In Dulwich Early Years, we believe that all children who come to our school are competent and capable learners, and are individuals with their own interests, thoughts and ideas. Our teachers learn your child’s ways - extremely well - so that we can access and further develop their interests and ideas. This is the core of our curriculum.
Piaget (a childhood development theorist) believed that children show particular thoughts about the world around them and that these thoughts, often called ‘schemas’, sometimes came from children’s prior experiences. When teachers understand what these were, they can continue to develop them further - and build upon their learning.
What is a schema? Do you ever see your child do this….?
A child’s schema can sometimes physically be seen as a particular behaviour, this can often look like a young child’s urge to repetitively do something. Have you ever spotted your young child become obsessed with a certain thing, such as throwing their food off their table, or, putting random objects from your home in a bag, walking around the house and then redistributing these items in totally different places? These are schemas. And it is really important to let your child carry these out.
As a child gets older, their schemas become less obvious, more abstract. They change into thoughts and concepts of the world around them. You can gain insight into their schemas by observing your child in their play, joining in with and talking with them. Have you ever listened to a child talk about what a star is? Or why we can’t see the moon in the day time?
When teachers and parents listen carefully and observe, we can learn about their schemas and investigate them further, encouraging discussion, asking questions and learning together about things that are of value to children in their world around them. Children’s schemas are then adapted and stored in their brain until they need to access them again in the future. And then the process begins again – investigating, exploring, experimenting. This is how we learn – from highly developed and adapted schemas.
So, how can you help children to carry out their schemas at home?
- If you have a child who is carrying out a physical schema - let them! Let them explore it. Always think to yourself, “why might my child be carrying out this repeated behavior or urge to do something that I might not fully understand myself?”
- Talk with your child’s class teacher. Share the insight – we need to know!
- If you have a child who has developed abstract schemas (ideas of the world around them) - listen carefully to what they have to say, respect them and take their ideas seriously. You could say “Wow, that is a fantastic idea, how can we learn more about this?”
- Provide real-life, meaningful experiences. If you spot that your child is absolutely enthralled and interested in animals - how could you learn more together about them? Take them to the zoo or aquarium and talk, talk talk!
- Have high expectations for talk - model using good vocabulary and introduce them to new and complicated words, explain to your child what new words mean, and use them in context.
- Use open ended questions- ask them ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions and respect their answer (even if it might not be correct, or the same answer as you)
- Respect children thoughts, if your child shares a schema, or an idea, about something that is not correct, it’s very easy to laugh and think ‘how cute, what a funny answer’ but, if you act interested and thoughtful of what they have said (in the same way that you would if they were another adult) then they will feel more open to share these thoughts and schemas with you further. You can go on a journey of discovery together to learn more about whatever it is that they have shown you they are interested in. Your role as an adult is so important for this reason - you will give them the confidence to share, investigate, experiment and explore their ideas of the world. Ultimately, you are their guide.
- Reduce ‘fake’ experiences such as outside tutoring and look at how you can provide real experiences. Very often, outside tutoring is a very ‘flat’ way of learning. If you show your child a cartoon picture of a dog and tell them ‘dog’, then they associate a cartoon picture of a dog with the word ‘dog’. However, if you let a child look, see, feel a dog, and you model language well to them, then they will learn that a dog is fluffy, playful, bounces, barks, can jump, needs sleep, eats dog food and much, much more! Real experiences with good modelled language provides children with a deeper understanding (schemas) of the world around them- this is much more valuable than flashcard ‘lessons’.
- Have fun! Find out your child’s thoughts and go on a voyage of discovery about new things together.