Engaging the Learner in the Early Years of Schooling

Introduction

Kindergartens are a place where children accustom themselves to the lives outside the domain of their homes, their religion, and culture. Kindergartens are the place to not only educate the children to climb on the first ladder of their life but also educate them in the way they can maintain their culture and on the same hand able to adopt and study in their host nation. The following project report is the preparation of education plans for five- year-old Indonesian children who are now growing up in the alien lands of Sydney in Australia.

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Main body

At early stage, children learn from their family and environment in which they are born and brought up. And the way their life is shaped depends on the way they adopt and adjust to their family culture, religions and above all their family background. The following report will be prepared taking into account the cultural and family background and how they can adjust themselves. To make the educational plan fruitful, it is very important to understand their language and culture and develop the same. It is quite true that giving education to children means trying to open the whole chapter of one child and to understand their complete behavior.

Learning is no doubt to build relationships and making connections, and according to Reggio Emilia approach, “children’s participation in communicative processes is the foundation, on which they build their relationship.” (Cadwell 1997, p 62; Daws, 2005, p. 110) To come closer to the children, the first step is the initiation of dialogue. It is a key variable to develop the constructive environment for imparting lessons. Children have a great potential to gain personal and cognitive meaning from their dialogues if they are provided with the secure environment. This is made possible by encouraging them to form groups, form small discussion sessions and tribes, which are supervised by a teacher who would also involve herself in the group and participate in dialogue. But her main process would be to listen to the children. This process is helpful for the children, as they know they have some one to listen to them and gives value to their voice and scaffold through questioning at various stages. This will have many other hidden benefits like increase in their attention span. In this process, both the rhythmic clap and chant methods can be adopted to enable the tiny toddlers to pay attention and attain the capacity to know the directions.

In the rhythmic clap method, assistant teacher could be asked to start rhythmic clap and direct the children to stop whatever they are doing and clap following the teacher’s rhythms. In the chant methods, children will be made to follow the voice and actions of assistant teacher as she makes with her hands and voice and make the children modulate the voice. This process is best in a group as all the children sitting in a circle could together respond to the teacher’s attention. This step could be repeated unless all the children respond together to the teacher’s activities. In the whole process, teacher should look straight into the children’s eyes while chanting.

Hereby it is followed what is known as the “Reggio Emilia approach and its social constructivists origin”. (Daws, 2005, p. 112) Under this approach, the curriculum is set keeping in mind children’s real problem solving process and creating the way and scope to develop their creative thoughts and exploration. Children are made to work on various projects in small groups while rest of the class is made to work on the self-selected activities. In the Reggio Emilia model, documenting each project is very important. Each project is documented using the photographs, drawings, boards, and notes. (Daws, 2005).

In the early years of their lives when children are arriving from their cultural diverse environment, the priority task is their cognitive development. The play has been established as the best way in the curriculum for children’s cognitive development and most important in it is the pretend play. Researchers have found that the attitude of pretension, receptiveness and formation of the expression and the language thereof mental awareness all begin simultaneously at much younger ages. Researchers have found that a strong theoretical relationship can be developed between these various attributes among children and these can be fully developed and came to light through the process of pretend plays. (Bergen 2004).

I have tried and tested the plan by using certain methods of Reggio Emilia model and then by starting in each session this process of pretend plays. This rhythmic and clap method is also one of the part of the pretend play. I began with this process every day before the usual curriculum began. It took 20 minutes time for the whole process and it would fully prepare the children for whole day. They would be enthused and take interest in the class, their attention span increased and it would become much easier for the teacher to control the class in the rest of the session. The main problem in the process is the children’s behavior. It is very difficult to make the children sit at one place and pay attention to what teacher is saying. Many children are always moving here and there and if they are not moving then they will be shaking their legs, moving their arms or just looking here and there. To keep them focused is the biggest challenge for the teacher. Clapping in various rhythmic movements will soon make the children look at the teacher and if two to three children follow the teacher then the rest will automatically accompany in the clapping. Many children prefer remaining silent and it is very difficult for the teacher to make them speak at least with their friends initially and then slowly with their teacher. With them, teacher needs to be very patient and make the child to begin speaking slowly and gradually appreciating his or her each word. Teacher can make the children speak by also making direct eye contact them. This would make children also to have easy grasp and focus on the directions.

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In the plan, it was also decided that children should be given play way materials like blocks, pictures and things of their daily use. But before they started exploring these materials and play with them, I first gave them exposure to these materials by giving them knowledge about these and this whole process took ten minutes. The problems with this method lie in the fact that children want to imitate and want the same materials as the other children have and often end in the fights and breaking of the materials. This situation I dealt with handing them the materials one by one in circulation and make them play with them for five minutes each. Then this process was repeated anti-clock wise the next day.

The rest of the steps also I had followed according to the plan teaching them the manners of the society like the importance of saying Thank you, Sorry and wishes of the day like Good Morning, Good night etc and the manners to take permission, etc.

Language and their culture background came as a barrier teaching them these methods. If I would wish them, they would speak in their own language and or not pay attention. Moreover it also depends on the mood of the children. But these manners are taught to the children by adopting the approach by which they can feel themselves familiar and can associate with themselves and can also enjoy the same. These methods I have tried to use in the language they are comfortable with and by showing them the movies, animation films, pictures and forming short rhymes.

The whole plan prepared was best for the children, as they have just entered into the new world after the tender care of their mother and friendly home environment. In this new world they too expect the same. This whole plan not only gives them the environment of home but also give practical shape to their dreams and aspirations. As the maximum of these children as small as five-years-old are Indonesians by birth but are now coping with the culture of the western world. This plan would make them easy to learn the various skills, help in the cognitive development and prepare them fully for the curriculum that lay ahead of them.

The only disadvantage in this plan is the lot of patience is required. All children have different nature and aptitude. Some children are very naughty while some are of are very shy in nature. It is the biggest challenge in the front of the teacher to make very naughty children to behave in a proper manner in the class and very shy children to open up. This plan was helpful for all the children especially the methods like demonstrations, choral drill, look and say and the use of tape recorders.

Certain studies and researchers have come up with the suggestion of socio cultural theories to incorporate in the curriculum but somewhere in the line western culture in the life of the children of Indonesia can create hurdle in imparting of the socio cultural theories. Lofland and Lofland in 1995 maintained that people belonging to different societies are involved in incorporating their own ideas, which fulfill their own requirements and within this how the children can adopt to the social changes. (Lofland & Lofland, 1995).

The play-way for five-year-old kids is the best way with which they can easily interact with each other and can learn many things. Play method has several advantages as it instills in the children the motivation to be creative, helps them in understanding the relationships, and helps in the overall physical and mental development of the child. They are able to grasp the world around them and people they meet. It also develops in them the spirit of competition and the way to master it. (Bruce & Meggitt, 1999) Post Report 140 to the House of Commons Education and Employment Select Committee Early Years Education enquiry came up with the notable facts that the schools which lay emphasis and educate the children by developing in them emotional, cognitive, social skills give the children especially from deprived backgrounds social and educational benefits. (QCA/DfEs, 2000) Bruce & Meggitt suggest that play could be adopted in several ways such as “intensive interaction, symbolic play, pretend play, lucid play, role play, socio dramatic play, imaginative play, creative play, fantasy play, manipulative play, play using props, rough and tumble play and therapeutic play”. (Bruce & Meggitt 1999, 246-47) These methods can be incorporated with the modeling method-a game for young ones to make them aware of the way, I am speaking, my tone, pronunciation and my eye contact. To maintain an eye contact with children is very difficult job as the children are often in their own thoughts, and looking here and there and moving around. I will follow each child and demonstrate the way children can keep an eye contact. All these methods are what the researchers say intense interactive method, where the Hedges (2000) stresses the focus on the development of the techniques involved while acknowledging the value of orientations towards learning through play. Hedges developed this involvement of techniques in the interactive learning methods involving the theory of Vygotsky (1978) known as the theory of the zone of proximal development. This theory suggests the difference between the way learners can do all his or her activities without any help or what are the things he or she can do with help. Lev Vygotsky was the Russian psychologist and social constructivists. He asserted the view that child pursues the example of an adult and gradually learns the methods to do the tasks without any help. His definition of the theory is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).

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In the method of interactive learning, the biggest challenge in front of the practitioners is to make the judgment at what stage children should be left along to play in groups. Then to make critical analysis at what stage there is a need for the adult partner to intervene in the play of the children. There is a need to judge the appropriate time in which assistance can be provided to the children.

Jordan too suggests that the play-way method in the early years of their roles in the society plays the most important role in preparing children to adjust themselves in the society. She suggests that as children in the child care has to spend the large part of their time in school separated from their own culture and from their home, yet teachers expect that the children should learn to use the tools that belong to their own culture. Jordan suggests that there is a responsibility of teachers to behave as mediators for children and develop the need to understand their culture on the basis that they are the senior semioticians in this cultural arrangement.

In short we focus on the point that elaborates, “Socio cultural theories hold that psychological phenomena are formed as people engage in collective, socially organized activity. This implies that serious attention must be paid to the concrete social structures in which people (both children and adults) develop” (Brennan, 2007, p. 3) Sommer says that we are in a situation where there are always chances of new possibilities to develop the variegated practices of socializing but at the very same time there are also the chances where the different cultures diffuse and create conflicting ideas on the ways to incorporate the young minds. (Brennan, 2007) Leont’ev also makes the argument that in what ever situations and conditions human activity takes the shape and form and in what ever way structure is formed, it cannot be cut off from the social life and from the lives we are living with. He further suggests that outside this relationship and bond, there is no life of human beings. (Brennan, 2007).

Though it has come to light that several researches have focused on the play methods to make the children adapt to the cognitive development relationships, it has also been found that it had very little influence on the kindergarten and the practices being adopted in the primary schools. On owing to the state’s preferences for the theoretical tests, schools are giving very less tome to the playtime activities. The emphasis is being laid more on the academic readiness, the teaching of alphabets, numbers, colours, and other skills theoretically. Therefore the biggest challenge on the part of the proponents of the play-way method is to make the policy makers understand the advantages of the play- way methods and make them feel its importance in development of the competency level in children rather than just making children memorize the alphabets and numbers.

Even if we see that play way method has not become a part of many of the school curriculum and has not attained that success in the long run in the process of the school but it is also the fact that it is a basic component and contributes a lot in the development and progress of the child. The system has also helped in the making the children develop the analytical skills and problem-solving and social-linguistic sophistication.

There is also a need for the researchers to develop more in-depth and practice-oriented studies to make the policy makers feel the strong relationship between the play method and in the cognitive development of the child. (Bergen, 2004) Statham and Brophy too made cohesive attempts to measure the quality and standards that are maintained in the learning environment process. They suggested “the provision of an objective rating scale for measuring quality has to assume that there is an explicit model of what constitutes good provision.” (Wash & Garden, 2007) They said that any procedure and plan, which adopts a simple tick-box approach, will ought to suffer as Athey said, “measurement without description and conceptual understanding [which] can capture only the organizational surface of trivial features of situations.” (Wash & Garden, 2007).

Conclusion

Number of approaches is being adopted to make the evaluation of the quality and standard of the learning method. This may involve the methods of testing and judging the IQ scores of the children and secondly also involved in the process what Katz suggests is the “top-down perspective of quality” (Wash & Garden, 2007). He explained that this process involves “selected characteristics of the program, the setting, the equipment, and other features.” (Wash & Garden, 2007) By this method the quality of the learning program is established based on many early childhood practices and modifications and other steps and procedures can be adopted to make the learning experience for the children more pleasurable moment of their lives.

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Reference

Bergen, D. (2004). The role of pretend play in children’s cognitive development. Early childhood research & practice, 4(1).

Bruce, T & Meggitt, C. (1999) Child care & education. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Brennan, M. (2007). Beyond child care—how else could we do this? Sociocultural reflections on the structural and cultural arrangements of contemporary Western child care. 2008. Web.

Cadwell LB (1997) Bringing Reggio Emilia home. An innovative approach to early childhood education. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia U.

Daws, J. (2005). Teachers and students as co-learners: possibilities and problems. Journal of Educational Enquiry, 6(1): 110-125.

Hedges (H.) (2000). Teaching in early childhood: Time to merge constructivist views so learning through play equals teaching through play. Australian Journal of Early childhood, 25(4): 11-16.

Lofland, J., & Lofland, L. H. (1995). Analyzing social settings: A qualitative guide to observation and analysis. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth QCA/DfEs (2000) Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage. London: DfEs.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Walsh, G. & Gardner, J. (2005). Assessing the quality of early years learning environment. Early childhood research and practice. (7)1.

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