Ontario is embarking on a bold new early learning program, one that will see teachers and early childhood educators (ECEs) working together in the classroom. It’s a plan that will benefit children.
After hearing from Charles Pascal, the premier’s early learning advisor, the government decided that the program would be staffed by teacher/ECE teams. These kinds of early learning teams are not entirely new to Ontario kindergarten classrooms. However, system wide expansion of this model means many of those involved will face new challenges.
UNDERSTANDING HOW YOUNG CHILDREN LEARN
It is now widely understood that learning begins at birth and life is the young child’s classroom. A child’s earliest experiences lay the foundation for knowledge acquisition and set trajectories for health and behaviour. 1 The growing science of early human development underscores the importance of learning through play.
This is the kind of learning environment that forms the basis of ECE training. Throughout their education ECEs focus on creating environments that capitalize on young children’s natural curiosity to explore and discover themselves and the people and communities around them. Effective early childhood programs provide children with play-based opportunities that contribute to their self-confidence and a positive attitude toward learning.
For some years now kindergarten teachers pursuing best practices have understood the importance of play-based learning. 2 ETFO continues to provide resources and learning opportunities to support them. The complementary skill sets of the two professions will enable the teacher and the ECE to create a learning environment that supports the holistic development of young children.
APPROACHES TO CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT
In the training ECEs receive, children are viewed as independent agents who can have an active role in shaping their learning. ECEs are trained to enrich and extend learning opportunities, based on their knowledge of child development, observations, and documentation of the child’s activities. This skill set complements that of teachers. ECEs are also trained to work with the child’s family and the broader community.
Often termed “social pedagogy,” this approach appreciates that younger children learn differently from older children. Social and emotional connections with other children and adults are critical to giving young children a sense of security, a secure attachment that helps them become successful learners.
Social pedagogy stands in contrast to the academic approach to early learning favoured by some administrators and boards. 3