A child would come to my Kinder room on a Monday morning and be very excited to share their stories about their trip to the Zoo on the weekend.
So as a graduate teacher 6 years ago, I was so proud of my efforts in setting up a table with beautiful fabric, a range of animals, and some construction materials for children to ‘build their own zoo’. And I genuinely believed I could tick off that box about responding to children interests for learning!
What I had failed to question was if the Zoo was truly an interest or just a recall of recent events, what aspects of a Zoo visit that were of particular interest and warranted future exploration, and most importantly what prior knowledge/particular learning goals did I have for that child that could be strengthened by this interest.
And, it has taken 6 years of reflection to realise that an interest alone will not necessarily result in learning, if it is not accompanied by purposeful and intentional teaching practices.
We continue to hear of the confusion from educators about how children’s interests can be used to lead the curriculum ‘The children have 30 interests every day! How can I extend all of them?’
So what does it mean to truly follow children’s interests and make it meaningful for their learning?
Here are some strategies to help you determine how interests really can become the learning?
- Interest + need= learning! If we only understand a child’s needs or only know the child’s interest it may be difficult to have enough information to support meaningful learning experiences. Using the two combined however, is a force to be reckoned with!
- Think of the interest as a resource! As much as paint is a resource in the creative arts area, an interest in the zoo might be the resource for supporting children during social interactions with peers.
- The interest is the strategy, not the goal! A goal should be linked to children’s learning potential and developmental milestones; the interest should be used as the vehicle to support the child to reach these goals.
- Children’s interests might not be expressed verbally! As educators it is important to consider other ways to understand what a child might be interested in learning. An infant’s interest in walking may not be heard but rather observed by an educator, from the child’s persistence and joy in the experience. Or an educator might reflect on a child’s art portfolio and notice common themes emerging over time. Sometimes ‘actions do speak louder than words’.
- Don’t persist with the interest if children lose interest! It’s ok to end things before they reach the end of your planning cycle. If children are not responding to provocations, end it!
- As educators it’s to OK to determine what interests children might need to explore further! Consider your own knowledge of the child, environmental factors, and factors that children might be exposed to in your own service’s context. For example, whilst children may not express a particular interest in autumn, as an educator knowing all children will be exposed to changes in weather, this may be a reason to explore similar concepts as a group.
- A PROJECT approach can be great way to explore shared interests with children.
- TIME! Before we decide whether to use an interest to support children’s learning, take the time to see whether the interest is sustained. Is the child still interested after a few days or a few weeks? Can you imagine if we followed through with every interest of every child every day???
So if we can leave you with one message, we encourage all educators to refrain from instant action and see how children’s interests emerge… It might not feel natural at first but as they say, ‘good things come to those who wait’.
National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program:
About the author:
Courtney Caligiore is an educational leader at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. She has spoken and written about how Storypark has transformed the way RCH Early Learning communicate with families.