13th June 2017
The preschool years for us were joyous, beautiful years of discovery and exploration, play and fun. I remember those years fondly as my three children were all lucky enough to have experienced nurturing, kind-hearted, happy, beautiful teachers, Mrs Newman and Mrs Meland. How wonderful it would be if the preschool philosophy were to continue throughout schooling.
There was a beautiful rhythm to the day, everything was structured around meeting the needs of a small child. The children ate at times appropriate for three to five year olds, they rested if needed, they played inside and outside for the majority of the day with more structured learning opportunities geared towards those that were ready and willing.
There were no ability groupings. No lists on walls of children in order from best finger painters to worst. There were no remedial singing classes. There were no awards for best cubby house maker. If someone was having trouble sharing they were gently supported and guided by teachers and peers. The teachers would observe and notice who needed support with gross motor skills and might entice them to do more skipping or climbing or a child needing fine motor support more play dough or sewing.
All done discreetly mind you. They were not labelled as play disabled and they were certainly not told that they needed to improve or that they were less than any other in their abilities. The result – children blossomed. They could learn and grow at their own pace and develop a healthy self-esteem. I will be forever grateful that my children had such a perfect start to their education.
I remember with my first-born checking off every milestone and worrying if she didn’t meet the average of 12 months for walking or 9 months for crawling. By the third child I worried less about developmental milestones, thinking they all get there unless there is a mechanical problem and then, if that was the case, if there was a physical or neurological issue, then we’d find a way around it. Just as a parent of a child who cannot walk might utilise a wheelchair or other appropriate aides or support. I learned that my children were all perfect just as they were; each different, each unique and equal to all others.
Watching children play is still one of my greatest joys. I love to watch the learning that takes place through play, it is incomparable. One such experience was watching my three children building a dam in our local creek one school holidays, they were aged roughly between 5 and 10 at the time. The co-operation, the planning, the trial and error, the engineering, the mathematics, the environmental aspects, the gratitude, the fun, the leaving it as we found it at the end all came from them. I was a mere spectator. I didn’t fill out any checklists. I didn’t write a report on it (other than here). I didn’t evaluate their interactions and I didn’t tell them where they could improve. They did all that themselves, instinctually and abstractly, whilst they played and had fun.
When they got home that day they played schools; how funny! They drew pictures and wrote about their morning at the creek. They sat in front of an Ikea white board and read stories to each other. They role played being the teacher and the students. They chose activities they were each interested in. They played, but during their play they learned from each other and they would come to me if they needed something – like food.
Everyone can learn. Learning is like breathing it is a natural part of each of us. The speed at which we learn should not be a factor or impede our developing self-esteem. We want every child to know that they are special, that they have unique gifts and strengths. Every child is gifted and has a right to discover and develop their individual gifts without obstruction. Let’s reconfigure our primary and secondary schools to support this.
THREE THINGS YOU CAN CHANGE IN YOUR CLASSROOM NOW
- Remove any ability based lists from your walls. Children should not be ranked. These public lists damage self-esteem.
- Year level text books are obselete and a waste of time and money. We know that they are aimed at an imaginary mid level and don’t cater to individual needs.
- Become a facilitator of learning rather than a ‘sage on a stage’. Think like a preschool teacher.
Change takes time. We need to move out of old paradigms that don’t serve us. The very first step is to stop comparing children. Stop inhibiting their learning with one-size-fits-all lessons imposed upon them. Stop teaching conformity. Finland has and so can we. Let’s inspire, ever ready when needed, but allow our children to sail their own ships and be the masters of their own destiny.
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