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Begin with the child

When children in the early years – aged three, four and five – begin at Wesley, it’s vital they transition smoothly and feel they belong in a secure and familiar learning environment. As Jacinta Janssens and Kieran McCrohan explain, that’s why everything at Wesley begins with the child.

‘Begin with the child and the rest will take care of itself.’

So said 20th century educational thinker and practitioner Loris Malaguzzi. For Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to early years education, the environment isn’t simply the place where learning happens; it plays a significant role as the third teacher in developing and supporting children’s learning through inquiry and discovery – the place that helps make learning happen. The student-centred approach at Wesley literally begins, every day, with the child, understanding that we all acquire our knowledge, skills and attitudes through experiential learning in relationship-based environments. But it’s not just the environment that’s student-centred: every element of our approach begins with the child. That’s because students never suddenly stop learning. Their progress – or learning growth – depends on the discoveries and inquiries that result from their engagement in meaningful experiences; not just learning to know, but also to do, to live with and to be.

Forming a strong connection

A strong foundation is crucial for success. The positive and nurturing experiences of our Early Childhood Learning Centre (ECLC) children form a solid foundation and a clear pathway to their success in Prep and beyond. Their sense of security, familiarity and belonging helps them manage the novel environments and experiences of Prep. Prep is a significant milestone for each child and their family, and it’s vital that it is a positive and successful experience for everyone involved. It’s for this reason that our main intake into the Junior School is from the ECLC program – although we also have some limited places to welcome new students into Prep as well. The key is for each child to establish a strong connection with school early on. Getting to know each child and understand who they are as a personality and a learner helps our staff to further nurture their curiosity and confidence. This provides a strong foundation for their successful transition into Prep, ensuring they thrive as confident, inquisitive learners.

Being familiar with the campus is one of many ways we ensure our Preps experience a comfortable transition. For our ECLC children, this can be something as simple as visits to some of the ‘big school’ spaces or joining with older peers for Junior School assemblies and celebrations. For our new Preps, the transition is a two-way street, with transition days so children can experience their new school, spending time in their new classroom and other learning spaces, and getting to know their peers and teachers. Our teachers also visit the student in their own environment, at kindergarten or at home. This way, our teachers get to know and understand each child and build strong relationships, so they feel comfortable and confident even before their first day at school.

The transition experience involves families, too. Transition isn’t only about each child’s sense of security, familiarity and belonging at school but also their family’s sense of connection. Transition from this broader view is really about the partnership between early years educators, Prep teachers and school leaders, and families working together to create a community around each child.

A progressive curriculum

Because our approach begins with the child, each learning experience is different. That means there’s a lot of individualised attention, but also a lot of opportunity for children to work together, share and develop friendships. Our programs are guided by a robust curriculum, while at the same time recognising each child’s individual learning needs and the best next steps for them to take in their learning. That learning program continues throughout each child’s journey through Wesley.

Our learning program at Wesley is guided by the International Baccalaureate, specifically the Primary Years Program (PYP) for children from 3 to 12 years of age. We’ve chosen to use the PYP because it also begins with the child as the best way to ensure learning is engaging, relevant, worth their while, challenging and significant. It supports our focus on the child by providing a roadmap, if you will, that guides our inquiry-led, experiential approach in terms of what students learn, how our teachers teach and how they assess each child’s learning. It enables us not only to identify appropriate next steps
in teaching and learning, but also to gauge the effectiveness of their teaching strategies.

The interested reader might recall we began this article with Loris Malaguzzi and his view that, if we begin with the child, the rest will take care of itself. In truth, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that the rest takes care of itself, but that in no way diminishes the principle that every good parent knows: you really do have to begin with the child.

Jacinta Janssens is the Head of Campus and Kieran McCrohan is the Head of Junior School at Wesley’s Elsternwick Campus

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