Self-directed learning in kindergarten. Valuable ideas for educators
On how to implement and realize self-directed learning in the kindergartens, advises Kristīne Lapiņa, a teacher at Ķekava’s municipality’s kindergarten.
“For more than three years, self-directed learning has been organised in this way in the Ķekava’s municipality’s kindergarten’s Group 7. It is a way of organising self-directed learning for children, by offering self-training to plan their own tasks in a specific order, to focus on concrete action and to complete the task, and, if necessary, to overcome difficulties. Before introducing a self-directed learning approach, it seemed that the most important things in the development of the learning environment was to fill shelves with a variety of toys, materials, books and other things, so that children are given the widest possible choice of what to play with or entertain themselves. However, after this approach has been introduced, it is clear that it’s not the amount of toys that fulfill children’s day to day activities or help them plan out their own tasks. The overfilled shelves were more likely to remove children’s attention and focus on a particular task, create unnecessary chaos, so it was decided to change everyday habits, create a new learning environment and meet other criteria to successfully implement self-guided learning approaches in the organization of the pre-school learning process,” says Lapina.
What has to be done or understood for successful introduction of a self-directed learning process in preschool?
– The learning environment must be physically safe and transparent, meaning the furniture has to be placed so that the room can be seen in its entirety easily
– In the learning environment, teaching resources should be placed in areas known to the child, the furniture has to be arranged in such a way as to create four teaching centres based on the number of learning areas: the language centre, the math centre, the arts centre and the nature centre;
– In a learning environment, teaching facilities are located in easily accessible places for the child, which means that all created didactic materials are placed on surfaces meant for children. They are easy to take and the material is visible and interesting;
– The learning environment gives you an idea of what and how a child learns and what the subject of the month is. Looking at any didactic material, it is clear at once what its main purpose is and what the subject of the month is;
– Toys are placed in another room open to children, but they are subject to the condition that they may be used after learning or in the afternoon, so that toys do not distract children during the learning process and playing with them is a much more targeted process;
– The training environment shall have a place for rest which the child may use at any time in agreement with the teacher for a specific length of rest. A clock is located near this site, helping to organise the duration of the break;
– Learning materials developed must be differentiated, developed on the basis of a number of results to be achieved in a specific field of learning, easily visible and interesting for the child. The duration of working with the learning material developed should not exceed 15 to 20 minutes. The number of learning materials developed corresponds to the number of children in the group.
How is self-directed learning organized in preschool?
The child comes into the group and chooses independently in which training centre he or she wants to work in. Goes to the chosen centre and chooses which didactic material to work with today, takes the tray on which it is located and goes to sit at the appropriate centre table. The educator watches the process and, if necessary, is available to tell the instructions of the task, as well as to identify and assist in difficulties when a child is working with the relevant material. After performing the task, the child arranges the didactic material exactly as it was at the beginning, so that the next child could work independently. When the material is placed in the appropriate place, the child continues to look at a new didactic material in any training centre. The educator is present and ready to tell the terms of the task at any time, check the outcome, encourage, motivate, support and cheer the child in the process.
Positive and negative aspects of self-directed learning
• The learning environment is transparent and structured;
• The morning period of the day has targeted goals and is self-directed;
• Children are independent and organised;
• An individual approach to each child is taken;
• Toys no longer distract the child;
• When using toys within the time available, children use them more purposefully;
• In self-directed learning, the educator is able to perform child’s assessment;
• Children follow the process of developing new didactic materials and positively assess their development at the beginning of each new month;
• The child gains a habit of taking things for himself or herself and putting them back in place;
• The learning environment reflects the subject of teaching, the subject of the month and encourages action;
• The child learns to complete an action;
• The child is proud of achievements and aims to achieve the goal;
• Easily organise differentiated work, develop teaching materials at different levels of difficulty;
• Cooperation with a colleague in agreement on the development of new didactic materials;
• After several months of self-directed learning, there are excellent results in the knowledge, skills and understanding for children.
• The establishment of training centres is a problem if the group space is not sufficiently large;
• If there is no additional room, it may be difficult to place toys in such a way that they do not distract children;
• At the end of each month, the teacher needs a great deal of time and initiative, creative capacity to develop new didactic materials based on the above criteria;
• Need of storage space for materials that are already developed;
• Organising self-directed learning for children of younger age requires that the educator be transparent. The educator needs to invest a huge effort, time and effort to steer the children into the process. At the beginning stage, nearly 90% of children cannot independently figure out what needs to be done in the specific didactic material, so the educator is the one who presents each child with the terms of the task. Children of older age are able to figure out steps to perform a particular task or read the terms of the task.
• The late arrival of children in kindergarten;
• The teacher should be highly motivated to introduce self-directed learning in the everyday process.