Following the Children's Lead
I keep reading about a play-based curriculum and child-led learning that does not connect with how I have interpreted these concepts at all... In fact I am not keen on the phrase child-led at all... just as I am not keen on the phrase adult-led... but I know that both of these are essential components for learning. I think when it comes down to it I am more of a "community of learners"-based curriculum sort of person... where I am one of the learners with the children... we are co-constructing knowledge as a group, we are collaborating to find the various processes to make sense of the questions we pose; we inspire each other, learn from each other, challenge each other... and the teaching happens the way we as a small community learns. And when it comes to young children that is mostly through play and exploration; but we don't shy away from other learning methods if that is what this learning community requires/desires.
If we are creating a democratic classroom I do not want to follow the child, but I do want to understand them so that I can offer learning that is appropriate. I don't want the child to simply follow or obey me, but I do want to challenge them appropriately so that they are given to chance to discover their potential; to expose them to new things they have never thought of or dreamed of; and to have expectations that they will treat others with respect, and me too. By demanding they treat me with respect (not respect through fear, but respect through trust) and that I treat them with respect... that I value them, they will learn how it feels to receive respect as well as be respectful. I feel it is essential that children are aware of how they want to be treated by others too. A great deal of my "teaching" is scaffolding - enabling the children to decipher body language, teaching them how to anticipate expected responses (if a child does something to another then it is likely they will react by...) giving suggestions on what could be said and done in similar future situations etc... But it there needs to be joy... and I need to be enjoying the process too. I need to be curious, value the small things in life, share moments as if for the first time; to see through the children's eyes without forgetting my own perspective. That together we will learn more than just child led, or adult led. I have worked/visited in places where there is ONLY child-led play with virtually no adult intervention except for being like security guards watching. Yes, play happens, yes learning happens, but not all the children get to explore their full potential as they get locked into a play hierarchy, or a set role, or maybe never dares to play with the materials they really want because louder, stronger children have them all the time. There is no real democracy in this play. Young children, if not given the time and space, will become absorbed by the play and forget how it impacts others... and I feel learning to be generous and aware in play is essential for social relationships... as children and later in life. For me I am that voice to remind them, until it becomes their own inner voice able to be socially aware... to play democratically - with respect, valuing all and that all can participate (if they choose to).