Over the past few months I've been doing quite a bit of interviewing potential teachers and touring new parents. I try to share as much information about the program as possible so that potential new families or teachers get a good overview and picture of what we do here at UCDC. Everyone that I talk to typically has questions and at least a few things that are very important to them in terms of the center, the programming, the staff, etc. Depending on your own individual needs, the priorities or "important" things can vary greatly.
Lately I've found myself talking a lot about our curriculum and how and what we teach the children that spend their days with us.
Two points that I typically make are; we are a play based program and use an emergent curriculum framework to guide the activities and educational resources that we provide for the children.
The second is that most of what we do is child-directed, as opposed to teacher-directed.
Sometimes I think that this gets misinterpreted and that people think that means that children can do whatever they want, whenever they want.
In a child-directed program, children select and initiate their own activities from a variety of learning areas prepared by the teacher. The teacher allows each child to choose which activity he or she wants to participate in and when. Children are involved in concrete, meaningful activities. Learning materials closely relate to children's daily life experiences and reflect things that they are interested in or curious about. Teachers ask questions that encourage children to give more than one correct answer. The sound of the environment is marked by pleasant conversation, spontaneous laughter, and exclamations of excitement. Teachers use redirection, positive reinforcement, and encouragement as guidance and discipline techniques.
In a teacher-directed program, large-group, teacher-directed instruction is the primary form of instruction. Separate times are set aside to learn material in specific content areas. The teacher tells the children what they will do and when. Children use workbooks, ditto sheets, flashcards or other two-dimensional learning materials. Memorization and drill are emphasized. Teachers follow a strict schedule and use very detailed and specific lesson plans. The sound of the environment is characterized by alternating excitement and noise or enforced quiet.
Teacher directed and child directed advocates agree on many educational goals such as promoting self-esteem, encouraging emerging literacy, using materials and activities which are of interest to children, and encouraging parent involvement. They differ however on practices such as the use of highly structured and teacher directed lessons, the demand for children to sit down, attend, listen and participate during lesson time. All children are typically all making the same thing, with very specific instructions from the teacher, and the products that are produced are often all the same.
Balancing the two methods to some degree can create an ideal environment. Children can enjoy experiences that they are interested in and identify with, and teachers use the teachable moment to enhance the experience. There does not need to be chaos, children function within a set of limits and a schedule, but teachers are flexible enough to know that not all children will want to do the same thing, in the same moment and for the same amount of time. Allowing children to have some control over certain parts of the day, gives them the tools to be able to make good decisions at other times of the day. It also allows to be spontaneous and social, learn communication skills and how to be a part of a group. All of these skills will be necessary when children move on.
Concepts and skills are important, learning about letters, and reading and math are important, but if presented in a very child-directed, open ended way, children can benefit from more than just academics.