Being Together, Learning Together

Joanna Cull

Our Primary School Principal, Dr Michelle Hill, considers the importance for play for Early Years development at ISZL

Dr Michelle Hill, Primary Principal, Early Years - Grade 2

ISZL Early Years playground

This year’s events have prompted much reflection on the relationship between ‘school’ and ‘learning’. George Couros (2014) argues that sometimes ‘school’ and ‘learning’ can diverge and the events of 2020 have certainly brought this to our attention.  So what is it about ‘school’ that makes it so important for our youngest children’s learning? How do we ensure our school fits with what we know about the ways young children learn (rather than the other way around)?

At ISZL we believe learning is an active process in which "children construct knowledge and make meaning of the world, together with adults and equally important, other children." (Dahlberg, Moss and Pence, 2007). In this model of learning, school plays a fundamental role in bringing together communities of learners to play, create and think together.  Learning becomes a social process rather than an isolated incident.

We know that children come to school with funds of knowledge they have already gathered from home and family, from peers, from popular culture and from their experience of the world. This valuable and personal learning that happens in many spaces in childrens’ lives is acknowledged and recognised by teachers and they draw on it in their work with the children. Learning can be personalised.

Observations play a crucial role in the teachers’ work with young children. Observations not only inform and widen the teachers’ perspective of individual children but they provide them with valuable insights into the childrens’ interests, their motivations and their questions. Goals for learning can develop around these questions, as knowledge and understanding are co-constructed between the children and the teacher. Learning begins with questions, rather than answers.

At ISZL, we see children as active participants in their own learning. We recognise and respect their agency. They are seen as competent, creative and rich in their potential to solve problems and develop their own theories and ideas. Our school provides a space for young learners to generate and test their ideas, and to express their understanding in many different ways as they talk, write, draw, dance, make music, play, paint and move together. Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. 

Of course, ‘school’ takes place at particular times and yet we know that young children’s learning is happening all the time. At ISZL we believe all time in school is of equal importance and so greeting each other in the morning, changing to go outdoors, being outdoors together, eating lunch together and saying goodbye at the end of the day are all moments for learning.  In the Early Years, the schedule reflects our understanding of young childrens’ learning with long periods of uninterrupted time, both indoors and outdoors. There are times for children to lead their freely chosen play so that the play can become more complex and the learning deeper. There are also times for adults to lead, using skillful questioning to engage the children in sustained shared thinking and to make connections with previous learning. The time outdoors provides children with opportunities to move about freely and be physically active as well as offering the challenge and risk that they need. Learning can happen at any time, all of the time.

As a school we aim to provide children with a strong sense of belonging. From classroom morning meetings, with the opportunity to come together to plan and prepare for the day ahead, through to end-of-day reflection meetings when children are supported to share their work and evaluate the work of others, our aim is to tighten the bonds of our community of learners. We build this community in our classrooms and through the school, throughout the day and every day. It keeps us together in our play and in our learning.

Wherever we are.

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