My Philosophy of Early Childhood Education
Our classroom is a busy, happy place. If you drop by, you will likely see a lot of different things going on. It might even look disorganized, with children talking, laughing together, and playing games. Sometimes, when students are really excited about something, we have (oh dear!) outside voices in the classroom. But stay and watch. Soon you will begin to notice there is a purpose behind all this happy chaos.
Early childhood is defined as the period of time between birth and eight years of age. During this time, there are huge changes taking place in a child’s brain. This is an important time in the physical, spiritual, and cognitive development of the child. In a classroom of 5 to 8-year-olds, everything we do matters because we are laying down a foundation which will impact each little person for the rest of his or her life.
Let them be children
As any wise parent knows, children are not little adults. They need to be allowed to be children. They need to wiggle, to move around, to be active all day long. Exercise and outdoor play are very important to children of all ages, but especially to young children. Getting them moving, both in the classroom and out of it, helps their brains grow and facilitates learning (Renolds).
In the world of a child, play is everything. Children test limits and develop strategies during play, and play invites problem-solving (Ackerman). Play is where new learning takes place, where social skills are developed, where physical coordination improves, and where brain development happens. Children must be allowed to actively play if we want them to learn (Almon).
Children also need time. Everyone develops individually, but there are patterns to how our brains grow. Neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford describes the two hemispheres of the brain and their different functions and how growth affects learning in young children. Typically the right side of the brain (which deals with whole processing, images, rhythm, emotion, and intuition) experiences a growth spurt of connectivity some time between the ages of 4 and 7. The left hemisphere, however, (which deals with details, parts and processes of language, and linear patterns) gets its growth spurt typically between the ages of seven and nine. This would indicate that, for 5 and 6-year-olds, the best way to learn is through image, emotion, and movement (Hannaford). While some children can learn to read and write formally at a young age, other perfectly normal children need the gift of time.
Ellen White’s counsel
One of my favorite authors sums it up this way: “ During the first six or seven years of a young child’s life, special attention should be given to its physical training, rather than the intellect… Up to this period children should be left, like little lambs, to roam around the house and in the yards, in the buoyancy of their spirits, skipping and jumping, free from care and trouble.” She goes on to say, “let the little ones play in the open air; let them listen to the songs of the birds and learn the love of God as expressed in His beautiful works. Teach them simple lessons from the book of nature and the things around them; and as their minds expand, lesson from books may be added and firmly fixed in the memory.” (White 300-301.)
Ellen White was not the first to advocate child-friendly methods of education. Great names such as Martin Luther, John Amos Comenius, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, and Friedrich Froebel helped shape our understanding of early education and created schools where young students were taught with child-friendly methods. It is interesting to note that Finland, where education is designed to meet the needs of the child, has received a lot of attention for the excellent results of their schools.
All the little things add up
Every teacher has a philosophy of education, whether it is known by the teacher or not. That philosophy is shaped first by personal experience as child, then by education and by more experience as a teacher. Ideally, the teacher has thought carefully about his or her philosophy and how it will manifest itself in the classroom. This is an important process because not all current practices align with what we know about early childhood. State standards, district-mandated curriculums, and standardized testing can all place pressure on a teacher to push children. It has always been and will continue to be a major work of the early childhood teacher to create a learning environment that meets the many external pressures only within the context of what is best for the child.
Where we learn
The learning environment is of upmost importance. Both indoor and outdoor spaces reflect what the school and the teacher believe about early childhood. A thoughtful teacher will spend time considering the needs of her students as well as creating an environment that facilitates learning and creativity without being distractingly cluttered.
My classroom includes a rug area for group discussion and read-aloud. The rug area doubles as a classroom library, where students can choose books to read independently and with a friend. The classroom has student tables grouped in the center of the room to foster conversation. Around the outer edges of the room are various work stations, or centers, where children can play games and work in small groups. I have a lot of materials in my classroom because I believe in play-based learning using concrete objects as much as possible. This requires a lot of organization and tracking of student progress, because I also believe in individualizing instruction as much as possible. The classroom includes some cozy nooks and play areas as well as open spaces and paths for easy movement. I have attempted to keep the environment as calm as possible in color choice and in organization while at the same time creating a cheery, inviting space for children to play in.
Take it outdoors
Outdoors, we have wooded areas for fort-building and playing house, as well as the usual playground equipment. Our school is developing a garden, and paths and outdoor classrooms are planned in the surrounding woods. It is important to provide many experiences with nature as both a medium for learning and as a subject itself. Our students all have rain boots and ponchos, so learning can take place in most weather. My lesson plans make use of our outdoor space regularly. We have worked and played outside for lessons in Bible, math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. Engagement is always high when we learn outdoors, and being in God’s “second book” brings Him close to us and fosters spiritual discussions that a teacher alone could never plan. God really does speak to us through nature.
Our schedule reflects what I believe about teaching young children. We start and end our day with God. We have two recesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We work on demanding subjects such as math, reading, and writing during the morning hours, when children are fresh. The afternoon is for the sciences, creative arts, more Bible, and afternoon free choice centers. Play and creativity, choice and sharing are part of every subject. Children learn through many avenues, and each child progresses at a rate he or she is ready for. Here is our schedule from the 2015-2016 school year: PRIMARY ROOM SCHEDULE
Keeping up with it all
I have a several ways I track all this learning. I keep an assessment binder on hand with developmental assessments and writing samples from each child. I take assessments for this binder 3 times a year. I also keep notes on each child in the binder, and I track things like reading level and math concepts learned. I like to share reading levels each semester with parents of older students, so that families can see how their child’s reading progress has evolved over time. I’m going to begin using literacy notebooks next year which will double as portfolios and memory books. This will give the students a chance to reflect on their own learning and will give parents a chance to stay informed. I will also send home weekly newsletters, something I have done in the past but did not do regularly last year.
Getting along, being responsible
Behavior guidance and the learning of routines is an important part of every classroom. It keeps all that happy chaos from becoming real chaos! Really, instead of chaos, we have a busy place where children can enjoy learning. They know the routines. A quick signal from me, and all eyes turn toward the teacher. Routines keep everything running smoothly throughout the day.
Having a plan and some friendly tools are helpful. I use several positive rewards such as plastic coins, behavior badges, coupons, and a class store. In an ideal world, I would not need these little tricks up my sleeve. Theoretically, I would like to set high standards and see my students be fair and responsible because it is the right thing to do. There are always children in my classroom that could follow such a plan easily, and then there are always a few who need the extra incentives. Still, I watch for intrinsically good behavior to develop over time, and the need for rewards to slack off some. The rewards and attention to behavior requires continued monitoring and often requires a little revisiting of an earlier routine, or a change in how I reward a behavior.
In summary, every early childhood teacher has a philosophy that is shaped by experience and education. As teachers we are asked to increase the academic loads on young children. We attend workshops that focus on standards and skills and external time tables for children’s learning. It is evident that a teacher must take her own education in hand and stay informed. She must actively resist the pressure to ask children to grow up too soon. She must creatively search out ways to meet standards as far as possible using imaginative, active play. There is abundant research on the internet and in periodicals and books that outline early childhood development, that highlight the need for children to play and be active, for children to be children. In our classroom, we take play seriously.
Ackerman, Diane. (1999). Deep Play. 17.
Almon, Joan. (2013). It’s playtime: the value of play and how to get teachers on board. Principal. Online at http://www.naesp.org/principal-septemberoctober-2013-early- learning/it-s-playtime
Hannaford, Carla. (1995). Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All In Your Head. 78-84.
Reynolds, G. (2014). How exercise can boost young brains. New York Times online athttp://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/how-exercise-can-boost-the-childs-brain/?_r=0
White, Ellen. (1954 ). Child Guidance. 300.