Sunday, 11 January 2015

Curriculum and Capability

People often ask if we follow a curriculum, or assume we must follow The National Curriculum. We don't. There are many curricula available online now, and tempting as it sometimes is to have a set plan laid out to follow, curricula never really work for us. Sometimes we follow topics. A topic might spring from the boys' interests (a fascination with steam engines, for example) or from something we encounter in our life together such as discovering a swarm of bees in our garden. Sometimes I suggest a topic and pursue it with them for a while, for example, last term we learned about the abolition of the slave trade. Sometimes my suggestions develop well, and lead on to fruitful projects. Other times, I have to acknowledge that it is not worth pursuing because the boys just don't engage so we let it go. In any case, it gets me thinking ... Curricula are just programmes of study which someone has put together. Someone somewhere, be it a politician or an educational ideologist, has decided to include this and not that on their curriculum, that one thing is important and another thing isn't. But who is to say that they have chosen correctly, or that what is right for them will be right for us?

Our country puts great emphasis on numeracy and literacy. I once read an article about a family who had spent some time living in an African country where their daughter had attended school. Great emphasis in that system was placed upon balance and the ability to stand on one leg for prolonged periods was practised and tested. In Turkey, chess was a significant feature of our eldest son's nursery experience. Yes, chess ... in nursery! And this leads me to consider again our expectations of children at different ages and stages.

Over the last few weeks, my eldest son, who is now 13 and still loves chess, decided to introduce his youngest brother (not yet 3) to the game. What is interesting is the way in which our toddler has engaged with this, not always grasping the moves his brother is showing him, but listening attentively to the 'story' of kings and pawns and remaining focussed and attentive to the 'game' for sustained periods. I wonder if his big brother is remembering the way in which he was introduced to chess as a small child - in a foreign language. It is lovely to watch when the boys engage with one another like this, but it also makes me think about what we expect of young children.

Once when I accompanied our third son to nursery, because he was so upset I couldn't leave him, he was sat in a small group with 4 or 5 other children and a teaching assistant where they looked at shapes and named them. Now, I know that my child was able to name his shapes. I know from numerous conversations, games and picture book readings with him at home. However, will the child 'perform' what is asked of them at a particular time in the context of school or nursery? Maybe. Maybe not. My son didn't. He was silent. A very cheeky (clever) child, with a twinkle in his eye, misnamed them deliberately. What might be going through a child's mind in this situation? Bearing in mind, my current toddler could name his shapes at 2, by age 3 and a half, perhaps they are thinking this is pretty simple and boring. Perhaps they liven the activity up by making a game of it and calling a square a circle. Who knows? In any case, the nursery teacher will tick the box "Can identify shapes correctly" or not! Judgement is passed.

It is limited, though, isn't it? Our perception in that moment. The contrived situation really tells us nothing at all about what a child really knows or is capable of.

So I ask you, is it better to fit a child to a curriculum, or to try and tailor a curriculum to a child?

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