What we can learn from preschool education?

When I started my daughter in daycare at age 2 I was looking for a place I wanted her to remain and learn a preschool curriculum. We ended up choosing an amazing place based a lot on the amazing natural spaces they have and friendly staff. It’s not a brand new fancy place but what sold me was the principles they base their teaching and learning on.

To be honest when they first told me they don’t really learn their ABCs and counting numbers the traditional way my conditioned response was fear (what if she doesn’t memorise this properly for school?!). But of course memorising isn’t learning. At my daughter’s preschool students drive the learning and through this they learn all kinds of concepts I never imagined my child would know at age 2.

Content is sparked in many different ways through children’s interests. Sometimes interests come up sporadically when children are playing. Other times content is connected to what children are doing in their daily lives. Each week families send in photos and a little blurb explaining what we have done the past week and the children discuss at the center. One week my daughter started talking about selling ice creams which we often pretend to do at our local park. The next day the educators and children decided to build a café out of boxes and asked Ella what colours she would like to paint it – yellow of pink of course! The kids got a whole week of fun out of the café even on the days Ella wasn’t there. Through this type of play children are learning to use numbers through buying and selling, communication and collaboration, and problem solving. They start to understand written language by creating and writing shop names. This is project based learning at its best – driven by students, connecting with real world and supporting children to work collaboratively.

Sometimes, just as we do in classrooms, the educators might put out a topic for students to explore. One topic they looked into was building and construction. To connect with real world projects families were asked to provide pictures of buildings they had recently seen and also a photo of their house. Children used all kinds of materials to build their creations and showed off their buildings to their families at the end of the week. To further connect with real world my husband who works in construction management visited the center and discussed the building he is working on in the city and even brought his hard hat for students to wear. The children loved talking about what needs to be included in a building from windows, to toilets to lights and all the different jobs that people do. We enjoyed bringing these ideas home to work on our own creations.

This is truly student driven content. It hooks into children’s prior knowledge and creates intrinsic motivation to learn. This approach to learning has encouraged her thirst for knowledge, empathy and constant question asking – many of which I now find I have to google to get the right answer!

What can we learn?

  • Bring in outside experts – it might even be a student’s parent!
  • Work back from student’s interests to connect with outcomes where possible.
  • Connect with what’s happening in the individual student’s world. Empower student’s own journey’s.
  • Hook into prior knowledge to deepen learning.
  • Connect with real world problems and situations.

The center uses some aspects from Emilia Reggio who proposed a student centered and experiential learning approach valuing children’s relationships. Find out more about this approach including its benefits and pitfalls here: https://theconversation.com/reggio-emilia-how-a-city-in-italy-started-an-education-trend-25809


By Lisa Aitken, Widening Participation Coordinator at UTS.