By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.
The 21st century began on January 1st, 2001. Today’s children deserve learning experiences grounded in practices that are in keeping with a new era of play and learning. Now is the time to critically reflect on the practices that linger on from the previous century. I am a child of the 20th century. I received my training to be an early childhood educator in the 20th century and I practiced as an early childhood educator in the 20th century. That century started with horse drawn carriages and ended with space travel. We now have a globally connected world that our ancestors could never have imagined. We are connected technologically and now have a shared experience of a global pandemic. Before we enter another and hopefully healthier new year of this new century, let’s take the time to think, rethink, imagine and reimagine outdated practices.
Updating outdated practices requires being critically reflective. According to How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years, research, theory, and practice suggest that high-quality early childhood programs should “provide ongoing opportunities for educators to engage in critical reflection and discussion with others about pedagogy and practice to support continuous professional learning and growth” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 11). According to An Introduction to How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years for Leaders critical reflection is, “not only questioning and rethinking our actions, but also considering whether they make sense in the light of research, theory, and what we know about the children and families in our program” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p.7). In this new century, there will be many changes and educators need to change too. Here is a guide to 21st Century Learning for Early Childhood. It is a great resource to support educators as they critically reflect on practices that need to be updated.
Outdated practices are not consistent with the strategies recommended by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. They include the call for educators to be child-centred in their approach. This is not new to this century but we know that many continue to have a teacher directed approach. If it has been your approach to be child-centred and to focus on children’s interests, you might want to consider how to help others update their practice. What advice would you give those who are rethinking their approach? Whatever you do, do it with kindness and compassion. Now is not the time to belittle or judge. Recently when presenting a webinar on emergent curriculum I was surprised to find out that the majority of the participants were still focusing on themes. I have written extensively about moving away from a theme approach as it is clearly outdated and I have thought and rethought how to help others. Why do themes persist? My theory is that there is a belief that children will learn facts and information about the theme. Themes are consistent with a school model. Reciting what they have memorized is only surface learning. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning century we should be offering experiences to help children develop the 4Cs – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Themes are teacher-directed and teacher-owned. They do not support any of the 4Cs. They top this list of outdated practices that recently came across my Facebook newsfeed.
The 21st century has brought us the opportunity to learn together through social media as it provides “tools for professional collaboration, inquiry practice, reflection, and personalized learning” (McLoughlin, 2011, p. 847). I am hoping that as a result of this blog, that there will be professional engagement that provides provocations to critically reflect on outdated practices. I asked a Facebook friend, Shirley Devuono Rempel, to weigh in on what practices should make the list of those that need updating. Along, with Shirley’s thoughts, I have added my own, and encourage all the readers of this blog, to weigh in.
- Product art
- Daily calendar
- Mandatory circles
- Lining up
Shirley also suggested that it was time to let go of the thought that parents don’t know anything, the idea of “that’s not my job” or “we’ve always done it that way so why rock the boat” and I agree! What else do you think should be on the list? What would be your top outdated practices? For me, it is themes and product art as they often go hand in hand. To implement theme-based curriculum, the focus often is on activities known as crafts, creatives, or arts and crafts. These step-by-step teacher-initiated and directed activities involving painting or gluing on a representation of an adult’s conception of the theme do not promote creativity or support a child’s individuality. At the beginning of the pandemic, I shared a blog on process art that I hope has been and will be helpful to those wanting to update the outdated practice of product-driven “art”.
This past year, I had an interesting, unprecedented experience of supporting my grandson in virtual kindergarten. I can say for certain that he enjoyed the process art experiences that I provided so much more than the product-oriented ones offered in kindergarten. He did love all the play-based experiences that were provided and I was grateful that play was part of his virtual kindergarten day! As for the product-focused crafts, he had very little interest in these activities and found them frustrating and difficult. I know he is not alone. His father, uncle, and aunt (my children) had similar frustrations. When process versus product became a hot topic in a Facebook group that I am part of, I was asked to weigh in. Trying to address some of what was expressed by others, I added that …
I weigh in solidly and firmly on the side of process art. In fact, I am working on a blog post now about updating outdated practices in ECE – product art has seen its day – now that we know better about how children learn (see How Does Learning Happen?). It is not about what you like or what parents want – product art is not good for children – it is a product of the 20th century – we are in the 21st century and it is time to support children in more meaningful ways. Children can learn patience and self-regulation in ways that don’t also cause anxiety and stress. Product art (including guided drawings) is not great for all children even if some like it … not all children can glue googly eyes where they are supposed to go or stay in the lines and/or cut or draw like the model that are supposed to be duplicating – how do you think they feel when they are attempting and not succeeding with product art? Process art is good for everyone, and the bonus is that it can lead to a product that will be very beautiful as it will show children’s unique creativity. I could go on and on — I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in.
These outdated practices are based on an outdated school model for early learning. Early childhood should be about play-based learning. It is incumbent on each of us to change our practices and to help others change their practices. With the habits of practice entrenched, this legacy of a school model for early childhood education will continue. Children deserve better.