An experience a couple of week ago raised questions for me about educators’ awareness of children’s learning. I facilitated a professional learning session on babies’ and toddlers’ learning for around 100 educators. My aim was for participants to remind themselves about some of the less obvious important learning that occurs in the first two years and hopefully to expand their understanding of how the Learning Outcomes in the EYLF apply to very young children.
The reason for that aim is that although there are some obvious milestones – crawling, self feeding, walking and first words, for example – much learning in the first two years is subtle and easily overlooked or misinterpreted unless you know what you are looking for.
I asked participants to watch three short videos and make notes about:
- insights or reminders about what children are learning or demonstrating that they have learned
- implications for practice in programs and what educators do.
Interestingly, most people struggled to focus on learning and found it much easier to talk about practice – for example, materials and equipment and what educators were doing and saying.
My efforts to focus the discussion on learning were mostly unsuccessful.
I wonder how common this is, and why it might occur. Is it because the requirement to focus on learning, not simply on what children are doing is more challenging? A developmental perspective focuses mostly on observables, that is, what children are doing or saying. Learning is subtler, less obvious, not always something you can see or hear. Observing learning demands interpretation and analysis. At times you’re making an educated guess, speculating about what you think children are learning or have learned. It may be challenging to move away from a developmental perspective to a learning perspective.
The plea from many educators to ‘just tell us what to do’ may reflect evidence of a focus on practice at the expense of learning.
Is it easier to observe learning in older children because they can communicate in words – they can ask questions and tell you what they know and understand?
How adequately does pre- and in-service education for educators address learning (as opposed to practice)?
Is the oft-heard statement that ‘we build on children’s needs, interests, talents and strengths’ just one of those early childhood clichés? Having deep knowledge of children’s learning in general and knowing well each child you work with are essential starting points for effective practice, the foundations on which good quality programs are built. In other words, if you don’t know what children have learned, are learning and need to learn you can’t offer a good quality program.
The EYLF and FSAC Learning Outcomes describe categories of learning that matter. Maybe we need to make a concerted effort to pay more attention to them – to go beyond the headings, understand them in detail and use them as foundations for practice.
Do you and your colleagues focus sufficiently on learning as a basis for your practice?