Thursday, 6 October 2016

Part 1: An Overview and Exploring Play Based Inquiry Learning

The Kindergarten Program 2016: Unpacking the Front Matter - A Six Part Series

Part 1: An Overview and Exploring Play Based Inquiry Learning

Welcome to part one of my six part series exploring the new Kindergarten Program 2016! This part will be focusing on an overview of the program document as well as a short exploration of what play based inquiry learning means.

Part 1 of this six part series might be review for some and it might be new learning for others. No matter where you are in your journey, I welcome you to join the conversation and our community of learners.

Let’s Begin

There has been an enormous shift in thinking in the Early Years in the last decade or so that has fundamentally changed how we view children and how we view learning as a whole. This shift in thinking can be attributed to learning from a diverse collection of philosophers, researchers and educational approaches from across the world.

As we continue to be influenced and inspired by great educational thinkers, more and more people are beginning to understand the importance that the Early Years (specifically Kindergarten) has for learning and education.

“[Early childhood is] is a period of momentous significance... By the time this period is over, children will have formed conceptions of themselves as social beings, as thinkers, and as language users, and they will have reached certain important decisions about their own abilities and their own worth.”

- (Donaldson, Grieve & Pratt, 1983, p. 1) from TKP 2016, p. 8

Then VS Now: The Image of the Child

It was a popular belief in education that children knew very little and needed to be explicitly taught in order to learn.  This thinking led our education system to become highly structured and rigid, where the teacher was seen as the knowledge holder and sole educator of young children.

When we held the belief “that children were ‘empty vessels to be filled’, programs could be too didactic, centred on the educator and reliant on rote learning.”  (TKP 2016, p. 11)

In some areas, this belief is still held true. In fact, in a lot of programs in older grades…even in post secondary education… evidence of this thinking still exists. We can find this thinking in spelling tests, memorization of multiplication tables, timed tests, lectures where the teacher is the only one speaking… I could go on.  This form of education is what is known in the education world as deficit based teaching… we teach based on what children don’t know and can’t do.

This form of education is what most of us grew up with (it is what I grew up with), so it is what we have come to expect in the education system… but that is changing. There has been a shift in educational philosophy that has started to question whether this old style of educating children is really the best way.

We are starting to move from a deficit to asset-based view of education where we focus on what children CAN do, rather than focusing on what they cannot do. What this means is that for many, old style testing is gone, memorization of facts is limited and lecture style teaching is becoming more rare.

Teachers are no longer seen as the sole knowledge holder, transmitting knowledge into the empty minds of young children. Teachers are now learning with children, forming relationships with materials and the world around them.

Learning Happens in Relationships

What has come from this rethinking of how we view children (deficit to asset) is the belief that children are “competent, capable of complex thinking, curious and rich in potential and experience.” (TKP 2016, p. 11) This new understanding of children is a celebration of the beauty of childhood that honours the richness of possibilities that exists in all children.

As stated in the document:

“When programs are founded on the image of the child [competent, capable of complex thinking, curious and rich in potential and experience]… programs can establish a strong foundation for learning and create a learning environment that allows all children to grow and learn in their unique, individual ways.” (TKP 2016, p. 11)

In relation to the Image of the Child, another shift in thinking has occured with educators and families. We are now beginning to recognize that “all children’s learning and development occur in the context of relationships – with other children, parents and other family members, and the broader environment.” (TKP 2016, p. 9) So if we are changing how we view children, we need to change the way we view those that inspire and encourage them as well. 

The following is a chart from The Kindergarten Program 2016 that demonstrates the connection and relationship that exists between children, families and educators:

The Image of the Child, Families and Educators

TKP 2016, p. 10

The Family of Early Years Documents

This excerpt has been part of the world of Early Years for a couple of years already, in the How Does Learning Happen? document that was released by the Ministry of Education in 2014.  (You can find it HERE) What is exciting though, is that it has now made its way OFFICIALLY into kindergarten.

Let’s go back a little…

When the first major shift happened in kindergarten 6-7 years ago (moving from a half day/every other day to full day every day program), a new draft program was written and Early Childhood Educators (ECE) joined kindergarten teams. What didn’t happen at this time however, was an inclusion/recognition of the knowledge, expertise and training that ECEs brought with them.

Over the last 6-7 years, the Ministry of Education has been working to develop a family of Early Years documents to be companions of The Kindergarten Program 2016. By using these documents to inform The Kindergarten Program 2016, the Ministry of Education has taken an important step to recognize the role of ECE team members.

The following are the other documents in the Early Years family:

Early Learning for Every Child Today. A framework for Ontario early childhood settings (2007)

Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from research about young children (2013)

How Does Learning Happen? Ontario's Pedagogy for the Early Years (2014)

The Four Frames

The most obvious place that the inclusion of these sister documents can be found is in the new organization of the program (no longer called a curriculum).  The program used to be organized much like the older grades with a section for language arts, mathematics, science, physical education, art etc.

The Kindergarten Program 2016 has been restructured into what are called frames:

“The frames – are designed to support an approach that aligns with the way children’s learning naturally occurs and that focuses on aspects of learning that are critical to young children’s development. The frames reflect the integrated way in which learning occurs during children’s play and inquiry in Kindergarten. (TKP 2016, p. 13)

TKP 2016, p. 14
The inner circle, (foundations from the early learning curriculum) is from the How Does Learning Happen? (HDLH) document. The outer circle, (frames from the Kindergarten Program 2016) has been developed from the draft program in combination with the HDLH document.

As you can see, the program is no longer separated by subject areas (e.g., math, science, art etc.). Instead, it is framed by learning areas that encompass ALL of those subjects. This means that program expectations related to art, movement, problem solving, representation and expression etc. can be found in all areas… in all frames. 

The Four Frames are:
  • Belonging and Contributing
  • Problem Solving and Innovating
  • Self-Regulation and Well-Being
  • Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours

This change in the layout of the expectations mirrors the change in the layout of the day, or the flow of the day. When children are learning through play they do not learn math and science in isolation. Children do not learn how to express themselves in writing and through art in isolation either. We no longer have science teaching time during the day so we no longer have a science section in the program… it happens throughout the day and throughout the program document.

Play Based Learning

“Innately curious, children explore, manipulate, build, create, wonder and ask questions naturally, moving through the world in what might be called an ‘inquiry stance”… a habit of mind that permeates all thinking and learning throughout the day.” (TKP 2016, p. 18)

Play based inquiry learning is something that children have always been doing… we just haven’t always recognized its value. (Remember the deficit-based learning? The tests and the lectures?) When Kindergarten did the first major change 6-7 years ago to a play based approach, it was shocking for a lot of people because play wasn’t welcome in schools.

Play in schools has long been a privilege that children have had to earn through good behaviour (e.g., free time on Friday afternoons) that could be taken away if children were noisy or if they didn’t finish their homework.

Thankfully, this stance on play is finally changing thanks to the recognition of a long standing (and growing) body of research that clearly shows that play is not just something that children have to earn… it is a right.

In fact, the UN officially recognized play as a right for children all the way back in 1990 (that’s 26 years ago… what has taken us so long!?)

Read the full Convention on the Rights of the Child HERE.

On page 19 of the Kindergarten Program 2016 is an excerpt from the Council of Ministries of Education, Canada and its “Statement on Play-Based Learning” (2012) that again states that play is of utmost importance and value for children and learning.

TKP 2016, p.19

The inclusion of this excerpt and the UN’s recognition of play as a child’s right makes it clear that the debate about whether or not play based learning is a viable option is over. The official stance of the Ministry of Education is that play is worthy and has immense value and impact on children’s lives as both learners and contributors in our society.

Learning through Inquiry

With children now playing more and engaging with the world in an ‘inquiry stance’, the Kindergarten Program 2016 has changed to reflect this shift. This means that “educators do not plan lessons based on predetermined topics at predetermined times... and they do not develop lessons or activities around the “nouns” that the children happen to use (e.g., rocks, trains, tadpoles).” (TKP 2016, p. 21) Research has shown that the old style of “planning models and associated resources… have been shown to have a negative effect on children’s engagement.” (TKP 2016, p. 26)

Instead, educators now  “constantly engage in a creative collaboration with [children] to co-construct thinking and learning.” (TKP 2016, p. 24) This means that “educators interact with the children, they respond to, clarify, challenge and expand on their thinking”  (TKP 2016, p. 25) through engagement with the inquiry process.

There is a beautiful chart that has been carried over from the draft version into the Kindergarten Program 2016 that outlines the steps involved in the inquiry process. I love how it clarifies both the children’s role and the educator’s role in the process.

TKP 2016, p. 23
So, what does play based inquiry learning mean?

It means that children are not confined to desks all day long. It means that children are provided opportunities to explore a diverse range of materials with all of their senses. It means children are free to run and jump… to get covered in dirt and mud. It means that children are free to build relationships with the world around them in order to create meaning. It means that they are highly engaged in topics and investigations that are important to them.

It means that they are learning.


And with that, I will end this (very long) post with my favourite part of the Kindergarten Program 2016 document, Misconceptions.

For years we have been hearing little tidbits of information in a giant network of broken telephone. This has led to a lot of misinformation and misconceptions. I find that it is really helpful for these misconceptions to be clarified as we all move towards a deeper understanding of the document, the program and children. 

TKP 2016, p. 27-28
You can keep reading and check out  Part 2: Pedagogical Documentation andAssessment in FDK

Let’s talk, 


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