The Preschool Child as an Active Learner
By Sinead Hamill
I don’t know how well you remember your primary education, but for me, memories of school are hours upon hours of sitting, gazing out of the window and daydreaming, whilst the teachers droned on about something or other, of which I had absolutely no interest in. I had no idea of the purpose of these lessons, other than to frustrate and bore the life out of me. On the positive side, my imagination got a full work-out every day!
Thankfully, Early Years Education has drastically developed and improved since I was in school, taking into account the needs, interests and talents of the individual child. One may ask how it is possible to cater for the needs of twenty plus children in a class. Well, the answer is surprisingly simple. Learning and developing skills are natural processes for human development, which begin at birth. People are intrinsically motivated to explore and manipulate materials and situations that interest and stimulate them.
Knowing this, Early Years Educators now recognise the importance of preparing the child’s environment with age-appropriate materials and experiences, and providing them with time and freedom to explore, discover, create and engage in activities at will. The role of the adult is to facilitate and build upon the child’s learning, which can be achieved through keen observation.
An environment which supports children’s active learning should contain the following elements:
Materials – A variety of age appropriate toys, tools, equipment and experiences, which children can
manipulate and engage in using all their senses. They should offer manageable challenges and allow for
repetition, so skills can be practiced and perfected.
Freedom– Children need time and space in order to fully engage in an activity and create meaningful learning experiences. Allowing time to work with and experience activities before offering your input, will encourage children to self-discover, build an interest in the subject and develop their curiosities, so they are eager to learn more.
Respect– Every child has their own preferred way of learning. Educators should respect the child’s right to explore and express in their preferred manners.
Support– It is the adults’ role to cater for the needs of the child. The best way to achieve this is through regular observations, documenting findings, planning for future learning based on findings, and preparing a stimulating, meaningful environment. After that, we are there to support the children in ways such as answering their questions, guiding them towards self-discoveries, responding to their needs and positively encouraging and praising their efforts.
Scaffolding– Lessons should be real and meaningful to the child. A good lesson is based on a child’s current understanding of a subject and built upon from this point, offering new information at a rate the child can process it and further explore.
So isn’t it great to know that the future of today is not solely dependent on what we have to offer children? They are their own teachers and the world is their classroom. With or without us, these little active learners will grow and develop, but we are privileged with the opportunity to be able to guide and support them in this process and, in turn, continue growing ourselves.