Published on 03/07/15
Can a six year old boy know how he learns? Which skills does a five years old need to use in order to become a better learner? Can a seven years old girl think of which learning character she needs to have to be a good learner? Does she need more than one?
These were a few of the questions that popped in and out of my mind for a while. I have recently joined the Stephen Perse Pre-Prep School. I started working being aware that the school had developed its own innovative curriculum based on its own purpose of education. I was aware of how the disciplines and skills embedded in learning characteristics was needed and required in a 21st century society. I was curious to know how this curriculum was developed for the little ones but also to see how the Pre-Prep children perceive it.
The Stephen Perse curriculum wheel has been simplified by using friendly wording to make it accessible to the youngest children. Pre-Prep's academic skills based curriculum is centralised around two touchstones, Thinking Skills and Learning Characteristics.
Children are taught how to be creative, how to develop critical thinking, how to improve memory and why this is important, how to be a good researcher, but also the remarkable skill of asking questions and challenging the commonplaces and the most vital one: taking time to think how to learn and reflect on learning.
Each of these thinking skills is linked to a picture that represents an object or animal, and this helps the younger children to understand which skills they are using while they learn. A lightbulb for creativity, a magnifying glass for critical thinking, an elephant for memory, binoculars for researching, a microphone for asking questions and a timer for thinking about thinking.
So you may hear children in the classroom saying:
"I am using the magnifying glass to find more information about minibeasts".
"I will use the microphone to ask more questions".
"I need a bulb light for Plan-Do-Review, I want my next project to be more creative".
These are some examples that reflect the way that children understand the tools they need in order to learn. Pupils also know that there are certain personality traits that will help them continue learning throughout life; to love and enjoy their learning journeys, they require different learning characteristics which are often discussed and explored. Being cooperative, building resilience and encouraging independence are not characteristics that appear sporadically or which a child can incorporate to their everyday life by the sake of mere repetition.
Learning characters require practise to embed them in order to master them. In the Pre-Prep, teachers create endless opportunities for pupils to develop and practice these learning characteristics. They are also associated with `'cartoon' characters to make it easy for the younger ages to remember and relate to. Nemo, the fish from the movie, reminds us how to be Resilient, Alice in Wonderland is Curious and Enthusiastic, Shrek evokes Independence, Humor is represented through Tigger and Collaboration with Scooby Doo and his team. Children's use their own experiences to highlight these characteristics in order to develop the their understanding.
At Stephen Perse, the curriculum has not has only been designed and developed for 3-7 year olds, but it has also been shared with pupils. Children learn in a particular way that makes them unique because a six year old knows that they need a thinking tool kit to learn, a five year old knows that asking questions, researching and exercising their memory will help them learn more and a seven year old understands that acting like Nemo means not giving up, but also needs to be like Alice in Wonderland, who is curious and enthusiastic about the new world.