropriate for the developmental needs of each age group.

What does this all mean to us?

In moving forward towards establishing a quality and inclusive school for 3 to 18 year olds, that is also affordable, we believe we need to:

  • decide on the teaching and learning approaches to utilize that most align with our philosophy, and support the development of academics alongside critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and creativity, and which recognise that children need to be active participants in their education and development
  • consider which approaches are most appropriate for the specific developmental needs of each age group
  • identify the languages of learning; languages that will be used in the early childhood education centre

Every school visited had high expectations of their children, who they saw as capable and intelligent. This was evident in the approaches that encouraged children to participate in their education, the way adults interacted with children, and the environment created for learning.
We will share more about ii) the built environment, iii) the staff team, & iv) community / home / parents, next time.