Updating Outdated Practices in Early Childhood Education

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and hopefully healthier new year of this new century, let’s take the time to think, rethink, imagine and reimagine outdated practices.

Updating outdated practices requires being critically reflective.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Outdated practices are not consistent with the strategies recommended by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.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.  

  • Themes
  • Product art
  • Daily calendar
  • Mandatory circles
  • Lining up
  • Time-outs
  • Worksheets

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.

8 thoughts on “Updating Outdated Practices in Early Childhood Education

  1. Thank you Diane for this amazing post. As I sit here getting ready for our new school year with my team and some new RECEs and thinking about how to help them see beyond the themes and product art, your post was perfectly timed for me. The guide is excellent. I am going to be using a lot of it in my sessions this fall with my new educators. The list of outdated practices was so relevant. We have so many educators come for job interviews that are still working with themes in their practice. I think it is because it is easy and simple but we need to be complex to give our work credibility to the world. But as an educator I would be very bored with doing apples every September and dragging out my september box with all of my product precut shapes etc.. there is too much value put on the product art that there child made something that looks like something. The frustration for me is that it is so embedded in our early childhood world, how do we as educators engage in this critical thinking for change together. Thank you Diane. I have shared this with all of my educators at The Sunflower School.

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  2. Thank-you Diane-this was a great way to start the day today. Your blog posts always offer great resources and links to help us dig deeper to our ‘why’. I really like reflecting on offering experiences that support the 4Cs. It is unfortunate that you need to continue to focus on the topic of themes as I feel our practice in ECE has evolved with some but others seem stuck. We need to continually support educators to see a strong image of the child and family. Once educators truly believe in this image, their practice will change. As you say this is what our children deserve. Thanks again Diane for your thought-provoking posts!

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  3. Good morning Diane! I hope my response to your post finds you in a very comfortable spot to enable you to accept all the positive words that will be coming your way. Truly, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post! These words resonate with myself and I’m sure with hundreds of RECEs across our province. But…what I have to say is that the list of outdated practices is relevant and unfortunately a struggle to implement. I’m speaking about myself as a DECE in the school board. Back in 2016 I was able to sit on a summer writing team to explore this very same topic. I was excited to be part of something that would escalate and be used to ignite our passion and critically think of how we can do more for our charges, seeing that there was an accessible guide to show us how! Fast forward to 2021 and sadly, bits and pieces of the document may have been implemented, shared, looked at or even still ignored. You can walk into many Kindergarten classes and still see that the work we compiled was not even heard of. Your post, and the document we created has to be accepted and followed through with to work. It is so frustrating! Perhaps at the school boards with proper professional development among all the educators in Kindergarten would assist in putting away outdated practices, I don’t know. I realize outdated practices will continue without a genuine on board attitude. These practices have all been to comfortable for so many years that it will take something for educators regardless of where they work to actually sit down and reflect, accept and move forward with. Individuals such as yourself and many other RECE’s are so ready to move on with this. For the RECE’s who have not seen this or are not able to go forward on their own, how can we help? By you reaching out to all of us makes the journey to put past practices away a step in the right direction. Thank you Diane again for the inspiration to always go forward!

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    • Ruta, you’ve read my mind. It is frustrating that some educators who work in FDK at schools just ignore everything that our curriculum states. I have been re-reading it again before school starts and understand that if it’s followed with collaboration, with play-based inquiry approach, with parents involvement, with outdoor education it will be the greatest program. But, unfortunately, just some of us can see the benefits of the new approach while others not.

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  4. Really appreciate this post, Diane. I assume you chose the term ‘outdated’ for its power to embarrass and light a p.d. fire under some administrative butts. But it was never pedagogically right for the times to manage young children’s programs as if they were 3 – 5 yr old clerical and assembly line workers.

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  5. Thank you Diane for the great resource! I will use it as an educational tool at the school I work. My fellow ECEs and I created our school’s Google Classroom for us and teaching partners where we are going to discuss different topics. I think this one will be the best to start with.

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  6. Hi Diane, Congratulations on having reached your 200th post!! I really value the challenges you put out in your quiet, gentle way! I’m wondering if you could clarify what you mean by guided drawing please? I’m also interested in your thoughts on the invitations offered where teachers provide an image and the same coloured paints as in the image and the children paint the image. I’ve been struggling with whether this is too teacher directed. Looking forward to your next 200 posts!! Stay safe.

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  7. Pingback: Elevating Early Childhood Educators by Going Beyond Questions to Reflective Inquiry | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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