The Early Childhood Program: Teaching Lifelong Learning Skills
The SJA Jeju Early Childhood Program is inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education that originated in Northern Italy. SJA Jeju does not actually duplicate this philosophy because the children, families and teachers of Korea offer a different culture, location and perspective. Rather, the Reggio Emilia philosophy is an approach to teaching, learning and advocacy for children. In its most basic form, it is a way of observing what children know, are curious about and what challenges them. Teachers record these observations to reflect on developmentally appropriate ways to help children expand their academic and social potentials. Long-term projects connect core academic areas in and out of the classroom.
Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Education
The following principles will guide the practice and decisions made in the SJA Jeju Early Childhood Program and are borrowed from Foundations of the Reggio Emilia Approach.
Image of the Child
Children are viewed as competent, curious, full of potential, and interested in connecting to the world around them. Teachers are deeply aware of children’s viewpoints and abilities. All children have interest in engaging in social interactions, establishing relationships and constructing their learning in their surrounding environments. The children also make and correct their own mistakes, allowing for them to practice creative problem solving skills.
Collaboration and Interaction
Collaboration and cooperation are intentional in a school inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education. The child-centered curriculum is emergent in nature and is based on the interest of the children. Children construct their own knowledge through a carefully planned curriculum that engages and builds upon their current understandings. Student work collaboratively and cooperatively in small groups in hands-on activities and the teacher plays the role of the facilitator to intentionally engage the children in meaningful work and conversations. Most importantly, teaching becomes a two-way relationship in which teacher’s understanding of the child is just as important as the Child’s understanding of the teacher.
The indoor and outdoor environments are purposefully designed to be the “third teacher” to encourage intrigue and curiosity from careful placement of materials and supplies. Teachers intentionally organize, support and plan for various spaces for children and the environment serves as an invitation to explore and investigate. The most visible aspect of the classroom walls are displaying the documentation panels, children's work and investigations, and natural artifacts. The layout of the Early Childhood area is meant to be welcoming to all that enter, foster encounters between all member of the community and promote communication and relationship building.
The Power of Documentation
The teacher’s role is to be an observer, documenter, facilitator and co-learner. Teacher document interactions, thinking and learning using many medias including notes, videos, photographs, reflections and much more. Documentation is carefully arranged by the teacher for parents to become aware of their child’s experiences at school. Documentation is also used to reflect on activities and the depth of knowledge gained, make children aware that their efforts are values, and provides information about the children’s learning and progress that cannot be demonstrated by tests and checklists.
Emergent curriculum is a way of teaching and learning that requires teachers to observe and listen to the children. Teachers ask questions and listen for the children’s ideas, hypotheses and theories. After observing children in action, the teachers compare, discuss, and interpret their observations. Teachers plan activities, studies and long term projects in the classroom based on their observations. Teachers partner with children and the exchange of theories are referred to as the “Cycle of Inquiry”. Teachers use their interpretations, intentions and goals (social, emotional and academic) to set up learning areas and investigations in the classroom. Learning is seen not as a linear process but as a circular progression.
The Hundred Languages of Children
Children have the capacity for representing ideas in a wide variety of symbolic and graphic modes. Children need to develop the tools to investigate and make sense of an object about which they are curious. The approach emphasizes the importance of children’s symbolic language. The hundred “languages” are the many modes of expression, such as speech, writing, movement, drawing, painting, sculpture, collage and music, through which children communicate and learn about their world. Teachers learn to listen to the “100 Languages” that children use to express themselves as individual learners.
The Role of the Teacher
The image of the child shapes the role of the teacher and involves four major components. Teachers are:
• Co-constructors: partners, facilitates, guides, nurtures, problem solves, learns, hypothesizes
• Researchers: learns, connects, observes, revisits, reflects, plans, preps
• Documenters: listens, observes, records, displays, revisits
• Advocates for children: supports, values, protects, questions, collaborates, presents, nurtures