The early years are the most significant years for human growth, development and learning of all children including those with special needs due to disability conditions. The all-round capacities that emerge in 3 to 6 years age group are the pre-requisites for later success in school and life.
National Council of Educational Research and Training has framed the Pre school curriculum that aim at helping the teachers, administrators, policy planners and other stakeholders to provide good quality preschool education to children.
Preschool education is education imparted to children in 3-6 years age group. It is the first stage of organised education. Preschool education is also known as pre-primary education. It is provided in any of the settings such as Anganwadis, Nursery Schools, Preschools, Preparatory Schools, Kindergartens, Montessori schools and Pre-Primary sections located in government and private schools.
Preschool education envisions promoting access to universal, equitable, joyful, inclusive and contextualised learning opportunities for ensuring holistic development of all children between 3-6 years of age. These can be ensured by involving parents and teachers in providing an emotionally supportive, culturally rooted, child oriented, stimulating learning environment. It aims at maximising individual potential by creating strong foundations for lifelong learning through play and developmentally appropriate practices. It also intends to develop healthy attitude, good values, skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, technology, literacy and socio-emotional development. It ensures smooth transition from preschool to primary school, thus, enabling children for productive and satisfying life in future.
The overarching aims of Preschool education are
At the preschool stage, children are curious and excited about the colours, shapes, sounds, sizes and forms around them. The child’s ability to experience the world gets richer and more differentiated over the years. This early learning takes place as a part of communication with adults and peers in which language also plays a very important role. Children need to be given opportunities to investigate, explore, and develop an understanding of their immediate and wider environment – human, social and cultural. In the exploration of their environments, children are involved in observation, questioning, discussion, prediction, analysis, exploration, investigation, and experimentation. In this process they construct, modify, and develop a broad range of concepts and ideas. Children begin to handle their own feelings and emotions, learn sharing, turn taking and cooperating with peers. Children begin to tell others when they are happy or sad. They also develop their self concept.
The present curriculum, therefore, includes the specific content and pedagogy to suit the age and developmental requirements of this stage and finds its base from the theoretical and conceptual frameworks in the form of the guiding principles. This not only provides the required flexibility in terms of age, given the diversity in policies, but also caters to the realities of multilevel; multi age classrooms and ensures a smoother transition from preschool to early primary classes leading to positive self concept and confidence, better performance and better retention rates.
Due to the diversity of experiences, diversity of abilities, and vagueness of dialogue over appropriate teaching learning process certain issues have emerged in the past and will continue to come up. Hence, for the better implementation of present curriculum these concerns require mindful handling. This would help to improve the quality of teaching learning process in the classroom thus, ensuring learning and development of all children.
Tips to tackle some of the most prevalent issues are being discussed below:
1. Handle Variation in Learning
In a class where children vary in their learning abilities and learning style the teacher must,
2. Manage Multi-age Grouping
The multi-age groupings benefit both younger and older children in the classroom. In such heterogeneous groups, children learn from each other and thus, facilitate cooperative learning skills. Therefore, a class of multiage group children may be managed to get maximum benefits from them and for them. For handling multi level learners, who have variations in their learning levels ‘differentiation’ may be followed to manage multi-age group children.
She should also culminate projects that enable the child to rehearse, apply, and extend what children learned in a topic.
3. Avoid Early Formal Instructions
Early focus on developing knowledge, skills and cognitive abilities in children harms their ability to develop a positive attitude, disposition to learn, be reflective, be inquisitive, be inventive, be resourceful, and being a problem solver. Teacher ought to:-
4.Ensure Careful Inclusion of Children With Disability
Encouraging the development of children with disabilities through early intervention minimises learning difficulties and accelerates child development. It also reduces the expenses by minimising the need for special education services. Early intervention includes a system of services tailored to individual needs, that aim to help children directly and also through providing support to their parents. Early intervention can be offered in several forms:
Inclusion provides an opportunity to treat children with disabilities equally and focus on their abilities. This empowers them with adequate facilities, infrastructure and personal support. Hence,
Children are born with an incredible capacity and desire to learn. It is important that children are provided with rich experiences through play and activities that develop critical thinking and problem-solving, understanding about themselves which are age and developmentally appropriate. Pedagogical practices must include activities and experiences for all domains of development such as-cognitive, socio-emotional, language and literacy, physical-motor and creative and aesthetic which are interlinked. Ample opportunities should be provided to explore, understand, experiment, experience and transform information into meaningful content and skills.
Goals of Preschool Education
Learning and development in children is holistic, it advances in the areas of health, cognition, personal and social development and wellbeing simultaneously. Children learn at different times, in different ways and at different rates. The aim of preschool education is to facilitate optimum development of child’s full potential and lay the foundation for all round development and lifelong learning. The curriculum addresses all the domains of development through the following three broad goals.
Goal 1: Children Maintain Good Health and Wellbeing
The early childhood years are of critical importance for laying the foundation for optimal physical, socioemotional and psychological health and well being of children for life. These are the years when children, given the right opportunities and encouragement, are developing the five senses, strengthening their larger and finer bones and muscles and refining their eye hand coordination, which is also one of the prerequisites for being able to write. Alongside, their sense of identity and social skills are developing, as they initiate and engage in more and more play based activities with other children, initially in pairs and then gradually in smaller and then larger groups as they learn to play, work and live with others in harmonious ways. They also begin to appreciate how each one of them is different and how these differences need to be not only accepted but respected.
Most important of all, children need to experience a sense of autonomy and confidence in their own growing abilities and achievements and develop good health habits leading to good physical health and development of self esteem and a positive self concept, which if appropriately nurtured, will stay with them for life. All this gets facilitated if the learning and play experiences they get provide opportunities to them to take initiative and are also engaging and challenging for them, and yet within their zone of capability, to enable them to experience more of success than failure. This approach would help them inculcate an interest in learning new things, engage and persevere on new and routine tasks and regulate their own emotions and efforts, all of which are skills that contribute to success and well being in life.
Goal 2: Children Become Effective Communicators
By the time three year olds come into a preschool in monolingual cultures, they have typically already begun to communicate their needs and likes and dislikes orally in their home language, which is also the school language. In addition, in more literate families, children are from infancy (0-2 years) exposed to books and to reading through story telling by elders or by seeing others reading as role models. The preschool curriculum is therefore required to build on all these early experiences and exposure and further children’s communication skills so that they can orally share their thoughts and feelings or describe their experiences more effectively, be able to receive and share information and develop higher order skills of critical and creative thinking. They gradually go on to also learn to read and write with comprehension in that language. However, this scenario is possible only in contexts where the medium of instruction or interaction in preschools and schools is the same as the child’s home language, in which the child has already gained some competence at preschool entry.
Given our country’s multilingual context, we have a large number of children whose home language is different from the medium of instruction in school or preschool. These include contexts such as that of tribal languages or dialects of regional languages and increasingly now the contexts of English medium preschools where children in most cases come in with no or little familiarity with oral English. Starting children on reading and writing without ensuring their oral language base results in children learning to read mechanically through simple decoding, but without much comprehension. Since all school subjects are language mediated, this early learning gap inevitably has an adverse impact on children’s later performance in school.
In addition to this challenge, we have a large number of children who are first generation learners who do not have a literacy environment at home. They may not have seen books in their environment or had anyone reading to them or otherwise; have a vague concept of print or text or meaning and value of reading and writing activity. When exposed to literacy activities in preschool or school, children from these contexts are unable to connect meaningfully with this experience and fail to develop an interest or motivation to learn and succeed in this area. In today’s technology era chances of children being familiar at a very early age with mobiles are also more than being familiar with books. Given these challenges, a pedagogical shift is required in approach towards language and literacy.
Enabling children to be able to orally communicate with ease and competence in the preschool/school language, become print aware, understand or make a meaningful connect with reading and writing in familiar contexts and develop interest in books and in learning to read is essential. It become the hallmarks of early initiation of children into developing their foundations in oral language skills and skills of reading and writing at the preschool stage. In addition, to help children learn to decode text with ease a focus on developing phonological awareness and sound and visual association becomes important.
Goal 3: Children become involved learners and connect with their immediate environment
The young child is curious and enchanted about the world – its colours, its shapes, its sounds, its sizes and its forms. But most of all she is enchanted with the people – to begin with her immediate care givers, but also others. This ability to connect with others and to share feelings with them lays a special basis for learning- the cultural social basis of human learning.
The child in the preschool years begins to understand the world around her by making sense of it as she ‘sees’ it. If a set of five pencils is laid out in a way that it is spread apart and covers more space, whereas another set of five is placed close together and covers less space, preschoolers will tend to see the latter as having less pencils, although the number is the same! They are governed by the space covered as they see it and not by the concept of number which is still developing.
A major goal of preschool education is therefore to help children move towards more logical thinking by helping them graduate from their perception-bound to more concept based understanding. This gets addressed by helping children form concepts related to the world around them through direct experience and interactions with the physical, social and natural environment. A sound framework for planning their learning experiences to understand the environment could be to help them develop understanding or knowledge for the environment, through the environment and of the environment.
Children are active and curious learners hence, their safety and learning at the centre becomes the most challenging task. Designing physical space for young children blended with pedagogy and safety may help in their process of learning. Physical space for young children’s activities may vary from centre-to-centre and setting-to-setting (urban, rural, semi-urban and tribal) depending upon the availability of space and number of children. A well-designed physical environment accessible to all children supports exploration, gives young children a sense of belonging and enables them to engage in focused and self-directed play. Good environment also makes parents and caregivers feel welcomed and involved.
Given below are some of the important considerations while designing indoor and outdoor physical environment.
Designing Indoor Environment with Activity Areas
Activity areas also known as learning centres, are established places in the classroom with resources that actively engage children and they may change according the themes or topics.
Importance of Activity Areas
Playing in activity areas helps children exercise their choices and explore what interests them. It provides opportunities to create, draw, manipulate, discover, learn new skills, make mistakes, modify their strategies and gives a sense of achievement after they have mastered the activity in which they were engaged such as building a tower, fixing the jigsaw puzzle or solving a maze. It helps in their socio-emotional development, as children learn to play with other children, share ,take turns in using the material, wait till the other child finishes his/her activity. They learn time management as well as self regulation. It helps in fine and gross motor development as children play with water, sand, manipulate things. Children learn to solve problems, provide reasons, explore new material, make choices thus helping in their cognitive development. Observing children while they are involved in the activity area specially, doll corner and dramatic play reveals a lot about child’s contexts-family, interactions, relationships, pent up feelings/bottled up emotions, which may be used by the teacher.
Setting up Activity Areas
Activity areas should invite and promote active, independent exploration and discovery, creating an atmosphere in which children can learn. It should contain a variety of manipulative and materials that children can use in creative ways. The materials should be displayed and kept attractively on the open shelves for easy accessibility to encourage exploration. The material should be stored in such a way that children can start playing without adult help, and be able to arrange the material and clean up after they have finished playing. There should be enough material in each activity area so that children don’t fight or compete over one toy. Each classroom may have several activity areas such as- art area, block building area, doll and dramatic play area, maths/manipulative area, science/discovery area, music and movement area, sand and water play area, book reading area etc. These areas may also be created on a rotational basis as per curricular needs.
Role of Teachers
It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that the activity areas provide opportunities to children for spontaneous, unstructured play, which is child initiated. The teacher has to arrange the classroom in appealing activity areas as per the available space, interests of children and the themes being covered. It must be ensured that the material in activity areas provide opportunities for exploration, investigation, individual and group play. The selected material should have loose parts and be open ended so that it empowers creativity in children to think, plan and carry out their play in a variety of ways. Teachers can also design and make a variety of low cost and no cost play and learning material.
She should routinely check the contents of activity areas for safety and replace unattractive materials by more appealing materials which children enjoy to play with. The teacher needs to provide support for ongoing activities by enriching interventions without being intrusive in children’s play. During play in activity areas teacher may be able to identify children with developmental needs or emotional problems and she can provide required support and intervention. Teacher interventions may range from assisting with problem solving; questioning, redirecting undesired behaviours, and enticing children into play themes. Based on the available play material and the size of activity area teacher should decide the maximum number of children who may work in an activity area to avoid crowding at one or two centre.
An early years education programme is transacted in a child-centric manner, adopting a holistic approach that views the child’s learning not limited to what the teacher transacts in the classroom setting, but as being co-created by the children, in the context of their natural and social environment, including home and community. The penetration of technology like computers, video, television, telephones, radio, and telecommunications networks have exerted great influence on how we live, work, play and learn. In order to cope up with the challenges of life, children and adults need greater ability to learn how to learn, possess problem solving, critical thinking skills, and to be resilient in the face of fast-moving change.
The time to begin preparing children for the challenges and demands of the future is when they are young, curious and excited learners. Children learn through experiences and relationships with the parents, teachers and friends. Hence, the learning experiences should tap the natural curiosity and excitement of children. This includes not only supporting emerging skills in reading, writing and mathematics, but also in the skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, technology literacy, and social-emotional development known as 21st Century skills. These skills have significant impact on the learning and development of young children.
It is expected that the strengthening of key cognitive skills included in goal 3 would also contribute to providing the child a sound foundation for meeting the challenges of negotiating new technologies in the years ahead which should be enforced while transacting the curriculum.
There are different approaches for curriculum transaction such as theme based, activity based, project/inquiry based and emergent curriculum.
Theme Based Approach
Theme-based approach is commonly used by the educators across the world. It attempts to tie in various skills and knowledge to be acquired by children, into a coherent whole, organized around a specific theme, such as myself, plants, animals, fruits, vegetables, etc. A deliberate focus on a given topic enables even very young children to be more efficient in acquiring skills and processes required to gather and process information in later life.
When we take a particular theme, and help children to actively and visibly build knowledge on that theme, we enable children to acquire skills to make learning more efficient in the future. To plan the content following a thematic approach, each theme could be spread over about 1-2 months, with sub-themes that cover a smaller period, such as a week or two weeks, so that the information surrounding a large unit is organized in a way that makes sense to the children. For example, if the chosen theme is plants, it could be spread over a duration of 1 month with various sub-themes such as parts of plants, types of plants, uses of plants, taking care of plants, etc., each covered in detail over a one-week period.
Theme teaching is generally carried out according to a detailed predesigned lesson plan. Such an approach is largely teacher-directed with very limited scope to allow for child-initiated learning.
Play Based Approach
Children learn best through play. Children should engage in play activities which are neither too challenging nor too easy for their developmental level. In a play based approach stimulating materials and activities are made available by the teacher and children self select activities according to there interest at each point of time and learn at their own pace. The teachers role is that of a facilitator and she does not carry out any specific structured activities. In order to enable children to benefit from this approach teachers need to observe and identify learning opportunities and make play materials available accordingly. If a teacher is unskilled and ineffective, it may lead to loss of learning opportunities and learning by doing. Any pleasure- giving activity is play for them and is central to child’s well-being. Play stimulates curiosity and exploration and leads to mastery of body controls, encourages creativity and social skills, and develops emotional balance and language skills.
Activity based Approach
The primary belief of activity-based approach is that children learn through participation in activities, which provides opportunities for exploration and experimentation with different teaching learning material. The sensory experience and action make the learning better and more impactful. This leads to an exciting journey of discovery and enhanced understanding. A preschool teacher embeds the learning goals in various types of activities such as outdoor and indoor play, storytelling, art and music activities, organized in a preschool class.
Projects /Inquiry based Approach
A Project is inquiry based, investigation or in-depth study of a topic or theme, usually done by small groups within a class, an entire class or sometimes by individual children. The teachers offers some open-ended triggers and then observes the children, listen to their stories, their questions, see how they navigate the activity, take note of their interest levels and talk with the children. Children decide what they want to know more about and investigate further.
Then with the variety of materials on offer to the children, the teachers encourage children’s engagement in activities, to go deeper and deeper to find the answers to their questions, and in turn ask new questions help them to make their learning visible through modeling or building, collage or drawing, dramatic play or music; any means at all. These activities are not pre-planned/designed. They are subtly suggested to the children and the discoveries from one experience lead onto the next. A project may not constitute the whole day’s schedule. Teachers may allocate half a day for the project and plan activities for the remaining half.
Emergent curriculum is defined as a process where teachers plan activities and projects based on the specific group of children they are working with, taking into account their skills, needs, and interests. Teachers conduct observations and plan based on their observations of children. Teachers practicing emergent curriculum also utilize reflective practice, taking time to reflect and act on their observations of children. This philosophy encourages active participation, relationship building, flexible and adaptable methods, inquiry, and play-based learning. Curriculum is child-initiated, collaborative and responsive to the children’s needs.
Starting school is a major life transition for children and their families. This is a time which can be both exciting and challenging at the same time. The child and the families have to adjust to new environment, new expectations, new interactions and relationships. In this context it becomes imperative that all children including those with special needs are supported in the transition process from home to preschool and preschool to primary school. Therefore linkages between preschool and primary school should be established.
In our country there exists a wide variety of preschool servicesanganwadies, balwadies, privates preschools etc. having wide disparity in the infrastructural facilities, teacher qualifications, curriculum and pedagogies. The age at which children begin their pre-schooling also varies. Thus there are differences in the ethos and approaches among various preschools. There are four major areas where children may experience the lack of continuity which may hinder their learning i.e.
The environment, classroom settings, time table/daily schedule the curriculum and pedagogies and practices need to be aligned to the pre primary classes. Throughout the early childhood period, early childhood teachers develop their knowledge of each child’s strengths, interests, cultures and abilities. They also develop strong relationships with children’s families. When this information is shared with other teachers of primary schools, new learning and development opportunities can be planned in a way that responds to children’s strengths, interests, cultures and builds on what they have learned before. Progress from preschool to early primary classes should be seen as continuous process in child’s holistic learning.
Maintaining Continuity for Smooth Transitions
The following are some suggestive ways to ensure continuity of children’s experiences:
To conclude all children need to develop holistically, they must be in a safe, secure and stimulating environment and all this can be achieved only if there is a complete understanding, support and cooperation among all those who are concerned with the education of young children.