Philosophy and Curriculum
"It is important that we learn, because we learn things and it makes us know a lot.
It is good to know things because people are counting on us.”
~ child, 4 years
The overarching philosophy of the Mentor Graphics Child Development Center is to provide a developmentally appropriate program for young children that fosters the development of emotionally healthy children and stimulates children’s natural interest in, and enjoyment of, learning. Our program philosophy and practice has roots in a social constructivist theory of learning.
Our broad, long-term program goals include helping children:
• To become creative, independent thinkers
• To feel competent and productive, with good self-esteem and a sense of self worth
• To develop a sense of responsibility for their own mental and physical health
• To understand that they are a part of a diverse, multicultural global community and that their actions influence the quality of that community
• To recognize the riches human differences bring to our world
• To understand the various kinds of intelligences – linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, physical, spatial and personal -- that are valuable and important to our communities
• To develop higher moral reasoning and to develop into adults with an internalized code of ethics and principles
Our program’s educational philosophy is supported not only through the curriculum, but also by teachers, families and parents involved in the program that provide positive role models for children.
As we continue our work with children and families we have come to understand the goals stated above do not quite capture our current thinking. We entered the 2011-2012 school year having begun work on communicating the understandings we hope children will exit our program with as life-long learners. We have articulated these understandings as “Enduring Understandings and Questions”. These understandings and questions are flexible and will be used in our curriculum and assessment conversations throughout the year.
Enduring Understandings and Questions
I am an evolving individual
Who am I? What does it mean to be an individual? What do I value about myself? What is unique about me? What does it mean to be authentically myself? How do I safely take risks and embrace mistakes as I change and grow? What opportunities do mistakes offer? How do I embrace my capabilities and talents? How do I realize my power for positive change?
I am a contributing member of a community
What does it mean to be a member of a community? What are my rights and responsibilities as a member of this community? How are respectful, responsive, reciprocal communities nurtured? How can I contribute meaningfully to my community?
I am a creator of ideas and questions
What role does creativity play in thinking and learning? How does play support me in developing ideas, theories and questions? What materials will support my thinking? How are doing and learning interconnected? What roles do observation, attention and persistence play in learning?
I am a communicator
How do I effectively share my ideas/needs/questions with others? What material/ ‘language’ will best express my ideas and questions? How do I respectfully advocate for myself and others? What does it mean to ‘listen’ with all your senses? What role do joy and humor play in being a competent communicator? What does responsive and reciprocal communication look and feel like?
I am a steward of my environment
What are my rights and responsibilities in regards to the world outside of my-self? to the natural world? What role does the outdoors play in supporting my personal growth and well -being? How do I acknowledge the interdependence of all living things? How do I foster health in myself and others? What impact do appreciation and aesthetics have on our ability to act respectfully and mindfully? How do I realize my power for positive change? What does it mean to live sustainably?
“All children have preparedness, potential, curiosity and interest in constructing their learning;
negotiating with everything their environment brings to them.”
The curriculum in each classroom is negotiated as a conversation between children, teachers, and parents and is further supported by the design of the environment. There have been many theoretical influences on our curriculum work that have helped us to continue to learn and develop best practice.
Some of the best known contributors to our work are Piaget, Vygotsky, Magda Gerber’s RIE philosophy and the municipal preschools and infant-toddler centers of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Piaget’s work reminds us that open ended activities and questions support the cognitive development of children because they ask the child to do their own thinking. Through this type of learning teachers support inquiry and finding out what the possibilities are in any given experience rather than strictly teaching correct or incorrect fact based information. Vygotsky’s theories support teachers being keen observers so that they can provide supportive information to help children to get to the next step in their learning process. Vygotsky referred to this support as “scaffolding”. His work contributed to an increased understanding in field about how social and cognitive growth influence one another.
Our work is strongly influenced by our developing understandings of the municipal preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The infant/toddler and preschool programs of Reggio have been hailed as exemplary models of early childhood education (Newsweek, 1991). The Reggio Emilia approach to education is committed to the creation of conditions for learning that will enhance and facilitate children's construction of "his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and cognitive languages" (Edwards and Forman, 1993). As a Center staff, we continuously research the ideas about excellence in education for young children that the schools in Reggio offer to improve our practices within the classroom.
In the CDC infant and toddler rooms, our methods of care giving are strongly impacted by the RIE philosophy. RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers. As taught by RIE founder Magda Gerber, this approach models and promotes mutually respectful relationships between infants and their caregivers. Infants and Toddlers are seen as unique individuals with a surprising capacity to participate in relationships and in their own learning.
To offer an overview of the RIE Philosophy the cornerstones of the practice are:
• Respecting the child
• Fostering his/her independence
• Allowing for natural gross motor development
• Developing a reciprocal trusting relationship
You can stay current with the plans for your child’s classroom through the Curriculum Projections. Curriculum Projections provide insights into observations made by classroom teachers, questions regarding next steps/development and invitations that will be offered in a curriculum cycle. Curriculum Projections follow the process and planning for long term projects as well as new invitations and environmental changes. Curriculum Projections are posted outside each classroom and e-mailed to the classroom distribution list in two week to one month planning cycles.
In summary our curriculum is a plan for learning that is:
• Developmentally and individually based
• Concerned with process, and having the child be an active participant in learning- a constructivist approach supported by Jean Piaget’s theories
• Sensitive to the child, each child's ability to set his/her own learning pace
• Based on the child’s interests and abilities
• Designed to help the child solve problems, question, experiment and hypothesize- based on Vygotsky’s work that demonstrates the importance of a social community
• Culturally relevant to children and their families
We reflect on what is happening in the classrooms through child created story books, recorded conversations, teachers’ written observations, children’s work, journals, portfolios and documentation panels that narrate the journey of an idea explored over time.
Classroom journals serve as a form of documentation throughout the CDC that records and reflects the work of the children and the teachers. The overarching purpose of this type of documentation is to serve as a window into the life of each classroom. Thus, the journals help to create and support relationships and understandings between home and the CDC. Enhancing dialogue among what in Reggio Emilia they refer to as the “Three Protagonists” (child, teacher, and parent) is a central goal of the classroom journals and other documentation throughout the CDC.
The format of journal varies. This is purposeful in order to meet the goals of reflecting work in an authentic voice, including emergent thinking, and being responsive to the developmental level of each group. Format and content for the journal can include photographs, children’s words and conversations, examples of children’s work, and adult text that further extends observations, wonderings and/or reflections about the children’s work. The focus shifts and can include content that shows the development of a curriculum thread, a single child’s development or discovery, a captured moment in the life of the group, or a specific happening during the day that was significant. Often the classroom journals will reflect back to the posted curriculum projections for each classroom. The journals are not meant to be comprehensive but rather to be reflective of the life of the classroom and the developmental progress of the children.
Parents are encouraged to participate in this vital documentation by reviewing the journal with your child at pick up or drop off times. It is an excellent tool to start conversation with a verbal child. In addition we encourage you to respond to the team with any ideas, comments or concerns that are prompted by the classroom journal.
As a form of documentation, journals show the children that their work is valued. They are often used as a tool to revisit work with the children and as a catalyst to take the work to a deeper level. Children benefit from the opportunity to discuss their work with parents, other classrooms and visitors.
Journals give the teachers an opportunity to share their work with colleagues, parents and visitors. The journals can become a part of individual children’s portfolios, documenting their growth and development. Journals support teachers in looking more closely at what is happening in the classroom. Thus, the journals enable them to build upon curriculum threads and the developmental needs of the children. The classroom journals are invaluable tools that can be used in planning for and reflecting on ongoing work.