We talk about being a “child-centered school,” which is trendy and sounds good on paper, but what does that really mean? One example of this happened at Explorers last week.
Our afternoon “Explorers Program” is all about children developing curiosity, creativity, and the confidence that they can find the answers to their questions in life. We have started the year exploring some of the produce from Miss Janet’s garden, including an enormous sunflower full of seeds which we picked out with our fingers. This week we have explored buckets of fingerling, sweet and Idaho potatoes. We have seen and touched the potatoes attached to the vine and covered with dirt, not in their usual pristine washed grocery store state. We have counted and weighed them.
One activity this week was to line up the potatoes on the floor to make a “Potato Train” and then to measure how long it was in inches (and in potatoes, an alternative unit of measurement!). Our group of energetic boys started out lining up the potatoes but then decided they looked fun to kick around and to jump over.
Instead of the natural adult response of: “No, we’re lining them up, not jumping over them,” Janet said: “It looks like you’d like to jump over the potatoes. Is that right?” She proceeded to structure their activity into a game which she called “Hot potato” because we were going to pretend the potatoes were on fire and could not be touched. She lined them up and the boys took turns running and jumping over the potato line which became wider and wider, requiring longer jumps and more challenge.
This activity completely captured our crew, who readily lined up and took turns running and launching over the potatoes. And Janet was able to affirm that this was a game that was their idea.
Child-centered education requires that a teacher be flexible enough to change course, to take the ideas of children and to implement them in appropriate and doable ways. It involves giving children a chance to use their own ideas and structuring them in a way that is productive and acceptable. The child-centered teacher takes a situation that could deteriorate into mayhem and transforms it into a game created from the children’s actions.
This is child-centered education at its best.