Alice Brown Early Learning Center

Curriculum at the Alice Brown Early Learning Center 


Approaches with Learning

At the Early Learning Center (ELC) we have adopted a constructivist approach which utilizes principles of Emergent Curriculum and the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education. The implementation of a Reggio inspired curriculum at the ELC is always a work in progress. As we continue to deepen our understanding of the approach and its framework we will expand, modify, adapt and enhance our implementation strategies the needs of the children, families and community indicate. Our journey to provide meaningful, concrete experiences to the children in our care is never ending—it will only continue as new questions, understandings, reflections and experiences become evident to us and to the early childhood profession.


Constructivism: Children as Constructors of Knowledge

The ELC emphasizes a constructivist approach to early childhood education that is rooted in the theories of Piaget, Dewey and Vygotsky. We believe that children are active learners with a natural curiosity to explore and discover how the world around them functions and what their role is in this world.

The adult’s and community’s role is to support the child’s learning style while guiding and facilitating his learning without imposing pre-planned knowledge on the child. This goal is best accomplished through meaningful, concrete, reciprocal play experiences in the context of children’s development.

Children’s play – supported by caring, reflective and responsive adults and communities will enhance a child’s natural curiosity, allowing him to have experiences that will contribute to and advance his knowledge and understanding of the world. By providing the child with long periods of uninterrupted play, with supportive, interactive adults, we create the opportunity for the child to develop his understanding of the steps involved in critical thinking and to hone his ability to become a creative thinker and problem solver. Allowing the child the ability to explore and discover at his own pace and in his own way; what his interests and skills are will foster a lifelong commitment to discovery and continued learning.


Emergent Learning Process

The learning process is called emergent because it evolves, diverging along new paths as choices and connections are made, and it is always open to new possibilities that were not thought of during the initial planning process (Jones and Reynolds, 1992).

Emergent learning is sensible but not predictable. It requires of its practitioners trust in the power of play—trust in spontaneous choice making, choosing among possibilities and thus constructing their own hands-on understanding of the learning process, becoming competent players.

Emergent learning describes the kind of curriculum that develops when exploring what is “socially relevant, intellectually engaging, and personally meaningful to children. In emergent learning, both adults and children take initiative and make decisions. This power to impact curriculum decisions and directions mean that sometimes curriculum is also negotiated, between what interests children and what adults know is necessary for children’s education and development. Ideas for curriculum emerge from responding to the interests, questions, and concerns generated within a particular environment, by a particular group of people, at a particular time (Cassady, 1993). Emergent curriculum arises naturally from adult-child interactions and situations that allow for “teachable moments.” It connects learning with experience and prior knowledge. The initial topic idea is typically implemented and expanded on after an idea or interest area emerges from the group of children. Teachers focus on interests and developmental needs of children, their current life events and how the natural world changes responding to these observations and events, rather than focusing on a narrow, individual, or calendar driven topic. It is process rather than product driven.


The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education

We have chosen to model our program and methodology on the concepts promoted through the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy. Therefore, the ELC is a Reggio inspired school. The Reggio Emilia framework is an approach to early childhood education. Originating in Italy after World War II by Loris Malaguzzi; the approach utilizes philosophic theory and extensive active learning experiences as a base for children’s learning. The approach embraces the work and beliefs of well-known theorists such as; John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, and Jean Piaget and others and has several components that the ELC has integrated into its philosophy and methodology.

These components are:

The Image of the Child

The most vital concept to emerge from the Reggio schools is the reconstruction of the teacher’s view of the child. At the ELC we no longer see the child as a vessel to be filled with facts and knowledge. Teaching is not adult directed—it is rooted in the concept and the belief that children are constructors of their own learning. We believe that children are rich, strong, capable, powerful, competent beings born with a desire to learn and the innate ability to relate to others and their community. Utilizing this belief, our program allows children the right to explore and discover on their own through meaningful, concrete experiences and develop the practice of reflecting on and assessing the value of the experiences. We believe that children should be respected and that their voices are powerful and should be listened to and heard. At the ELC we believe that these values are the children’s rights not just their need.

The most vital concept to emerge from the Reggio schools is the reconstruction of the teacher’s view of the child. At the ELC we no longer see the child as a vessel to be filled with facts and knowledge. Teaching is not adult directed—it is rooted in the concept and the belief that children are constructors of their own learning. We believe that children are rich, strong, capable, powerful, competent beings born with a desire to learn and the innate ability to relate to others and their community. Utilizing this belief, our program allows children the right to explore and discover on their own through meaningful, concrete experiences and develop the practice of reflecting on and assessing the value of the experiences. We believe that children should be respected and that their voices are powerful and should be listened to and heard. At the ELC we believe that these values are the children’s rights not just their need.

The Role of the Teacher

Believing that children can and do construct their own knowledge changes the role of the teacher. Within our setting learning truly becomes a collaborative effort. Including the children as participants in the learning process—not just passive vessels – allows the teachers and adults in the program to share in the process while guiding and mentoring children’s ideas. When a teacher accepts the Image of the Child as a constructor of their own knowledge then they change the way they work with the child and the way they encourage children to work with one another. Teachers become researchers of knowledge alongside and with the children. Information and knowledge is not imposed on the child—it is discovered through mutual experience. Teachers support and scaffold children’s efforts and understand that children have the ability to try and try again until they accomplish their goals. Children grow in meaningful and lasting ways when the adults around them support their efforts in a positive, authentic manner.

Community of Learners

Understanding of children’s learning is also rooted in the acceptance of their past experience, culture and ethnicity. Families are a child’s first teacher. Communities and families are interactive and inter-supportive. The experience a child has within his family and community is reflected in his approach to learning and ability to work within a peer group. As a community of learners we have the responsibility to develop our understanding and knowledge of the child’s experience within his family and community and to extend an open invitation to the meaningful people in a child’s life, to be an active member of the ELC’s Community of Learners. Families are frequently invited into the center to share in the children’s learning, create provocations and experiences and expand on proposals for learning when a project is being explored. Understanding and acceptance of the children’s experiences and needs are grounded in a consistent, caring relationship with all participants in the program. The importance of reciprocal interactions and collaborations cannot be undervalued as this relationship creates a trusting environment for the children to explore and grow in.

Environment as a Third Teacher

The physical environment the children are provided with is well organized and aesthetically pleasing. It has several principles espoused by Maria Montessori such as areas for specific skill building, child-sized chairs and tables, and materials that promote self-help and independence. However, in a Reggio inspired program environment is more than the materials and furnishing. The environment acts as a third teacher to create opportunities for learning or provocations. This discovery based experience is supported by adults who observe and document the children’s experiences. The environment changes as the interests and experiences of the children change. As their curiosity expands – the way the environment is staged invites the child into the learning experience and challenges them to stretch their skills and abilities. The teacher is responsible for recognizing when the environment needs freshening or changing and then collaborates with and involves the children in the decisions and the process. Inside and outside children have many opportunities to discover and create their own learning. The environment meets each child’s learning needs. Opportunities for individualized, small group and whole group learning exist. Children are participants in creating the environment and are expected to keep the environment clean and organized. They are co-owners of the materials and furnishings with the other participants of the program. The children have as much responsibility for maintaining a safe and enjoyable environment as the adults do.

Curriculum Content and Flow

The curriculum is a child-centered, play-oriented, emergent curriculum developed from the needs and interests of the children and adults within the learning community. The curriculum goals are rooted in developmental milestones and social-emotional tasks emphasizing the major domains of development; cognitive, social-emotional, physical and language acquisition. Our methods of implementation are rooted in developmentally appropriate practices. As we consider curricula content for each group of children; teachers ask themselves to examine what they know about these three areas of need for each group:

  • the individual needs of the children,
  • the developmental or age needs of the children
  • the cultural and community needs of the children

In addition to considering developmentally appropriate practices adults utilize observations, reflective practice, and collaborative assessment of the children’s interests and developmental needs to develop proposals for learning (big ideas) to present to the children. At the ELC children work at developing knowledge at their own pace and within their own learning style. The flow of the day is flexible, but structured, with children working individually and in small groups of their own choosing, but always supported by an adult who determines the need for scaffolding and implements an appropriate supportive technique.

From the initial development of proposals for learning or plan possibilities, provocations (or activities) grow which may lead to projects (ideas, questions to explore, webbing or mapping)—an in-depth exploration of a topic. These provocations and projects are not one shot isolated opportunities, but are reflective explorations of concepts and materials. Provocations allow children to explore the properties of materials, make observations about their discoveries and formulate additional questions about the concepts.

A key component of the approach is to be respectful of the children’s right to explore or revisit activities again and again. This process encourages the discovery of many different concepts and the ability to apply previously learned knowledge to a new or extended experience. We believe this approach to learning allows children the opportunity to fully become life-long learners who embrace new experiences and develop the ability to sustain interest in areas and topics that are meaningful and important to them. Rather than knowing a little bit about a lot of unconnected, isolated ideas and facts the children who experience this approach know a great deal of in-depth knowledge about the topic explored.

Documentation, Reflections and Assessment:

Written and pictorial documentation is a vital component in the Reggio inspired school. It is through the adult’s reflection and assessment of the meaning inherent in the documentation that all proposals for learning flow. At the ELC we document children’s learning in many different ways including; recording written anecdotal records of the children’s words and their actions, photographs, drawings and writings, video recordings, and audio recordings of the children’s conversations. Each child has their own portfolio which is a compilation of their work over the course of their stay at the ELC. The children have an active role in determining what work they would like to place in their portfolio. Teachers are knowledgeable about child development norms and milestones and share their knowledge with the parents on a regular basis. We offer the families of the children in the ELC many opportunities to discuss their child’s individual learning achievements with the teachers.

The teacher working on the project with a group of children often reflects alone and with the children on the experience by reviewing the documentation and developing new questions. This revisiting (or planning process) of the work allows the teacher to reflect on what learning has occurred and what other ideas or questions the group might like to explore thus expanding the learning process and enhancing the value of the experience.

Documentation is often displayed in the classrooms and school center so that adults may have a deeper understanding of the work the children are engaged in. Teachers in each classroom will email a short learning story to the families of the children enrolled in the group as a way to share and make visible the learning that occurs within each group.

 

For further information, please contact:

Alice Brown Early Learning Center
p – 516.877.3906
e – elc@adelphi.edu

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