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The Daisies Way: Planning and offering a local curriculum

Daisies Early Education and Care Centre thinks of local curriculum in at least three ways:

  1. Place-based or whenua-based curriculum, with a focus on education about, in, and for nature.  People at Daisies call this ‘Nature Explore’ where nature learning is experiential,
  2. Community-based, learning in and about our suburban community, its library, shopping mall, playgrounds and neighbourhood streets,
  3. The community of families who are attached to Daisies and contribute to learning and knowledge building for children and adults working at Daisies.

Daisies is influenced by Reggio Emilia philosophy and pedagogy among others.  Many kaiako have been to REANZ/ REID courses.  Anne Meade and Rachel Denee, the pedagogical leaders, attended the 2019 study tour to Reggio Emilia to experience their in-depth investigations into life-worthy topics.

Daisies’ philosophy of practice says that a hallmark of Daisies curriculum and pedagogy is investigations.  Kaiako, with support and advice from pedagogical leaders, facilitate these.  To ensure investigations are enriching and extend thinking, time is allocated for kaiako to plan the intentional teaching experiences that connect with the investigation question or topic—this is enabled by particular systems.

Investigations

These research investigations involve local curricula in at least two of the ways described above.  They generally last a few months; some have lasted a year. Two examples of investigations follow. 

First, in 2018-2019, the investigation topic involved numerous Nature Explore excursions to explore Tarikākā Maunga and Waitohi Awa.  The toddlers/younger tamariki expressed their preference for exploring the awa and mud-banks beside it, whilst the older tamariki set their own goal of climbing to lookouts and ultimately to the top of Tarikākā Maunga (the highest mountain in Wellington city).

For years, one or two groups of six or eight tamariki have engaged in these excursions for 2-4 hours every week.  All children of all ages join them (if parents give consent) at least every two months.  They involve train travel, walking, time in the ngahere, awa or on the maunga, bush wees, kai time.

Our investigation question was, “How does investigating Te Maunga Tarikākā and ngā awa of Johnsonville and Khandallah bush deepen Daisies learners’ understanding of Te Ao Māori and strengthen our identity as Kaitiaki?” Indicators of success included tamariki persuading their parents to climb Tarikākā at weekends, and babies saying “awa” as one of their first words and with joy.  Other indicators included children’s knowledge of trees, birds and stream-life on the maunga, knowledge of atua Māori, problem-solving skills, spatial mapping, and children demonstrating resilience, leadership competencies and awareness of their internal and external senses.  A bonus to our investigation was the historical knowledge from local kaiako, parents and grandparents who’ve lived near this maunga for decades and who joined our ‘summit climbs’.

Second, the 2019-2020 whole-centre investigation topic was the broad goal for the Communication strand of Te Whāriki, “[How have] the languages and symbols of children’s own and other cultures been promoted and protected?”  It will finish in mid-2020.  One thread through this investigation has been growing understanding that books communicate thoughts and information across stretches of time (whereas speech once uttered is gone).  The study of libraries was prompted by the building of a new library 8 minutes’ walk from Daisies.  All children—young toddlers through to 5-year-olds—and kaiako are exploring it in various ways, all connected to early literacy learning.  A curriculum extension for older children was exploring the architecture and other features of libraries used at weekends by families who attend Daisies.

A second thread has been raising awareness of and strengthening pride in bilingualism.  Te reo Māori is woven into many parts of the day.  At times, the curriculum has been differentiated for the children whose home language is Mandarin, by reading books in Mandarin from the library and from families.  (Two kaiako are Mandarin speakers.)  The Mandarin-speaking children love to re-tell these stories to each other.  Their parents appreciate that kaiako affirm their bilingualism.  

A third thread is a result of the Daisies team resolving a year ago to increase ‘sustained shared thinking’ conversations amongst adults and children (Siraj-Blatchford, 2010).  Daisies has been awarded a Teacher-Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) grant until 30 June 2020 for this.  Kaiako are using scale tools to identify where pedagogy involving language use and sustained shared thinking could be improved, and the education leadership team provides PLD to improve practice based on the data collected.  One current intentional teaching initiative to boast language/ communication competence has been supporting tamariki to design and mount puppet shows for others.

Daisies’ systems that aid curriculum planning and putting plans into effect

Daisies has an education leadership team for the two houses comprising the two head teachers/ kaiako and two education leaders, plus the two pedagogical leaders (founder/owner, ECE qualified).

For two hours after work fortnightly, team hui are facilitated by the head teachers.  Their agendas include planning changes to the environment, IEP planning for children who have additional needs, exchanging knowledge about individual children’s interests and progress to enrich learning stories.

Two hours non-contact time per week for planning by six rōpū iti (small teams) is timetabled across the week.  Often, but not always, kaiako planning is for intentional teaching of smaller groups of children related to the whole centre investigation.  (Other items in these meetings includes planning for 6-monthly parent workshops, for ‘what’s on top’ for individual tamariki, for supporting a child transition to school or manage emotional challenges, and for an excursion like a marae visit.)  An education leadership member attends each rōpū iti meeting to guide and support.  Two more hours non-contact are allocated weekly for each kaiako to plan and assess learning for their ‘key’ children aligned with individual and/or friendship-group interests.

The head teachers prioritise rōpū hui and often join children and kaiako in the play space to maintain ratios whilst kaiako plan.

When the planning is focused on intentional teaching for an investigation, each agenda sequence is:

Rōpū iti meeting agenda/ actions template for investigation planning

Intentional teaching in relation to investigations at Daisies

Why is time allocated for intentional teaching for a portion of each day?  To empower and educate children, to expand their horizons.  It’s limiting if children can always choose … and they are likely to be choosing what is familiar.

Intentional teaching is not small group instruction.  A range of experiences are designed, often involving whatever arts suit the investigation thread.  They can be for a large group, small group, or individuals in turn.  Length varies too, as does kaiako deployment—sometimes just one kaiako facilitates the experience, sometimes another comes to keep notes/ takes photos for documentation or professional reflections.  Each rōpū iti alerts the others and negotiates time of day.  Early each day, children are told what group teaching will be happening with whom, so they know who not to interrupt.  Focused intentional teaching/learning lasts 15-45 minutes, indoors, in the garden or in the community.  Other children can choose to play indoors and outdoors.  Their turn will come later.

By Dr Anne Meade and Meg Kwan

© Daisies Early Education & Care Centre.  Permission granted to The Education Hub to publish April,2020