Before I talk about where we are now I really want to start at the beginning. What I have found when working with three and four year old children; with many children learning English as an additional language, or beginning their first school experience, is that ample time is necessary for building a foundation that will lead to successful inquiry-based learning. It takes significant effort and deliberate steps to make the leap into project/inquiry-based learning.
So where does one begin?
Start with your values.
I remember being blown away eight years ago when I first started to study the Reggio Emilia philosophy. This message kept popping up - What do you value? And how are those values represented in the classroom? Questioning yourself seemed to be the starting point. And that is what I did.
I questioned everything.
What were my most joyful memories as a child? Where was I in these memories?
What does the bathroom in your classroom say about your values?
What does meal time reflect in your values?
What are your rules? Why do you have them? What do they reflect?
Why do you say no?
Why say sit 'criss cross applesauce?'
What do you want children to gain from being in your class?
The list goes on and on - because the mental habit was created and I still question things I do/say/want continuously.
There were many changes made over the years to mealtimes, bathrooming, scheduling, transitions, the environment, and even how we walk in line but for now I want to focus on one BIG value.
I realized that I valued democracy. So much so that I wanted that to be a cornerstone of my teaching and classroom ethos. I felt so strongly that this world needs - more than anything else - people who will engage with one another, help one another, question one another respectfully, and use critical thinking skills to make their world a better place. That is the Big Understanding in our preschool classroom. And what better place to learn, practice, and hone the skills that we each need to function productively and successfully in a democracy than in the classroom. There is no better place.
What does that value look like in the classroom?
The value of democratic learning and life impacts everything from the big picture of the curriculum to how we interact as teachers with our students...but for now let's start with Morning Meeting.
Morning Meeting (or Circle Time) has the potential to be one of the most relevant and important moments of the day. Democracy can not exist without engagement, sharing (and listening to) of ideas, and active participation.
What steps do you need to take to make it happen?
I said goodbye to the traditional calendar and weather routine, mainstays in preschool classrooms, and built a Meeting time based solely on conversation. I worked to reduce my talking time and become more of a facilitator and the children the protagonists. I will write in more detail about the steps we take each year and how the steps build on one another. Until then...here's a little graphic organizer that may help you begin to think and build your own values-inspired classroom.
What values influence the way you have designed your classroom environment, curriculum, and interactions?