Children... the heart of curriculum

Volume 5, Number 3 - May 2018

Editoral

This first issue of He Kupu for 2018 iterates the theme of the 2017 New Zealand Tertiary College (NZTC) symposium - Children... the heart of curriculum. In this edition a number of articles based on presentations from the symposium are featured. The articles reflect practical and theoretical perspectives of early childhood curriculum from practitioners, academics and postgraduate students.

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Commentary

This article was inspired by the buzz surrounding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The term STEM education stands for a holistic approach to teaching and learning about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is the intention of this article to explore the origins and application of STEM education, which has become a global trend within education. Drawing upon current literature and knowledge of early childhood education in New Zealand I discuss STEM education, the common themes within the literature and propose that this current global trend is not a new idea to Aotearoa/New Zealand early childhood education (ECE).

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Practitioner Research

When introduced to the acronym STEM (which stood for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning in early childhood education (ECE), I was immediately intrigued. Having been a kaiako (teacher) in rural New Zealand and growing up on a dairy farm, natural, hands-on, child-lead, and inquiry-based learning was my passion. It always sat well with me that Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum (Te Whāriki) (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017) backed by decades of research and literature supports a play-based approach to learning in the early years in New Zealand.

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This article aims to give a practical overview of science in early childhood education (ECE), including pedagogical practices. Science is one of the learning areas with a lot of content knowledge, encompassing key scientific understandings of the natural environment, plants, human beings and animals, interacting substances and elements and knowledge about planet Earth and beyond. Research argues that children have science content knowledge prior to attending preschools, which connects to more advanced science areas like biology, chemistry, psychology and physics (Brenneman 2010; Metz 2009 as cited in Pendergast, Lieberman-Betz & Vail, 2017). However, this scientific knowledge needs to be identified and nurtured at the grass root levels by teachers. Teachers who have a large concept knowledge base are able to identify relevant science linked to children’s current interest and prior knowledge and are able to introduce children to science in meaningful and memorable ways through their sociocultural environments.

I was reading a regional newspaper in Taranaki, New Zealand a few months ago and a question in the article caught my eye. Learning how to communicate our boundaries in a constructive way – is it something we’re taught? (Service,2016, p. 16). The line was not earth-moving or mind-shattering, the kind that may eventually find its way as car stickers, postcards or wall frames later. Rather, it was simple and could even easily be forgotten, however it lingered in my mind hours and even days after.

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Pretend gun play is one of the most popular play types children choose in early childhood settings, while it is often not recognised as an opportunity to initiate a constructive curriculum experience. In the process of developing ethical and effective pedagogical responses regarding pretend gun play, a shared attitude among parents and educators is the foundation of open communication, consistent guidance and innovative practices. This article will review studies of the last seven years that reflected on the zero to low tolerance towards pretend gun play in early childhood settings, so as to inform future empirical studies on the recommended pedagogical practices to guide children’s pretend gun play.

Commentary

Research on child development and early education has increased exponentially in recent decades. In fact, among the most exciting achievements in neuroscience in the past century are new insights into how the brain grows and functions during the earliest years of life. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University is leading the way in summarising and translating this research into practice for teachers and families.

Special Edition

In 2016, Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum (Te Whāriki) (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017), New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum was updated for the first time in 20 years. Although the gazetted principles, strands and goals of the curriculum were not part of the update, the remainder of the curriculum was revised to meet the changing social and linguistic context, the revised national curriculum and associated documents, reviews of early childhood practice and relevant theory and research. The updated curriculum has reduced learning outcomes (from 118 to 20) and stronger guidance on the need for both informal and formal approaches to assessment to ensure children’s learning in each strand are assessed. This article reflects on the changes between the 1996 and 2017 version of the curriculum in relation to assessment and the rationale for the changes. Approaches to both ‘in the moment’ and planned assessment are explored and the usefulness of approaches which enable teachers to reflect on ‘discrepant data’ and support children’s learning in each strand are examined.

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Children under five are the heart of Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum ( Te Whāriki )(Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017). When a child is at the heart of the curriculum, they are the life force of that curriculum as it puts the child as being the paramount focus behind forming relationships, planning and activities (MoE, 2017). The original principles of the importance of the child and the need to understand the sociocultural context of their lives is still very much a focus of the updated version of Te Whāriki (MoE, 2017).

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Although Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Curriculum (Te Whāriki) (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2017), the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, dedicates an entire strand to wellbeing, stating that “All children have the right to have their health and wellbeing promoted and to be protected from harm” (MoE, 2017, p. 26), there is considerable concern to what degree this message is enacted in early childhood education. This article aims to explore how the curriculum can support the health and wellbeing of children and the role educators play in co-constructing a curriculum that accommodates and promotes health and wellbeing knowledge and practices with children and their families and whānau.

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Like free play, children learn through exploring and experimenting with art media. Terreni (2010) states that art is “often identified as a distinct area of play” (p. 2), and by engaging in and with different arts during early childhood, this will not only influence the achievement of present learning outcomes but also enable behaviours and attitudes that will support future learning in infants, toddlers and young children (Vecchi, 2010; Barton, 2015). Learning and partaking in the arts, whether in dance, music, drama or visual art, fosters a child’s holistic development while cultivating their artistic abilities and knowledge.

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Book Reviews

New insights into the importance and role of early childhood education, highlight the importance of knowledgeable, skilled teachers who can employ effective teaching strategies and teaching resources. Many newly qualified teachers who do not yet have the expertise will benefit from knowledge and skills shared by their more expert and experienced counterparts.

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As adults and children alike continue to teach and learn in a technology rich 21st century, Education and New Technologies- Perils and Promises for Learners, sets out to answer and challenge future implications and benefits for andragogy and pedagogy. The book covers a range of relevant issues within the education sector namely online learning, culture, literary, collaboration and relationships, as well as ethical considerations and surveillance. The creditable, international authors address a range of technology topics that effect humans from before birth until after death in an age whereby connection to technology is 24 hours, seven days a week and a routine part of living and being.

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Elizabeth Wood is a professor at the University of Sheffield and teaches postgraduate programs as well as courses for early childhood practitioners.

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Contributors

Anran Niu, Barbara Scanlan, Binky Laureta, Professor Claire McLachlan, Fiona Woodgate, Galina Stebletsova, Julia Holdom, Keshni Kumar, Kim Jenson, Marjolein Whyte, Robyn Chaffey, Dr Sue Bredekamp

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