Every day of the pandemic seems to create more questions and fewer answers on how to educate our youngest students. However, in their fear, worry, and caution, educators may be forgetting that there are some excellent models already in existence from which we can pull experiences and resources that will help guide us through this time.
None of our most influential great minds that helped shape our understanding of early childhood development and learning had access to the internet, Google Classrooms, Seesaw, or ABCMouse.com, and they managed just fine. How can we take some of the lessons learned and guidelines created by the greats and apply them to our students in the midst of remote and blended learning?
Maslow and Blooms
In educational psychology circles, you’ll likely remember that Maslow is famous for his hierarchy of needs, which are typically represented in a triangular format with physical health and well-being at the bottom as the base, and safety second to that. As the needs are fulfilled from those levels, one can begin to seek to fulfill love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization or growth of self.
Bloom’s Taxonomy, on the other hand, focuses on the depth of learning acquisition. These levels of learning range from the lowest form - knowledge, or simply remembering the fact exists - to the highest level - depending on the version you are looking at is either evaluating self-understanding and the understanding of others, or creativity, which is producing something with that knowledge.
Maslow’s hierarchy and Bloom’s taxonomy are still vital to our understanding of how students learn. Although it’s not specifically written with early childhood education in mind, but applies to all levels, it’s especially important to remember that our students cannot access “self-improvement”, or learning without physical, emotional, and mental safety, health, and well-being.
Furthermore, social belonging, self-esteem, and being part of a community is a need that often has to occur before or simultaneously with academics.
Some students are safer at home during COVID-19, and we have to find a way to offer them education from their home environment.
Some students are safer at school, and we have to find a way to teach them in that environment and keep them safe.
Some students need both.
Meeting the health and safety needs of our students has become the biggest challenge schools are facing. We have to understand that until we can find a way to meet those base needs, learning will either be slower than usual or in some cases, completely inaccessible.
In Montessori-based education, respect for the student, support for the student’s “sensitive periods” (times when they are particularly drawn to certain aspects of academic and social learning), offering them materials and the environment in which to independently discover information, and encouraging independence as a learning individual are key aspects.
There is much more to Montessori, but these basics can be particularly useful as educators look for ways to reach students in a variety of environments.
Perhaps the most important thing to note and apply to remote or blended learning is that children are curious creatures. They come to school wanting to know about themselves and the world around them.
This is a huge advantage for early childhood teachers as children lose much of that eagerness and wonder by third or fourth grade. For most students, it is completely nonexistent by middle school.
That wonder and eagerness is something we teach littles for - we love that feeling of discovering the world alongside our students over and over again.
It can help to remember those foundations as you prepare lessons for students to work on from home, or create lessons for blended learning where students are going to be doing a lot of self-discovery and learning on their own. We can use Montessori-based ideas to create simple, yet meaningful tasks that are useful for deeper learning.
Other Montessori ideas that lend themselves to this type of learning are that children can and do learn at their own pace, best learn when offered a variety of activities to choose from, can learn well when with children of various ages, can be motivated purely by the joy of learning itself, and views teachers as co-learners or facilitators.
The Reggio Emilia approach is closer to Montessori than what we traditionally see used in the public school setting in many ways, but it regards the learning of children as a more nature-based and scientific approach.
In this type of education, the focus is on using things in nature and the environment to learn everything else. As with Montessori, this is a very brief and incomplete picture, but there are some great reasons for learning outside and at home more.
For example, we know children need to see, physically manipulate, and talk about information they are learning as they are learning. The Reggio Emilia approach encourages them to use sticks, acorns, leaves, flowers, or anything found in nature to form letters of the alphabet, learn to count, and learn about scientific concepts.
This is encouraging for parents who have to keep their children at home and don’t have a lot of access to manipulatives and things for children to use to learn with.
It also encourages the use of the outdoors as much as possible as the learning environment rather than being inside a classroom.
Along the same lines as Regio Emilia, nature-schooling has become increasingly popular in recent years. In nature-schooling, children spend as much of their time as possible outdoors. They do crafts, explore academic subjects, eat their meals and snacks, and socialize while using nature as their classroom.
The obvious applications to be more widely viewed as useful would be that holding as much of class as possible outside lessens the likelihood of spreading contagion. You’d still likely be in the building for bathroom breaks, and you’d need to think about sanitizing stations, bad-weather alternatives (although much of weather we attempt to avoid is for our comfort rather than safety, that’s negotiable as children should feel as comfortable as possible while learning), and other safety issues that could come as a result of being outdoors more.
Overall, this is a far more favorable approach that could help solve many issues of pandemic safety concerns and make the separation of a minimum of six-feet more practical.
Many educators and parents would likely be on board with this option as opposed to more screen time.
Drawing from Our Past to Make Our Future More Accessible
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and constantly worried about what next year will bring for ourselves, our careers, and our students. But we’ve known for a long time that modern public education was moving further and further away from what we KNOW is best practice for our youngest students.
Now, as things shift and upheavals begin, we’ve actually been given an opportunity to show that our founding methods of educating children were right all along. Our youngest children were suffering before, piled on top of each other in classrooms too small for so many little bodies. Play was being given less and less adequate space in our curriculum and daily instruction time.
It’s really time that we take early childhood education back for our young students, return to our roots, and begin doing what is best for them again. We know they will learn more. We know they will do better overall in the long-term. Let’s prove it.