These two functions fro a young child relate to the individual and society. First, education enables the individual to comprehend and utilize critical skills of thinking for the purpose of determining for themselves what is true. Secondly education is important to society mainly because of the interdependent nature of human beings reflected in the way we acquire knowledge. All the knowledge present in the world is a product of the people present in society. Consequently every individual has got to give back to society, education enables this giving back.
The general consensus is that early childhood education has a very significant role in determining how the child will develop and thus how the future society will be. The philosophical comments of the likes of Albert Einstein , Plato and Aristotle form much of the basis of the framework of most curriculum designs and have also greatly influenced the methods of implementation of this curricula. For instance, Plato’s views greatly influenced the democratization of education.
The aim of educational philosophy especially where young children are concerned is to ensure that the young children are provided with the best opportunities possible that will enhance the child’s capacity for active participation in a democratic society (Children’s Defense Fund, 2001). In a kindergarten observed in the private residential area of Kowloon city, various attempts have been made at ensuring a holistic learner-centered approach to education of young children. The kindergarten is a full day kindergarten run by a Christian charity with a population of 112 children.
The school aims at providing an enriched learning environment for children to assist them develop a love for learning and life. The environment of the school is such that it has an indoor play area, a music room, a dramatic area and a small stage where the school gathers during assembly. This shows that the kindergarten has prepared for a holistic approach to education with a focus on constructivionist learning rather than merely acquiring academic skills. Plato states that education should have a holistic nature that includes not only skills but also physical discipline, music and art.
For Plato music and art were the highest of the learning endeavors. The school though lacking and outdoors playing ground caters for physical discipline by having and indoors playground. Generally, the school environment show appreciation of the Vgotskian notion that sees learning as a fundamentally social activity (Gredler and Shields, 2004). The classroom setting is such that there is adequate room for children to participate in different activities. Every child has a seat in the classroom with tow tables being set up so that a total of eight children share two tables.
This enhances social interaction. Further, the children sit with their friends during playtime and at various group activities increasing the opportunities for interacting. The presence of the children’s work around the classroom provides stimulus for learning. Other things that have a similar effect are the various materials available for children to use and explore, presence of a cubby holes that have supplies of art materials, sensory corners, practical life corners, library corners and science and geography corners.
This design is not only child friendly but it provides a stimulus for learning and an opportunity to engage in play that leads to discovery and spontaneous learning which are the best ways for children to learn and retain new information. The use of the learning corners and materials displays an application of John Dewey’s ideas on learning being an active activity rather than a passive one. The classroom environment engages the children in doing things and exposes them to real-life tasks and challenges.
The school’s classroom environment does not just stimulate learning rather it is also safe and show some consideration for the health of the children. All the children have to wash their hands during snack time that is both before and after having their snacks. The children also get disposable handkerchiefs for cleaning their hands and mouths while eating. While this manners my be considered ordinary learning them at an early age paves the way for learning other etiquette and also enhances self-care skills for the young children. Plato argues that bad discipline can easily creep into education .
He claims that the reason for this happening easily is because most people generally do no t pay attention to a lack of discipline among young children and even when they do the harm seen is considered very minimal. The danger with this is that poor discipline undermines good manners and morals in everyday dealings in fields like law, business and public as well as private life. This is because the young children with poor discipline go on to become young people and eventually adults with poor discipline. The general setting of the class is important for the provision of development of social competence, self-esteem and self-control.
The design of the class is such that the the children can easily reach resources as the shelves are placed at the levels of the children. In addition, the shelves and furniture have no sharp edges thus there is no worry of the children hurting themselves. Having such control over the environment increases the child’s belief in their abilities. Social competence is enhanced by teacher-child interaction as well as interaction between the children. The teachers use soft tones when talking to the children, they bend down to be at the same level with the child and also sit in small chairs during circle time.
The children were observed to be happy when talking to their teachers and often had eye contact with the teacher. Children are also encouraged to play with one another for purposes of enhancing interaction. This setting is in line with Bronferbrenners Ecological Systems theory. The theory examines the development of a child in the context of the relationships that form the child’s environment. There are various systems withing this environment; the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem. The micro system is the one closest to the child and has structures that make direct contact with the child.
These include the school, family, parents,daycare and neighborhood environments. These relationships at the micro system level have influence in both directions. This means that they affect both the child and the parent with the child’s behavior affecting the parent and the behavior of the parent influencing the beliefs and actions of the child (Paquette and Ryan, 2001). The mesosystem is the layer providing connection for the structures in the micro system of the child, for instance the relationship between parents and teachers (Leigh, 2002).
At the kindergarten where the observation was carried out, teacher-parent interaction is facilitated by two teacher-parent conferences where teachers and parents discuss the children’s progress. In addition, teachers find an opportunity to talk to parents when the children are picked and dropped at school daily since the school does not have a bus. Interaction can be made better by increasing the number of teachers so that the class ratio can meet the OMEP-HK standard. Currently, the kindergarten has 2 classroom teachers for every class and one classroom assistant to manage a class of twenty five children.
Each teacher is responsible for one half of the class during group activities. Research has indicated that teachers fell lower levels of stress related to job issues when they work with smaller classes (Brown, Janet and Parsons, 1987). A teacher with decreased stress levels is in turn better placed to handle children and more likely to be effective in aiding the child’s learning process. The exosystem as explained by Bronferbrenner involves forces in which there is no participation by the child. These relationships however have an impact on adults (parents, teachers and others) who have interactions with the child.
Some of these structures include school boards, social service agencies, planning commissions and the parent’s workplace (United Nations University, 2006). The school board and planning commissions have impact on such things as the quality and number of teachers in the school. The kindergarten observed has teacher who all have working permits and are well qualified with the minimum qualification being a Certificate of Early Childhood Education qualification. The principal has twenty years of teaching experience coupled with managerial experience and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in early childhood education.
The school plans for yearly workshops whose aim is to expose the teachers to new knowledge on early childhood education and also to review teaching skills. This is a positive thing as it ensures the teachers are well-equipped to educate the young children. Further, two staff appraisals are conducted every year. Staff appraisals when carried out well are a possible motivator for staff to improve their performance. Macrosystems refer to broad connections within which mesosystems and exosytems exist. They are dynamic and may be changed by issues like war, recession and technology (American Psychology Association, 2002).
From the observation of the kindergarten there was not noted any major effort at addressing issues that may be connected with macrosystems at the early childhood education level. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development places children aged between two and seven years at the pre-operational sage. The children at this age have acquired skills of representation as far as mental imagery is concerned. They are also becoming more adept at the use of language. Another characteristic feature of this stage is the child’s tendency to have an egocentric view of the world (Vasta et al, 1995; Santrack, 1995).
The kindergarten has catered for the young children at this stage by providing a dress-up corner set where the children and involve themselves in make-believe play. Make-believe play allows the children to dress up into whatever character they can create. It also reduces preoccupation with the self by encouraging interaction with other children. Vgotsky theory refers to a zone of proximal development in which learning takes place with the aid of others, the child can complete challenging and difficult tasks (Hamilton and Ghatala, 1994; Vgotsky, 1987).
The kindergarten has a practical life corner and a sensory corner where the children play with teaching aids that have been provided by teachers. The school uses the Biblical Foundation for Early Childhood Education (BFECE) curriculum written by the University of the Nations. The curriculum has divisions based o themes with each theme lasting for a week or two. The themes are based on Christian stories, a Christian character, Christian events and festivals. During the time of the observation, the teacher had designed and activity dubbed Christmas Tree Decoration.
The Christmas tree denotes Christmas, one of the festivals of Christianity. Before the activity commenced the children talked about how the tree would be decorated, what they would put where and where they would put the tree. With this activity , the children learnt the skill of decorating a tree and were also involved in peer to peer interaction. The use of project work is important for intellectual development as it encourages experimentation and investigation by the children (Katz, 1999).
The kindergarten uses both Cantonese and English for instruction. A native English teacher floats around different classrooms to read English stories and play games with the children. The role of the English teacher is to ensure that the children gain exposure to a new language at a young age. The classroom set up focuses on a language approach using the Noam Chomsky concept of the development of language. This concept has been adopted by the school for the acquisition of pre-reading, writing and mathematical skills.
Chomsky’s belief was that humans were born for communication through words (Barsky, 1997). The materials in the classrooms have labels to enable the children recognize the words on a daily basis. The teachers also do a lot of counting practice with the students for instance, they keep dong head counts back and forth in the class. The class assistants also count the children out loud as the children go to the washrooms and back. To make the learning of math more interesting the children are required to count the pieces of snacks they have on a particular day.
This is a good practice since it reduces structure and sequence from academic tasks, making the process of memorizing symbols and words less tedious and routine for the children. Often, academic tasks in the curriculum includes skills and facts that children may not learn by discovery (Katz, 1993). Combining these with fun things like snacks makes it easier for the child to make associations that will enable recollection. Acquisition of English as a second language is enhanced by the fact that the language has been introduced at an early age, the kindergarten stage.
The children have English written homework and are required to trace some alphabets as their daily homework. Depending on the theme for the week, children have new vocabulary introduced to them. The vocabulary relates to the theme for instance the theme for the week was Christmas so words introduced included Christmas, Santa Claus and Christmas Tree. The children are encouraged to trace the words on tracing paper. There is also a book corner where the children can read. According to Vygotsky, language assists a child to think about their activities and choose various courses of action.
He proposes the theory that children speak to themselves to enable self-guidance (Berk, 2006). The English session last 25minutes daily and during this time the native English teacher plays games and reads stories with the children. The improvement that the school could make here is to increase the number of native English teachers as well as the sessions for learning English to perhaps two in a day. This will increase the children’s exposure to English. The addition of other themes to complement the Christian themes would also help to provide a wider view of the English language.
The kindergarten’s curriculum has resulted in very independent students with enhanced self caring skills. This may be because the students attend kindergarten full-day rather than half-day. In addition, the classroom setting has had a significant role in influencing the children’s learning as children are attracted by decorations in the classrooms and the resources present. Changes that could be made include addition of teachers to decrease the teacher-student ratio and the introduction of a school bus to increase interaction and activities like field trips which will enhance the intellectual disposition o the young children.
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