The wonder within the curriculum
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I wonder what you think of when you hear the phrase ‘life skills’?
My understanding of life skills, as a subject that forms part of the South African school curriculum, has been based on explanations people have shared of it helping children to form their identity, sense of worth, or to understand their emotions, and of it supporting students to make good choices. Living and working in KwaZulu-Natal, a region with the highest HIV rate in the country – where over a quarter of the population is living with the disease – it is perhaps understandable that most of the faith-based non profit organisations we’ve worked with over the last 12 years include sex education (for older children) within life skills.
Since living and working in South Africa I have linked these descriptions (above) to my own experience and knowledge of working as a teacher in England; so I have considered Life Skills to be similar to PSHE (Personal, Social, Health Education), or SEAL (Social, Emotional Aspects of Literacy) – both of which have been part of the curriculum in England.
But in exploring the South African Life Skills curriculum for Grade R to Grade 3 learners (5 to 9 year-olds), as part of the preparation for launching our quality, diverse and accessible school in KwaZulu-Natal, I have been surprised by the content. Surprised…in a good way!
As I expected, the Life Skills curriculum does include aspects of social and emotional development, i.e. self-awareness, self-confidence, expressing and managing feelings and behaviour, and physical development; health and self-care, but it goes so much further…
The Life Skills curriculum is actually incredibly rich with themes that provoke children – alongside their teachers – to explore people and communities (the home, family, school, community, jobs, etc.), and the world (seasons, food, animals, plants, the weather, the environment etc.). In addition, all of the ‘content’ can be explored through the creative arts, where children have opportunities to use a variety of mediums, media, and materials to create in 2 and 3 Dimensions, and use their imagination as they express their ideas and thoughts via music and dance; all whilst developing foundational literacies.
Since the Life Skills curriculum outlines the themes – but doesn’t go in to great detail with a lot of specifics – it means, as a school, we can link children’s interests to areas in the Life Skills curriculum, using these as provocations to go deeper in to areas which the children are naturally curious and intrigued by. We can encourage children to explore and express ideas, thoughts, learning creatively and imaginatively, through one or more of their 100 languages.
In utilising themes from the South African Life Skills curriculum to provoke learning, carefully selecting areas which relate to children’s interests, and documenting children’s learning along the way, rather than assessing against predefined outcomes, we believe the tension of making room for ‘meaning making’ within / alongside a curriculum can be balanced. Dahlberg et al. explain pedagogical documentation is:
‘…about trying to see and understand what is going on in the pedagogical work and what the child is capable of without any predetermined framework of expectations and norms’.Dahlberg, Moss and Pence (2007: 146)
Documentation – notes of the children’s actions, comments, and conversations during their work, alongside photographs which capture these ‘…ordinary moments and everyday experiences in the classroom’ (Kashin 2014) – enables teachers to enter into dialogue with children and fellow staff members, to consider different perspectives, critically reflect, and relaunch learning. Working in this way, teachers will be listening for the unknown, expectant for surprises – meaning making will be paramount.
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P. and Pence, A. (2007) Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care, Oxon: Routledge.
Department of Basic Education (2011) Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement Grade R to 3 Life Skills, South Africa: Government Printing Works.
Human Sciences Research Council (2017) South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey.
Kashin, D. (2014) Progettazione: Reggio-inspired Teaching in Dialogue with the Learning Processes of Children [online]. Accessed June 2019.
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