Early childhood development (ECD) is a specialised area of teaching and learning that requires an in-depth understanding of child development.
There is growing recognition that ECD teaching and learning needs to be experiential, flexible and based on constructivist principles. These principles state that learning is achieved by the active construction of knowledge within meaningful contexts. In 1978, Vygotsky proposed that social interactions are seen to play a critical role in the processes of learning and cognition.
The educators at Herzlia preschool campuses focus on each individual preschooler within a holistic educational framework. In the teaching and learning process, the teachers’ most powerful contribution is their understanding of the developmental stages of each preschooler. Accordingly, the Herzlia teachers facilitate open-ended learning settings where each individual child is present in the process.
Prepping pre-schoolers for a globalised future
We value the opinions of our learners and advocate the engagement of our pre-schoolers in their own learning. This is not merely to acquire facts and knowledge but also so that children make meaning from the learning experience. In our classrooms we apply a child-centred learning approach in the areas of literacy, numeracy and life skills. We prepare pre-schoolers to be citizens in an increasingly globalised world by helping them to trust, relate and connect to other people.
At Herzlia we plan, prepare and present play experiences, which are scaffolded by educators, and form the foundation for our pupils’ future, successful formal learning. Planning and preparation for learning has to focus on stimulating the senses and integrating the learning through concrete manipulation of materials. We therefore introduce concrete materials and audio-visual images to alert the young students to the excitement of the topic and encourage their curiosity and interest.
Once the material has been introduced, the children work in groups, collaborating, thinking and reflecting on the learning process. The more the learning is explored through a variety of mediums, the more it becomes internalised so the key to ensuring that learning is maximised is to include music, art and creative expression. Throughout the process the children receive feedback in an authentic, engaged manner.
A teachable moment: the Cape Town fires
To illustrate the powerful learning process, I will share a teaching and learning experience in a Grade R classroom that maximised thinking skills, encouraged problem solving and sought solutions to address authentic life challenges.
Exploring the theme of the recent Cape Town fires was an opportunity to maximise learning through the approaches described above. The flames from the fires were seen from far afield and smoke filled the entire city so the fires affected all pre-schoolers living in and around Cape Town.
The children are fascinated with the role that fire-fighters play in our society and many have voiced the desire to become firefighters when they grow up. The use of fantasy play to enact real life settings, and the use of firefighter gear, such as hoses and boots, to enact the rescue operations, helped children to internalise this learning.
We used project based learning, whereby children were guided to work in teams when planning the materials they needed to construct a fire engine of their own design. The teacher used guiding questions to stimulate thinking and included the learners in the problem-solving approach.
Applying every angle
Teachers used smartboards to show the students real-time videos and photos of the fires. The children were invited to share what they had heard at home and what they had seen around them in their immediate environment. Discussions were facilitated through exploring how we can repair the environment and support the firefighters.
The children chose to butter bread for the firefighters. Our young students were also encouraged to create drawings of the mountain on fire, including the helicopters they saw and heard. Books were made of the drawings to give to the firefighters in appreciation for the work they did to save the city. We then organised an educational outing to the local fire station, where the children handed out the books and sandwiches to firefighters. The learners spontaneously clapped when the firefighters stepped down from the fire engine.
Through their actions, the children felt agency to fix the situation and contribute valuably. It is powerful to build feelings of being a valued member of a community at an early age.
The fire theme was extended to include discussions and actions around care for animals that were injured in the fires, as well as the danger of fire and the rules of fire safety.
We believe that the Herzlia early childhood development phase of teaching and learning is relevant and powerful in every way.
We ensure that our teaching and learning is value-based and focused on the pre-schoolers’ ability to begin to make sense of their emotions and to name them. We explore feelings and how to gain control over our emotions. As a result, they begin to have agency over their actions and channel them constructively.
Our approach to maximising teaching and learning takes into consideration that pre-schoolers have the power to think and to participate in their own learning, and make choices. The quality of teaching is determined by the questions and the discussions engaged in and not by rote teaching or recitation.
We measure powerful teaching and learning by our pre-schoolers’ responses, the inventions they create, and the questions they pose. Our Herzlia pre-schoolers are being equipped and prepared for a changing world ahead.