I still feel that young children are totally enchanting.  I find myself observing them with delight, and reflecting on what they are doing and thinking about as they play .
– Pam Cubey

Where to start with introducing Pam Cubey? With almost 60 years contributing to early childhood education (ECE) thinking and practice both in NZ and internationally this is no mean feat!

It was my absolute pleasure to spend a morning with Pam learning from her vast experience in education, and to become re-energised by the delight that she takes from the world around her.

A bit about Pam

imagePam started her career in early childhood as a playcentre mother in Wellington, New Zealand.  After a cautious and rather terrified start (“I was asked to make the dough – I had no idea what the supervisor was talking about!“) she gained confidence and undertook training to become a supervisor herself and later worked with other playcentre trainees as a centre supporter.

In 1963 Pam and other parents worked with Dr. Marie Bell at Matauranga School in Wellington. The school was an extension of Playcentre philosophy, and very unusual at the time for its focus on no corporal punishment, creativity, child led-learning and parents learning and contributing along side their children.

At 44 Pam undertook a postgraduate course in primary school teaching. Tragically Pam’s husband passed away later that year. She moved to the Advanced Studies for Teachers Unit at the Correspondence School setting up a distance learning course for playcentre supervisors around the country.

In 1979 Pam was appointed an early childhood lecturer at the Wellington College of Education in Wellington teaching a range of subjects including science (her first University Degree) and child development.

In the late 1980’s she took the opportunity to travel, and through the British Council in the United Kingdom met with Tina Bruce and Chris Athey from the Froebel Institute, who put her in touch with Margy Whalley from Penn Green Centre.

From these women she developed an ongoing interest and passion for schemas and how this approach can empower teachers and parents to understand and support children’s learning.  For Pam “It made such sense”

In 1989 she introduced schema learning theory at the College of Education. She told Anne Meade about Schema when they were working on the Competent Children Project. Together they wrote Thinking Children in 1995 and later revised it following the work they did with Wilton Playcentre in the Centres of Innovation. 

Somehow Pam managed to squeeze in a Masters Degree in Education Research and Policy, 6 months in Tonga working for VSA assessing their early childhood provision, and 2 visits to the Cook Islands to help develop student teacher awareness of what it might be like for students and their families coming from the Pacific Islands to integrate into the NZ education system.

Pam has been presented papers at several international education conferences, has run professional development courses for teachers, undertaken research for the Ministry of Education, worked for the Education Review Office and supported teachers in the field to develop their practice.

Pam is a grandmother to 6 lovely grandchildren and continues to travel and learn.  She has a trip planned later this year to Penn Green Centre, United Kingdom.

KW You are well known for your work on schemas, why are you so passionate about it?

PC When introduced to parents, they have no difficulty taking schema on board. At Wilton Playcentre, parents were not “pure’ about theory, taking what made sense to them and their experiences. It increased their feelings of confidence and competence in supporting and providing learning opportunities at home. It was empowering. They became expert on spotting schemas of their own and other children.

Knowing about schemas has revealed for me so much more of the wonder and excitement of young children as they explore, pursue and discover the fascination of the world in which they live

KW What are your thoughts about the challenges in early childhood education in NZ?

PC Teachers are expected to do so much paper work now, and I do think it becomes a real drag on them. I often wonder, who looks at all these forms?  Is it really necessary – is there a better way ?

I worry about commercial chains chains in early childcare centres. Terms like “the industry” “workers on the floor” are concerning.

I think that the practical side of learning to be an early childhood teacher is being neglected – like understanding working with blocks. Working with adults – team working with other teachers, working with parents are also very important and have been neglected. The accent has swung too much to the academic side.

KW How about the good bits?

PC There are more men involved in ECE. And on the whole I think both fathers and mothers are taking a greater interest in their children’s learning.

The knowledge of the importance of the early years has increased hugely.  The increased research about the development of the brain has certainly contributed to this.

I now am seeing a greater transfer of knowledge through transitions- especially with tools like Storypark – where information can be shared between early childhood centres and primary schools.

KW And the NZ Curriculum?

PC Te whaariki is a very good curriculum and is versatile. People say “you are lucky in NZ!  We wish we had something like that over here!”

KW And what do you see for the future in ECE?

PCThere is a huge accent on “getting ready for school”.  There are a lot of parents that are very ambitious for their children.  They feel that they must get them on the ladder. If the children are wanting to chant their ABC’s let them – but not if it involves sitting still and excluding other things. We need to make sure that kids are explorers of their world.  Children need to move and be active. We need to remember that for a lot of children it is not about making a product it’s about trying something out.

However, there are people will stick up for Te Whaariki and it’s philosophy.  That’s very heart warming. To be advocates for that approach to learning and being.

And the final word…

Pam would like to share a quote from Chris Athey of the Froebel Institute in her book “Extending Children’s Thinking”.

It is difficult to express in the written word the excitement experienced by all the adults in the day to day explorations of these fundamental patterns of behaviour (schemas.) When one is  discovered it has an obviousness which generates excitement, which in turn sustains the search and reinforces the partnership between parent and teacher.

Nothing gets under a parent’s skin more quickly and more permanently than the illumination of his or her own child’s behaviour .

Thank you Pam for spending time with me and sharing your insights.

Kathleen from Storypark

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