A NEW CHILD-CENTERED CURRICULUM FOR EDUCATION

- PRENATAL TO ADULTHOOD -

                The discussion of the creation of adult human lives can be most fascinating - the job of parents, educators and the whole, wider community...

                Of course, hereditary factors have a part - but this is just the clay we have to work with, which can be then molded to the optimum `shape' for the well-being of the individual, and all he or she may come into contact with.

                To find the kind of things each one can do best, with the most satisfaction, is something we all would be glad to have happen to us.

                It is the real task we have as educators, and how well it is done can make such an enormous difference to each individual, to the families and communities who make up our world.


This is the reason I am offering a new concept for a core curriculum. The format is very simple, being based on human mental growth steps, or seven stages of cognitive development, as follows...

- GROWTH STAGES -

1) Conception to mobility: explore and develop the five sensory and innate perceptions
2) Pre-school: physical exploration of familiar environment
3) Ages 4-7: developing communication skills
4) Ages 7-11: general studies - exploring creation, the universe
5) Ages 11-15: self and relationships study (puberty)
6) Ages 15 -17: Development of personal gifts and interests
7) Ages 16-adult: career, employment exploration

The age ranges are will overlap and build on what has already taken place, and open the door on what is to come. It is the progression that's important, but most children will be working on these topics at the about these ages. Note that some aural (sounds) and emotional stimulation can happen pre-birth, although this is not a well explored area. So, the curriculum activities are cumulative - each stage is built upon the last - the next stage will involve the previous activities plus the new ones.

- A NEW MODEL FOR INTELLIGENCE -

Looking again at the last three stages of cognitive development, I propose a radical concept, basing development on a non-linear scale of intelligence. It declares that all of us are intelligent, in different ways (excluding actual brain damage). The different kinds of intelligence are valuable and needed.

I perceive there are three basic, overlapping areas - creative, academic and practical. We need people working at tasks that involve good hand-to-brain function, for the practical tasks that occur in the life sustaining requirements of food, clothing and shelter. Creative people such as actors, writers and musicians make life interesting, even worth living. Academic people can improve how we live, making life more comfortable, less dangerous.

Not recognising the value and worth of creative and practical intelligence, is why I see the school system failing just about everybody in terms of discovering and developing individual capabilities. Surely education should have the goal of developing the individual to the point where young people are ready for successful entry into adult life. So few of them leave school feeling sure of what they want to do, or even what they can do.

High IQ people display the irony of the supposed goal of education - to see people highly educated... This is supposed to make life wonderful, successful, and rich; yet I know many of the very highest achievers who have such a hard time at school, persecuted by other jealous pupils (heard of nerds?), and not being extended by busy teachers, resulting in boredom, mischief making, day-dreaming. At the other end of the scale, non-academic practical people may feel they are failures, and second-class citizens, yet without practical people, we would die. Both may lack the confidence to find and train in work that is satisfying and challenging to them.

Each person has gifts and intelligence - they are different, not better or worse than each other. Human abilities are as diverse as human needs. If we were able to choose the genetic makeup of our children - so that all did well in our present academic school system - so that practical ability was bred out of the human race - we would have serious problems in finding people who are able to enjoy and be good at the work involved in planting and harvesting crops, caring for farm animals, building homes, sewing clothes.
To read a more detailed, somewhat light-hearted article on this crucial concept, see my article online called: A New Model for Intelligence. (sorry, it is no longer available on this high IQ site - but you may like to take at look at what is on it)The article is now on my site - A New Model for Intelligence.

However, it should be evident that finding out what each person does best, makes more sense than spending most teacher time on fixing weaknesses - and having everybody end up with mediocre ability. The reason we have done this is because we only see intelligence on a linear scale - low or high IQ. We think that the higher up the scale we are, the more likely we are to succeed. Life proves this wrong time and time again. No, we need to approach intelligence with a much wider focus... For this way, no one fails, all are needed, respected, and honored. All children will feel they will have a place in the world.

I have outlined the major thoughts in the new concept, a child-centered curriculum. The following thoughts are filling out and developing some of ways it can be applied....

-ADVANTAGES OF THE NEW CURRICULUM -

But the beauty of this curriculum is that activities for each stage are developed on a wide basis according to the ability of the child. This means whether a child is gifted or handicapped, they will cover each stage - either just the rudiments, or to a highly complex level. Readiness to move to a more complex level is determined by a perception of the child's level of interest and occupation in the activities, and their physical ability to be able to participate in them for increasing lengths of time.

I can see each age range working at a widely varying depth of study. At the first level of schooling I see a practical child gain basic number and written language skills, whilst a HiQ student explores university level mathematics, various languages and literature - in a variety of ways - the internet is a must. I see extremely gifted children working with others via e-mail, with a HiQ adult as majordomo. I see practical children setting up gardens, and tiny farms and businesses with local business people helping on occasion. The classroom is after all, an artificial environment. It may seem an easier task to box everyone into school rooms, but in the end, society as a whole will be poorer.

I feel that when children are doing things they enjoy, and feel they can get good at, some of the discipline problems will disappear. Not all of them of course, human nature being what it is! And there will always be problems brought from home. However, in making school an enjoyable place to learn, the positive atmosphere will be a great help in discipline.

- DEVELOPING THE BLUEPRINT -

So what we have here is a "roadmap" And from here, we need a huge pool of activity ideas - lesson plans - that can be made available online, plus needed resources. I have enjoyed working on a few of the beginning areas... But it will be up to specialists in different areas to create expansion studies.

It will require some new kinds of teaching material and methods. But in home-schooling situations, or in private schools, it can start working immediately.

- HOW DOES IT WORK? LESSON PLANS AND CONCEPTS -

- PRESCHOOL -

The curriculum is child-centered, and aims gradually to teach the child to teach themselves - particularly in the school situation. This will enable more teacher time to assist the really needy children to gain communication skills.

The first two pre-school stages require parents as teacher, in the main, but grandparents, aunts, friends etc should all have their input. The child’s most basic emotional needs are:- to feel safe, accepted and important.
From this healthy position, they can begin to explore and to manipulate their environment - and some of that will involve making mistakes and learning what isn’t safe, hopefully from the carer, much more than by experience! They need to learn that some things (which include other people) are not to be manipulated - which is where the carer has to be firm - for everybody's sake! The child needs to be given time and attention, and this will decrease with maturity, if the right amount is given at the right time. This means that the child's needs come first, but then the parent/ carer can take some time for themselves or others. This kind of balance, and a mix of company and solitary play, is part of what a child needs to learn, for a healthy outlook on the world.

So, what can be done at each stage to enhance our children’s learning - which is the job of parents, relatives, educators and the wider community?

It is simple, and it can begin even before birth.

1/ Newborn to two year old... Parents, extended family, day-care centres etc. need ideas of how to stimulate and develop the five senses - (shapes and colors, textures, taste, sounds, smells), and provide a healthy emotional atmosphere - the latter will be mostly involuntary learning, but parents will need to have some control over this - e.g., low levels of tension around the baby, who can perceive both physical and emotional states.

Stimulate and develop the five senses :
visuals - colors - variations - shapes... mirrors - torches ......
sounds - anything from classical music to motor noises
smells - anything from orange peel to leather to smelly shoes!....
touch - a good one - textures of all sorts - sand paper, tissues, ice, cats, vegetables, grass, pine cones, rocks - take them out to touch trees and leaves and flowers...
taste - see above... some things you watch them with - some things you clean, and leave where they can get into them.
And then there's combinations - like the rustle of shiny black plastic strips that catch and hide the light, the whole orange to touch, taste and smell.............

This is just the beginning - each stage should carry through to the next stage and on into life...

2/ The young child - 3-5 year olds need to learn about their environment - to develop knowledge of the everyday world, learning words, ideas, and about people and what they do...
They need to begin exploring the familiar environment: [including which human beings, animals etc. are safe to interact with!]
The child will begin to physically explore and endeavor to manipulate what they can get to. The home and backyard have endless possibilities for discovery and manipulation - and from there, the child can explore where things have come from, that are in the home, they can explore their neighborhood, the local store, zoo, park, factory, doctor's surgery... some things are set up for this - some will need to be arranged - like a visit to a milk processing plant, farm, building site, the beach, the rivers, the factory, the marae, the hospital, the school - etc.

This is a stage of hands on, practical, physical learning. Starting with home - let them get into the pot cupboard, the plasicware - do the under the bed, behind the couch, in the cupboard things - the hut things inside and out - the picnics at home... the critter thing - explore the grass, the earth - magnifying glass, microscope; and with binoculars, the stars at night...
Out to the park, the shops, the library, the zoo, the workplaces, the beach and river and mountain - talk to lots of neighborhood people about themselves - shops, garage - - introduce them to the librarian, ask the simple questions. The parent's job is to help them learn the safety issues, to open the doors for the exploration, and to talk, talk, talk the language...
The child needs to know "Am I safe?" and "How can I affect my world?" and the balance of these will springboard them for the next step.

THE FORMAL EDUCATION SYSTEM

Readiness for each stage may be determined by both observation, and entry mastery tests, which are designed to be passed well by most people. Each day should have some set activities, where for an hour an appropriate age-range principle is presented. The rest of the day can be given to facilitated learning at each child‘s level. For older children, a much wider range of subjects and credits should be offered.

Here in New Zealand, a reform of the examination system is taking place, where students gain credits in a wide range of subjects towards a National Certificate of Education Achievement. Numeracy and literacy will form part of the standard necessary for a level one pass. Passes will be gained by reaching a certain standard, rather than competing with other students in any particular school.

Physical fitness is also important in education, especially these days where children have so much of interest to keep them indoors. Wider ranging television and video games access, thepersonal computer, complex toys, etc mean too many overweight young ones, so an exercise program and a sport of choice needs to be part of the curriculum.

And although spirituality is not usually able to be included in the state school program, for a holistic approach, I think it should be respected and discussed in an open way, if appropriate. There are difficult times in everyone’s life, where deeper things cannot be avoided. I think, in the case of death of friends or family, that classes or individual pupils should be allowed to work through things in their own way, with support from the teacher, or others.

3/ School entry: 5-7 year olds... Communication skills development in early school - communication studies begin with the five "R's" - reading, writing, arithmetic, aural and oral... - phonics should be taught along with the `look and say' method, where children connect a picture with a word shape, so that children have a pool of decoding skills. This will do a great deal towards improving literacy standards. They also should learn how to speak, write and listen well, and basic arithmetic/ number communication. Each of these has a great deal of extension possibilities which can carry through to the next stage as soon as a useful level of ability is reached. Rudiments of other languages can also be taught to most children while their tongue/ear/mind connection is still flexible. The child's own historical/ non-English cultural background should be drawn upon here, for a number of reasons, or a language that can be used in a local cross-cultural situation.
They will already have lots of words - now it's learning to read, write, spell, speak clearly, listen carefully, and basic arithmetic - or number language. All the basic skills should be there by age seven - unless there's actual learning problems - brain damage, dyslexia, emotional disorders - in which case, the need will be to keep giving them steps 1 & 2 in the classroom...

4/ 7-11 year olds: Applying communication skills to learn about the universe... - an introduction to various sciences, history, geography - the kind of things children want to know - these can be teacher assisted projects - with children learning to teach themselves at their own pace... This will give more time to teach communication skills to those having difficulty, at the same time, not holding back those who are gifted....

Calling this stage "learning about the universe" is a quote from Einstein, who said he was studying to find out "how God made the universe." And itis true, the first chapter of Genesis is a useful list covering all topics. There are the sciences involved in light production: physics, chemistry :- matter, energy, time; the water cycle and the atmosphere, caves and the sea; then on to ecological systems, geology, plant biology, astronomy, fish, birds, amphibians, dinosaurs, "creeping things", animals; and then people studies - social, life sciences... History, sociology, anthropology, literature, the arts etc ...

Children can learn the basics of all of these sciences, if they are introduced with simplicity and enthusiasm. [I've kept kindergarten children enthralled with a story about what happens when a fox eats an apple, and the seeds get into his droppings, and an new tree grows and a bee puts pollen in a flower to make a new apple - complete with actions of course!] And here, the child who is taught to teach him/herself can come into their own, with an endless supply of books, the internet and other resources, they can go as far as they wish to at their own speed, with some guidance and encouragement from their tutors.

As you start to teach them how to teach themselves - they can keep diaries, and self designed personal and group projects, and talk, talk, talk... The "5 R’s" can be incorporated into these activities rather than in repetitive, irrelevant exercises - it's up to the teacher to think of different ways - It can all be used again, and there's so much scope, you'll never run out of material, and don't need to limit it to a few means of expression - use imagination/ stories, models, dramatization, songs.......

With the sciences - extension can also be through trips to more technical/ complex places, visit a laboratory, even a senior school might have fun showing young ones some things. Start with light/ heat/ waves/ sound - and put order into it - answer some of the `whys' etc. - help them think of the questions... lots of science experiments of the most basic sort... Talk it, read it, draw it, and write it...

Then the water cycle, clouds, atmospheres, snow, thunderstorms, tornadoes, underground caves, river systems, waterfalls - why does frozen water get lighter when everything else gets heavier when it becomes solid?

And then some geology fun - volcanic rocks, sedimentary, and metamorphic - earthquakes, tidal waves, floods - take them out to explore banks and cliffs - the foundations of our earth, look for the volcanic extrusions, evidence of earthquakes in layering, ... And plant biology - what do plants eat? How do they grow? How big, how little - strange plants - sea plants - flowers, pollination, seeds - experiments, bean sprouts, grass hair, gardens - orchids, cacti, vegetables. How many different species of plant/tree can they find in your locality? - Have children make name labels for plant collections e.g. cacti, and find out interesting things about them.

Space - this isn't hands on! This is where you get all the books, and videos - and take them on night trips to the observatory. Can you set up a telescope? Here's a couple of internet sites http://www.carterobs.ac.nz/carter.html , and http://hubble.stsci.edu . Get them to suggest ways they might want to remember, and keep it varied - some might want to make models, or draw, or write stories...

Some more biology - get out the books on fish and birds, on dinosaurs, tigers, whales, microbes and creepy crawlies - get them to write careful reports - teach them new words like habitat, ecosystem, life cycle... Get them to draw diagrams and labels and do graphs and layouts - to do class books.... Help them dissect a dead animal (fresh off the road - yuck!)

And now for people - history - the story of man - a class timeline with pictures and labels that they note down as you tell the story - And then there's museums, and cultural events. And geography - what would you want to know if you went and stayed with some people in another country? Food, houses, games etc - these make a good list to ask the people from other places as you invite them in - note it down, try their food, their language, their songs... [Yes - I've been a teacher and my class of 7-11 year olds loved these kind of activities - they would tell it all again to their parents!]

5/ 12-14 years: Learning about oneself - self exploration and discovery: This has to be more than human biology - there is a need to relate the maturation process to each individual. It is an intensely self-focused and personal time in our lives... The child needs to know where he/ she fits into the scheme of things. They need to discover their gifts, abilities, interests - 'Am I practical, creative, academic or a combination?'

Plus social skills - plus opportunities need to be given to try all the crafts, and lots of discussion groups, and computer/ video learning - stretching the mind, abilities, and learning how to control and emotions, respect differences...

To do this, it can be a time when various diagnostic activities can take place. Test what kind of learning style the child has; theirpersonality profile; give them challenges - physical and psychological - a very generalized but full-on approach to the budding adult - experiencing all kinds of activities, discussion groups, visits and visitors to help develop awareness of strengths and weaknesses.

Some are just an exploration of various kinds of activities that may be used in terms of a career - art, music, carpentry, film making, instructing others, home crafts - (which is valuable for everyone to have some knowledge of, in any case)... -Mechanics, electronics, creating a newspaper, a report on a science experiment, driving skills, balancing accounts, childcare, first aid and other simple medical procedures, etc. The range should be across all types of intelligence. There should also be some learning and discussion of social skills and activities - some of the positive and negative ways used to encourage people into a wholesome lifestyle. Sports, crime and punishment, award systems, helping agencies.

This can be a stage where the door can begin to open to the adult world, and all its joys and pitfalls.

6/ 14-15 years: Study of many kinds of skills and how they can be applied for the good of yourself and others - employment studies....
This area should have a broad approach, where things that the child feels are of interest are pursued, as well as their obvious gifts, even if they are not quite so interested... He may enjoy cooking, and be very good at computer studies. These may seem too disparate to pursue - but there must be an inclusive attack here, rather than exclusive. Remember, we are trying to find the optimum use of the basic genetic material, rather than trying to fit in with family expectations. It could be that, for instance, grand-dad can't stand computers, and auntie thinks boys shouldn't cook, and so would try and influence the child. - Yet, maybe the adult may write a program that can create original recipes!

7/ 16+: Discovering and choosing a career path and beginning to learn the skills that will be needed, and career or work options which can use what you're good at, and enjoy doing - mapping these choices, and be ready to step into the desired field by having interviews, having a C.V. ready - and work experience or further specialized education in the chosen course if necessary. It is then, a time to discover personal placement options, preparation and entry into employment, also, finding out who to see, and where to go to, to use those skills.
This stage is one where employment types and opportunities are actively pursued, and will finish when the young adult moves into the workplace, with a range of options to follow according to the vagaries of the job market, and personal circumstances. This stage may take only a short period for the practical minded, and much longer for the academic, with university, medical school etc. It should mean that no-one leaves the education system unemployable.

This is an idealistic approach, but it is much better to aim at something high, and do the best we can to achieve it.

 

CLASSROOM EXAMPLES

I’ve been thinking of my experience as a teacher - where over a year, I got my class to teach themselves - surely the best kind of educating... I’ve been trying to analyze how I did that...

I didn't have much time to work with - the morning being taken up with set reading and mathematics subjects - a private school situation... So the ideas may well be of use as out of school activities. In fact, maybe there should be a system where special needs children only attend school part of the day?...

These were 7-11 year olds, a small class of 15-20 pupils. I remember getting all the books I could find on the subject matter, and laying them out before the children, along with a list of topics they could choose to work on - individually, or in a group... I gave them a format - for instance, with creatures, they made up an A5 card, titled it with the animal name, and had to fill out a list of subtitles : habitat, food, appearance, activities and family life. They also added an original picture. The cards were displayed on the class wall afterwards. The difference in the pupils work was marked - but by the length of time I had had them in my class, rather than their intelligence - the range there was marked as well - from very bright to intellectually handicapped...

For history, we did a timeline - this time they had to do sketches and notes as I lectured them [story style], and then we made up a timeline on continuous feed computer paper, and they had to choose to develop their sketch into a proper picture and label and paste it correctly in place. Lots of books again for them to look at was the key...

For geography, a different learning situation again... I called it "Visiting round the world" and invited people from other cultures into the class - but first the class discussed what we would want to know if we went visiting another culture... They came up with great questions of the really important stuff - food, houses, clothes, language, appearance, games/ hobbies, schooling & health, countryside, animals, work, - and rules/government.
We learnt songs in other languages, ate strange food, tried clothing on; and the guests had a great time too. The children loved it and would go home and repeat it all to their parents - [now how often does that happen with school work! My three boys never did!] Of course, with just a few children - you can actually go to people's homes - even better! I expect the internet would be great as well....

And one other thing we did, was write and perform a musical - a bit more difficult - but they had a go at the writing - and did great on props and the actual performance.

 

WHAT ABOUT MAJOR EXCEPTIONS?
There will be some extremes such as the intellectually handicapped, or those impaired in a certain area e.g. dyslexia. There are also to be considered those that could be called severely gifted, e.g. who can read Shakespeare at the age of three. Yet even with such children, it is important that each of the stages are covered, for the sake of being balanced in development, for even a gifted child may not know something obvious in every area, and will also enjoy practical manipulation tasks such as cooking or clay work, or a visit behind the scenes at the local shops; - as will a handicapped child. There are socialization factors such as patience and tolerance, which can always be gained from mixed groups

THE INTERNET AS A CLASSROOM AND COMMUNITY
This is an area of particular interest to highly academically gifted children - who often have a difficult time in normal school, sometimes knowing more than their teachers do, in their specialist subjects. Discovering useful links to areas of interest through search engines is usually, but not always a useful thing to do. It needs to be supervised

THOUGHTS ABOUT DISCIPLINE - for stage 2...
The aim with discipline is to gradually teach children to internalise it - self discipline. There is a need to help them see that the world goes better for them when they behave in healthy ways - 'Doing to others what they want them to do to them"

I think that the children need to learn that Mom isn't `all that pleasant to be around' when they don't behave, for instance with tidying up... Because it's better that they learn that adults are humans with needs and tolerance levels too - with you - than with others that have no reason to care so much...

It is jolly hard - but start by working with them to tidy up - pick up the toy and hold it in their hand as you take it the toybox, and "It's a race - who can do the most!" it can be done... A wise lady once said - "We can protect and provide for our children, but if we don't train them - we'll have to look after them all our lives"...

It can be fun - or at least a normal part of life - where everyone does what they can to make things nice and comfortable... Children need to feel they are an important part of the family - and everyone does what they can to help - as soon as they are capable - with a lot of encouragement and praise. Focusing on behaviour, and not expecting the impossible, using words like "Well done, I like that, what a good helper!" is better that "Good person" - or "Bad person!" if they misbehave, which can put too much pressure on.

It is helpful to use creative ideas like: - "Forgot to say please? - Wait a few minutes and ask me again in a more friendly way" - [it's a long time for a little one - and you don't want them to go hungry/ thirsty]

It is all worth it in the long run. After all, we are creating adult human beings here!

Peace, grace and joy in your work
Deb


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