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A 7-Step Guide to Planning Child-led Learning

I have received many questions and comments asking for details about programming and planning. Questions such as, what does it look like? Where does it begin? How do you connect the curriculum? I hope that this post will give some insight to my stages of planning with children as opposed to for children. It looks slightly different each time of course and I am forever learning ways to deepen and enrich the experience for children and educators. Thank you for encouraging this rich experience to reflect on my process for planning and programming child-led learning!

It begins by listening and looking for what children are saying and doing. I use wonder bubbles and sticky notes to record the children's conversations and take photos or gather their drawings/painting to prepare for a planning session.

I then make connections among the children's conversations, questions and interests using what I have collected. I attempt to organise or group them together to see if there is a common thread. I will try to give 'it' a categorical name to focus my thinking. I maintain flexibility with this first idea as it can change multiple times throughout. Nothing is worse than limiting yourself. Doing so will limit where the children can take it.

The next phase is bringing it to my colleagues. Whether it be EA's, neighbouring teachers, year level cohorts or network groups I always seek ideas from others. Rich learning experiences call for rich planning. I usually come away with book titles, incursion/excursion ideas, provocations and mini projects that will lead the children's learning. I love using mind maps.

The most exciting phase is bringing the thinking back to the children. They always show a great appreciation for your connections among what they are doing in the classroom. I call a  meeting, pose questions relating to the common thread and record what the children discuss. We then incorporate their contributions- wonders, questions, prior knowledge and construct the begging phase of a project. You may revisit this stage during the project as well to add new pathways and wonderings.

For those of you who are wondering where the curriculum comes in to it all don't fret. It will be covered. And richly so. I have provided a sample here to show you the planning at the stage after all of the above has been completed. This is by no means the end! If you are required to show evidence of curriculum links at this stage then you can do so based on what you will be bringing to the children. Be flexible as this may change.

As the project progresses you must document the children's learning. This will be the evidence you need to show what curriculum objectives the children are exploring and whether or not they are being met or require further attention. This documentation also acts as ongoing momentum to plan for emergent curriculum. The children will undoubtedly take things further than you could ever pre-plan and write down in a pretty table with tick boxes to show they have 'learned it'. Don't forget to record the directions children take the 'topic' on your plan.

When a project comes to an 'end' it calls for great reflection both with the children and by the teacher(s). Have the children explored/answered the questions?  Is the learning visible (documentation)? What are the curriculum links? What has been left unanswered/untouched? Why? Where to next?

All the best with your planning and please feel free to share how you plan with children below in the comments! I will add photos to complete this post as our project develops over the term!

Classroom Design

Hi Everyone!

Thank you for keeping up your reading and sharing my blog with others :) I am so excited to begin posting again now that the school year has begun.

I have a new job at an amazing new school with a class full of children who have already won my heart! What this year will bring I can only imagine!

Here are some snapshots of our classroom- I have already made a few tweaks as the children showed me what was and wasn't working. I will post the changes and discuss in my next post. Remember to listen, watch and react to what the children do in your learning space so that it best reflects them. This will allow the learning to flourish and behaviour to be managed without any regimented 'programs'.


What is the Reggio Emilia Approach?

I am often asked what the Reggio Emilia Approach 'means', and I find that my answer varies in the depth that I share depending on who I am speaking to! So not to scare some people off by my passionate spilling of information or to intrigue a person in just the right way to get them thinking and wondering more!

One of the special facets of the Reggio Emilia Approach is that it has to be connected and interpreted with the local culture, people and environment in mind. I believe then in turn, that we can say the same for the way educators define the Approach.

To me, the Reggio Emilia Approach is a way of being with children. The approach has encouraged me to be an attentive, intuitive, and mindful educator. I am reminded often, to slow down, dig deeper and think outside of my realm of understanding. It empowers the education system to be connected with the present moment. Teaching each child at the age they are now and not 'preparing them' for what's to come. This freedom to let a child just 'be' in the classroom makes for such a lighter workload and enjoyable experience for all. It's about believing that children are capable beings and have many ways of showing their intelligence and understanding of the world. As the educator, it's my responsibility to ensure that the environment allows children to explore those ideas and that I facilitate their learning. To do this, we explore theories through a multi-modal, inquiry based approach that is realistic, hands-on, and full of authentic experiences. As the educator, I listen to the interests of the group and connect them with multiple resources to develop their understanding and give them time to share what they know, what the wonder and what they have learned. Project-based experiences allow children to developed a deeper understanding of things they are interested in. Which lends itself to giving children time to theorise, problematise, discover and re-develop their understandings. Then, as the educator, showcasing these processes through documentation. Mindfully choosing ways to display a child's learning process to share with others, to act as a learning tool and to put value behind process focused education. All of this demonstrates the respect for children; where they are, who they are, what they think, and how they connect. And as my smile widens, I have to say that it's about love. A love for children and the unique gifts they bring. A love for discovery; the pure joy found in learning something new. A love for the unknown that each day brings. And the love that you feel when you belong, when you're connected to what you do and the world around you. Summed up for me beautifully by Loris Malaguzzi, a man who began his journey with a goal in mind, 'nothing without joy'.

What does the Reggio Emilia Approach mean to YOU? How have you interpreted it and how do you 'explain' it to others? Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts!


8 Ways to Show Children's Learning; Documenting and the Reggio Emilia Approach

It's been a while since I have last posted...the term has been full of amazing opportunities for me and I have been spending my time soaking up all of the wonder and love from the children :)

This coming week I am helping to facilitate the Perth Reggio Network Documentation meeting and I thought that putting my ideas forth now and gathering other's suggestions would only enhance our meeting. PS. If you are in the Perth area contact me for more information about attending our meetings!

Firstly, I would suggest that everyone read this article, which discusses the process and stages we go through when learning how to document children's learning. It is a great read and helps you to feel good about where you are and excited to see where you can evolve to! 

1. Daily Journal
  • I use an A3, unlined, coiled book (find what works for you!)
  • The educators AND children include photos, scribed conversations, word/wonder maps and updates on our current projects 
  • Families, children and visitors to the class have access to the journal
  • Together we revisit our projects, special events and the experiences of other groups by looking back through the journal
  • The journal is also a planning tool; where to next?
  • Never make the class journal a chore...quality over quantity! 
2. Wall Displays
  • Showcase PROCESS as opposed to product
  • Simple, uncluttered displays are key to conveying the message you intend and to use as a tool to scaffold learning
  • Include photos, work samples, descriptions, scribed conversations, resources
  • Great for multiple groups coming through the space; children love to know what the other's are up to and each group can extend their thinking twofold! 
3. Children's Portfolios
  • An authentic and individualised way to represent a child's learning journey
  • Allow children to be active participants in choosing what goes into their portfolio- what do they value? what is something that is meaningful to them? what are they proud to display and share?
  • Include a timeline or overview of projects throughout the year, class list/photo, friendship messages, autobiography's, 'Wonder Notes' from over the year, artwork, photos, teacher and child comments, project contributions
  • Try keeping these portfolios accessible to add, reflect and share on a daily basis instead of tucking them away in the filing cabinet until the end of the year
4. Media Journal

  • Utilising a SmartBoard, laptop or computer is fantastic when in a time crunch!
  • PowerPoint presentations or Picasa collages with added text (playing as a slideshow from the photo folder on my computer) always gather a crowd and showcase what is going on in the classroom 
  • Great to show class excursions, incursions and experts who visit the class
  • Children can orally tell the story of what is happening in the photos
5. Story Boards
  • Great for wall displays AND individual portfolios
  • Draw attention to what the inquiry was/is; give an introduction
  • Less is more and a simple layout is most effective for readers
  • Include photos of the child working through the inquiry; choosing pivitol moments to enage your reader
  • Short, clear captions (quotes from the child, educators input)
  • Think of these 4 questions to take your reader on a journey:
    • 1. What was the provocation?
    • 2. What was the inquiry(s)? (questions, wonders) (child or educator)
    • 3. Who/How/What was involved in the process?
    • 4. New ideas and/or understandings
6. Project Books
  • Condense your wall displays into book format!
  • These are handy to have around to share with families and colleagues
  • Use colour, laminate and bind to keep in sturdy condition and look appealing!
7. Learning Stories
  • This is a very popular catch phrase in Australian early childhood settings; I find it to be difficult to live up to others' perception of a learning story but once you find your voice it is a beautiful way to share a child's learning journey
  • These are usually typed from the educators perspective and is a story about an 'a ha' moment that a child experiences
  • I use these to document a child's progress in areas that challenge them as well as areas they flourish in; therefore these are usually confidential and private for educators and guardians only
8. Learning Showcases
  • So, what to do with all of the accumulated data over a year?! Invite people to come and view your documentation and visit with children to share what they have done at school.
  • What better way to show children that we value their thinking, their learning, their individuality and demonstrate a community of learners come together to create amazing things?
I hope some of you leave a comment on ways that you document children's learning. Try out any and all ways you come across until you find what works for you, your style, the time you have, the display space you have access to and what your children and families need from you. With this post I want to express to educators everywhere that documenting is such a rewarding experience and valuable for so many!