Defining excellence in early years settings
A 2001 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) analyzed 12 industrialized countries’ Early Years’ policies and service provisions and concluded: “Quality early experiences promote children’s short-term cognitive, social and emotional development along with their long-term success in school and later life.”
Striving to do things right from the beginnings of a child’s education is an investment in excellence and can safeguard against social and financial consequences resultant of poor education later on. At schools, “child centeredness” can be a misleading term describing ‘good practice.’ Adult direction and didactic teaching is common due to play and activity schemas being developed by teachers with children having little control over regulating learning opportunities authentically. Children may be given some freedom by being ‘allowed’ to explore and make minor choices within suggested and constructed learning opportunities, but they are not truly able to explore the potential of what it means to be a genuine decision maker, collaborator, mentor, teacher, advisor and representative of their own critical thinking.
Children should be respected as young citizens having rights and needs and the capability of making democratic decisions about things which affect them personally, such as friendships, meals, social seating arrangements, the physical environment and their own curriculum content.
Evidence of excellence in a school:
• Teachers and children engaging in learning processes together through collective investigations of ideas and concept development.
• Children involved in short or longer term project work in which children themselves take a lead role in the focus for learning, with their teachers adopting a more facilitative role.
• Children, whose ideas, skills and interests are shared openly, explored and utilized as personal motivators for learning and teacher input.
• Children and teachers working Crucial Beginnings Defining excellence in Early Years Settings Text by Kerry Perandis-Cole together to respond to, challenge and extend ideas and knowledge.
• An environment enabling children to be leaders. Practices which cultivate personal self-assuredness and competencies. Evidence of children developing and leading their own learning activities.
• Children as authentic decision makers – through consultations, meetings and opportunities to review learning and inclass practice.
• Children exposed to multi-modal ways of communicating and expressing ideas (beyond writing, drawing, role play and constructing).
• An environment where children’s efforts, ideas and creativity are invigorated.
• Timetables allowing for uninterrupted blocks of time so that ideas, learning and possibilities are not hindered by constraints and can evolve.
• Learning environments that demonstrate a respect for the learners and the learning occurring.
• Well-appointed orderly, aesthetic, logically arranged physical spaces with evidence that children are able to access materials and resources as needed and where maintenance and routine tasks are a shared responsibility.
• Class displays describing pedagogical values and rich records of learning methods which children and teachers review, revisit, reflect upon, add to and recognise as a process.
• Teachers who ask: What do you think? How do you know? What made you decide? How can you do this differently? What problems did you encounter? And many other open-ended questions which incite thinking and teach children to become deeper theorists for framing their own questions.
Kerry Perandis-Cole is the Key Stage Leader for Early Years and KS1 at Renaissance International School Saigon (www.renaissance.edu.vn).