A Pedagogical Journey

 

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Miss Mei ponders on where the ISMILE Family of Schools is headed by reflecting on the journey so far.

Looking Back

What is at the heart of a school? It is its curriculum; and as I reflect on the past decade since ISMILE started, I marvel at the relentless passion of our team to tirelessly seek and learn the best researched practices out there for our children’s learning to go beyond expectations. As a team, we have gone through the toughest challenges in terms of crafting our very own ISMILE curriculum, initially borrowing much from our sister school in Singapore, St James Church Kindergarten. We then further developed an intensive and integrated curriculum across all levels – starting with the infant and toddler program, thus producing high performing graduates across centres year after year. Parents were happy, and we were happy – but there was still the burning question at the back of our minds, “How can we still improve our curriculum so that our children are better equipped with skills relevant for the future?” We must prepare them to be life-long, independent learners, nurture their unique talents and develop positive Godly values in them. We want to see them grow to be confident young learners with character, and knowing that each of them is God’s Masterpiece.

The Challenge

This is a big challenge that goes against “popular education”, which sadly is an outdated system that ends up preparing children for the mass production of the industrial age; an unjustifiable framework that fails to prepare the learners for the rapid growth of the technological age and the future. How important and relevant are memorizing the multiplication tables and writing within the lines to problem-solving skills and collaborating with others?

According to Jack Ma there is no reason to train the kids of today to calculate, because machines will always be more effective at calculation. We have to teach our kids to be very, very innovative, very creative” (futurism.com)

Unlocking the possibilities in all children

It is imperative for Early Childhood Education to lay the very foundation to help each child grow and learn, and not to steal the joy of learning from them, snuff their inquisitiveness, limiting them to express themselves to the 3Rs when they have 100 languages*, and depriving them of discovering for themselves. As the saying goes: to the adults there are 7 wonders, to the children there are 7000.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”~ Ignacio Estrada

Leap of Faith

The Reggio Emilia Inspired Approach (REIA) falls underthe overarching Multiple Intelligences framework in oureclectic curriculum. We have adopted the REIA in our different class projects for the past five years; conducting these projects several months in a year, providing great learning experiences for the children. I remember the reply of one child from Plaza Indonesia, when asked on his graduation day what he would remember with joy about ISMILE – his class’s aeroplane project. Yet another group of Kindergarten students cried because they had to stop their project at the end of the term. This is because the children took ownership of their work and were engaged meaningfully.

These observations made us ponder as educators and, together with continuous supporting research across the world, in 2017 our 10th year, we decided to take bold moves. What if we incorporated more REIA into our school day? It would mean allocating much more resources for professional development, setting up of the environment mindfully to be the third teacher** and documenting reflectively our children’s learning. We know we could face set backs as many of our families are academically-driven and it would be challenging for us to communicate that with our improved program, it will actually enhance the children’s learning, both in breadth and in depth. However, we owe it to our children and families to provide the best research-proven learning practices. And although it was sad to see a few leaving the school because they felt we were focusing less on the 3Rs, we strove on.

Development can only take place when children are actively involved, when they are occupied with a high, non-stop degree of concentration, when they are interested, when they give themselves completely, when they use all their abilities to invent and make new things and when this gives them a high degree of satisfaction and pleasure. ~ Ferre Laevers

It did not take long for us to see the amazing results of our improved program on the children’s learning.Today, some parents complained that our curriculum is too academic and that our children only play inschool. Contradictory?

“Play is the highest form of research.” –Albert Einstein

When we follow the child’s interests and provide appropriate learning provocations, marrying various disciplines including Math, the Sciences and Literacy, we see leaps and bounds in their cognitive, social, emotional and in fact their holistic development. I was quite taken aback to witness even our very youngones such as the two year-olds (in Nursery 1) stringing meaningful sentences, writing because they want towrite, deeply engaged with their environment, and applying what they learned to other real-life situations.The fact that children are achieving beyond our previous years’ benchmarks are very encouraging indeed and confirming that we have made the right decision.

What next?

As ISMILE moves into its second decade, what is our long-term commitment? It is still our children’s highest learning. And to achieve that we must keep abreast with research in early-childhood studies, and invest in the professional development of our staff, while collaborating closely with our families so that together every child will be nurtured to be the best that God has blessed them to be.

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*Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia’s educational philosophy, believes that children discover, learn and express their learning in innumerable ways. It is but right to allow them to express themselves in their own way, for “children are made up of one hundred… a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking…”

**One of the elements of the Reggio Emilia Approach is the strong presence of the environment. This approach sees the parents as the young learners’ first teachers, the class teachers as their second, and the environment as their third.

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