After ten years of National Standards, the number of students achieving at expectation has not improved significantly, and the number of highly stressed young people (who were the guinea pigs for the National Standards system) has increased to disturbing levels.
At Horizon School we are working to provide an environment that will improve both academic and wellbeing outcomes for our learners.
There are some vital factors for parents and teachers for developing successful learners.
1. Acknowledge and celebrate that all children are different and develop at different rates, especially in their early years.
Children’s brains (just like teeth) develop at different rates. No one measures teeth or the rate of tooth growth with anxiety. No one seeks remediation for a child whose teeth haven’t grown yet! No one puts a plan for more chewing in place to grow the teeth faster. We just know that all kids are different. Stressing about the measurements of academic progress is just as crazy in the first 6-7 years of life.
2. Acknowledge that all of life is learning, and that the best building blocks for learning happen in non-structured ways with caring adults who are significant to the child around.
Of significant concern to schools throughout NZ is the frequently found lack of ‘learning building blocks’ in children coming to school these days.
What are those learning building blocks?
- Strong attachments/relationships with parents/caregivers and teachrs. The ability of children to self regulate emotions and actions, and to learn, is signficantly impacted if they have inconsistent relationships with significant adults (who may be overly engaged with work or iPhones or alcohol or computer games).
Let me elaborate on these building blocks:
- Lots of talking with caring adults. Children who are spoken to often by adults have significantly better vocabulary, and are used to articulating their ideas verbally. Telling stories to adults is the foundation of storywriting. Often parents, caregivers and teachers are too busy to actually engage with the content of a child’s important chatter. A cursory ‘mmm’ does not give the children confidence that their ideas and stories matter. Talking and story telling is the foundation for English, for Writing and for Reading. If children’s conversation with adults is limited to instructions (like ‘get ready for school’ or ‘go to bed’ or ‘sit up straight’ or ‘do your printing like this’), their capacity for learning is limited.
- A wide variety of experiences. Closely linked to the above is the importance of experience. During the first few years of life, the brain is being wired to prepare a child to survive in, and to learn more about, their world. When experiences and conversations with parents and teachers at home and school are rich, the child has many hooks on which to hang science, music, art, maths or our place in the world. Having experiences outside splashing in puddles, looking for acorns, noticing different types of clouds, playing make-believe games, talking and playing with people from different family or cultural backgrounds are the only ways that learning science and social studies will make sense. The more experiences a child has, the more neuro-connections are made.
- Lots of listening to stories. Again linked to the talking, is the importance of listening to stories. Again, busy parents, caregivers and teachers avoid reading stories and rhymes, or telling stories, to children. When children listen to stories, their imagination is stretched, their knowledge of the world is developed, their understanding of, and empathy for, others in different circumstances from their own is sparked. Listening to stories is vital for our children.
Play. Play brings all the above together.
Well known NZ psychologist, Nathan Wallis, (2017) states that "the more play you have under the age of 7, the more intelligent you will be." If you haven’t heard of Nathan’s work before listen to this https://bit.ly/32B2xVN
Because National Standards has been recognised as failing our children, educators throughout NZ are now able to focus on providing environments for young children that are the foundation blocks for later learning.
At Horizon, we are doing more learning through play. This is based on
-learning that Mary Allen did in her PostGraduate Diploma of Education
-the research of all junior teaching staff
-the lifetime of research and learning by Tilda Rabey and me who both homeschooled our children (who turned out well :)) for these reasons.
I look forward to explaining further about what this looks like in another post. Feel free to ask me questions if there is more you want to know!