Children floored by learning at St Nick’s

General Operations Manager of St Nicholas Early Education, Kerri Armstrong, has been clear from the very beginning about the educational philosophy behind the St Nicholas adventure.

“St Nicholas is dedicated to providing each child with a variety of child-led play based learning opportunities and intentionally designed educational experiences that extend and maximise each child’s individualised learning.

“We document our learning in a way that includes and involves the families of children in our care.

“It’s important to me to encourage parents – and the extended family – to be as involved in the learning process as they can possibly be.”

To this end, all five St Nicholas Early Education Centres are dedicated to documentation and planning procedures that go far beyond mere record keeping.

“Documentation and planning at St Nick’s are based on an emergent curriculum,” says Kerri. “This means that we begin with children’s interests and extend on those in a variety of ways.

“For example, we use what we call ‘floorbook documentation’. You might think of it as a large scrapbook, at the children’s level, which provides a creative and engaging way of documenting the learning that takes place each day.

“It’s vital that we include the children’s voices in that documentation and we soon learned that they want to be included!”

Educational Consultant, Clair Warden, says, “By really listening to children and giving them time to think and time to talk, we can create inspirational and unique learning opportunities. Like adults, children learn best when they are actually interested in a topic or idea: by nurturing their fascinations we can explore complex subjects such as aerodynamics or energy through the approach. Floorbooks ensure that the child's voice is at the heart of all learning experiences in a practice.”

The day’s learning experiences are recorded collectively each afternoon. Photos and drawings are included and children can select and cut out photos, offer their own artworks and even write about their day. The record itself then suggests ways in which learning might be extended next time. “Children often grab their parents as soon as they arrive to show them the day’s floor book and they’re excited about this. It’s an authentic way to include families in the learning journey,” says Kerri.

Mind mapping is another technique which builds on the interests and questions children readily communicate. A map is built up on the wall – it might be the journey of the construction of a bridge after children have travelled over a bridge on an excursion – so the questions they pose are answered in conversation and in other ways.

“The only piece of technology in each Centre is a high quality Smartboard which is used for investigation,” says Kerri Armstrong, “We might google how bridges are built – what materials are used – what do engineers do?  – and so learning takes place.”

Another advantage of this authentic and meaningful style of learning is that when the children go home, they have lots to tell their families. Some early education centres use a highly digital approach and no doubt parents are well informed, but the element of the child’s sharing of his or her experience may be overlooked.

In terms of children’s speech development, extended conversation is best encouraged as often as possible.   

“It’s so much better for a child to be telling and showing a parent than for the parent to be reading or viewing remotely on an app,” says Kerri. “The child’s voice has been listened to and the engagement is encouraged.”

Yet another effective strategy is the use of portfolios for each child. These serve as both a record of experiences and at the end of the child’s time at St Nick’s, a treasured memento.

However, parents need not wait until the child leaves St Nick’s to peruse the portfolio. It can be taken home anytime, so there are regular opportunities for children to recount and illustrate their experiences at home.  

As Kerri points out, “It’s meaningful because the children have been active in the documentation of the learning; educating and documenting are not discrete processes.

 “If we don’t pursue and build the link between home and early education we miss out on so much. The children are excited about including the rest of the family in their learning. It’s so important for us to be in partnership with families.

“Parents give us feedback about what’s happened and how it’s been extended at home as well - they feel invested in and included in their children’s learning.

“As the first formal education children receive, early education sets the platform for how children learn as they get older and if we do it well we create really confident, capable learners for the future. With my staff of educators, I’m dedicated to seeing that we continue on that path at St Nick’s.”

The much-loved community camera, taken home by individual children in turn, provides photos which not only supplement the curriculum documentation, but provide opportunities for children to introduce their classmates to life at home. They learn to speak confidently before an audience – long before ‘big school’!  

As she visits St Nick’s Early Education Centres, Kerri has loved observing children and parents sharing experiences and the evidence of the learning that’s taken place that day – and every day.

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Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is a member of the Raymond Terrace Parish and a freelance writer with a particular interest in church matters.

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