A Little Patch of Earth is a collection of multiple practices and theories of early childhood education. The genre of education associated with ALPoE developed from profound ideas of what makes a child healthy, whole, resilient and competent. These ideas, along with the many experiences I have shared with children as a student, mother and teacher, have shaped a very distinct image of what I think it means to be a child.
As a parent, you are exposed to countless research, studies, anecdotes, and promises from hundreds of people who claim to know the best practice for your child. However, a parent is a child’s first and most valued teacher! You possess important observations, ideas and cultural perspectives which shape your own image of a child. That image is what will influence all that you value in parenting, education and the relationship you will share with your child.
As you begin to choose the best practice of education, trust yourself to know what’s best, and trust your child, as well. Be an informed parent; ask questions, observe, measure happiness, be involved. But most of all, follow your heart and enjoy the journey.
Emergent: We are all emergent learners, regardless of age! However, preschoolers work very hard at making sense of new experiences. According to Dr. Hilary Jo Seitz, PhD, “Emergent Curriculum is a process of learning about what a child or a class is interested in and then planning a positive authentic learning experience around and beyond that interest. Emergent Curriculum means that subjects for studying emerge from children’s interests.”
Anti-biased: Anti-bias curriculum empowers children to comfortably and respectfully acknowledge that all people are different and that everyone, regardless of identity (race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexuality, age, weight, class, etc), share a common humanity through our differences. It also requires that the classroom curriculum and environment accurately reflect our broad culture.
“Anti-bias programing helps children identify stereotypes that may be unfair and to recognize that teasing and other biased behaviors can be hurtful.” The goal of anti-bias curriculum is, according to author, Louise Derman-Sparks, “to help children learn and practice ways to speak up for themselves when a) another child acts in a biased manner towards him/her, b) when a child acts in a biased manner towards another child, and c) when an adult acts in a biased manner.” This form of “activism” will help equip children with ways to ward off the dangerous and damaging effects of bullying, which is so pervasive in our society.
Nature-based: It is a well documented fact that fewer children today are exposed to natural-living environments than ever before. From this staggering research has come a movement to prioritize children’s connection and relationship with nature. This practice extends far beyond exposing children to simulated media on nature and related subjects. It requires:
Extended play in the out of doors.
Exposure to the elements of rain, wind, dirt, and water, etc.
That we analyze seasons of growing through composting, planting and harvesting.
That we care for other living things
That we begin to see ourselves as catalysts to environmental change.
Nature-based education incorporates natural themes and materials in both indoor and outdoor play. It prioritizes the celebration of seasons over the celebration of holidays and it extends children’s learning by supporting a child’s innate desire for knowledge through curiosity! Please read more about how A Little Patch of Earth, Inc. supports nature-based learning through the principles of the Outdoor Classroom.
Outdoor Classroom: The outdoor classroom is a practice that supports the “no child left indoors” initiative. Although study upon study clearly demonstrate the benefit of play in the outdoors, fewer and fewer children are actually spending time outdoors. According to a study by the National Wildlife Federation, “The average American child spends just four to seven minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.”
Richard Louv, author of, Last Child in the Woods, describes this phenomenon as “Nature Deficit Disorder.” He documents the profound impact this shift has had on overall childhood wellness, including the impact on children’s cognitive, physical and emotional development. This research has inspired a wide spread movement to get children outdoors. The initiative ALPoE is most affiliated with is the celebrated Outdoor Classroom Project through the Child Education Center in La Canada, CA. Its function is to educate child advocates to create an outdoor learning environment that is equally stimulating as the indoor learning environment and to spread the benefit of outdoor play through community awareness. ALPoE’s goal is to become a demonstration site for the City of Santa Clarita and to inspire higher community standards in how we value and educate children.
Child-centered: Child centered programming typically means that children lead their own learning experiences. Traditional early childhood programming often requires children to follow a curriculum which is scripted in advance for the entire year through various themes and lesson plans. These programs sometimes call themselves child-centered simply because a child may choose what learning center they may visit in the classroom. However, if a teacher is planning the entire year of activities based on holidays, letters, colors and shapes, for example, the program is probably more teacher directed than child directed.
Child-centered programming is fluid. It requires that teachers create learning objectives as a learning community and that those objectives reflect the child’s interests. Classroom plans may change week to week or month to month, based on the expressed interests of the class. This best occurs through the thoughtful process of observation, dialogue and documentation.
Reggio Emilia is a town in Northern Italy which is home to approximately 33 learning centers for children from birth to six years of age. These centers have inspired a movement which has become popular in North America because it challenges the common belief that all learning in early childhood must have a definitive outcome.
The Reggio Emilia approach to learning is a collective one, where children and teachers become co-constructors of knowledge. Through observation, teachers question the desirability of predetermined goals and allows children to express the many ways they make meaning of their world. This is known as, “The Hundred Languages of Children” which reminds us that the process of learning is far from linear, but rather a collection of theories and hypotheses which are typically explored as a group and expressed using “a hundred languages.”
Social constructivism: Social constructivist thinking supports the notion that knowledge is socially and culturally constructed through human activity and that learning is an active process which engages children through social experiences. Teachers for example, provide students with a temporary framework for learning. The students are then encouraged through their own initiative and motivation to build knowledge and develop skills which is translated into theories and hypothesis. It is a very creative process which teaches children how to think as opposed to what to think.
Play based: Play based education is learning which is created and reproduced in children’s play. When children play, they draw upon their past experiences-things they have done, seen others do, read about, etc.-and they use these experiences to build games, play scenarios, and engage in activities. Play is closely tied to the cognitive, socio-emotional, and motor development of young children. However, too many early childhood programs tout the function of high academic standards to support kindergarten readiness. According to David Elkind, renown author and professor of child development at Tufts University, “It’s absolutely the wrong move.” He notes that while a few children might be extraordinary, the vast majority of human brains aren’t developed enough to truly learn reading or math concepts until they’ve reached the age of reason (typically at age 5 or 6), when they can understand “interval units,” a series of relationships in numbers and letters. “When we try to teach children skills that require interval units before this age of reason, we run the risk of killing the child’s motivation for learning, for schooling and for respecting teachers.”
Rebecca Marcon, a developmental psychologist and education researcher at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, published a study in the journal Developmental Psychology in 2001, that looked at 721 4-year-olds selected from three different preschool models: play based, academic (adult directed) and middle of the road (programs that did not follow either philosophy). Marcon followed the children’s language, self-help, social, motor and adaptive development along with basic skills. “What we found in our research then and in ongoing studies is that children who were in a play-based preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs”.
ALPoE creates learning activities which are intentional and planned with multiple opportunities which support competency in all of the developmental domains, however, it is playful and fun and respectful of the child’s interests, time, and needs.