Back in my 90s days of early childhood education, ‘technology in schools’ meant playing Oregon Trail in the computer lab. The only things I learned were to avoid contracting cholera and fording deep rivers. Now preschoolers are learning math on iPads as Siri instantly responds to their unending questions. Technology and globalization also make it easier to learn from our peers around the world. Global rankings help us understand how our schools are measuring up, and they provide the opportunity to adapt programs or philosophies that work well in other parts of the globe. So what is working well? Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), it appears to be a lack of connectivity that best fosters learning – from more frequent outdoor play, to fostering mindfulness, let’s take a look at some of the most innovative educational programs from around the world.
Let them be kids
Finland is consistently ranked among the best education systems in the world. Their philosophy is pretty darn simple: don’t suck all the fun out of kids lives, and they’ll learn better. Children in Finland don’t even start mandatory schooling until they’re seven years old. Then they’re given 15-minute outdoor play breaks every hour. Teaching positions are competitive in Finland. Teachers are drawn only from the top 10 percent of Master’s in Education recipients, so Finnish kids are taught by Finland’s best students as well.
Reggio Emilia approach
The Reggio Emilia philosophy, which originated in Italy, focuses on human diversity. It’s based on the belief that children have unique interests, and teachers should serve as mentors who recognize these interests and facilitate learning along each child’s individual path. They strive to offer children different materials, languages, and outlooks, as they foster each child’s personal form of creativity and expression. A huge focus is placed on the learning environment, which is viewed as a teacher in and of itself.
Multiple organizations in the United Kingdom focus on teaching mindfulness to school children as part of a country-wide mindfulness initiative. By training teachers in the art of mindfulness, the Mindfulness in Schools Program (MiSP) reaches students in primary schools across the country. Another organization, Youth Mindfulness, focuses on introducing mindfulness to children over 16 lessons. They begin with intention, attention, attitude, and gratitude lessons and end by teaching about kindness to self, to others, and having a purpose.
Coziness and empathy
Hygge. It’s a Danish word with a hard-to-translate meaning, but it’s a concept that has been gaining more and more attention worldwide in the past few years. Coziness is the best way to explain it, whether that coziness means a cup of tea alone under a fuzzy blanket or a candlelit glass of wine around a table of friends. For school kids in Denmark, hygge is often practiced in a circle time spent with their classmates learning an incredibly important skill: empathy. “The Class’s hour” occurs once a week in many schools, and its purpose is quite simple. Students eat cake and discuss anything that causes them or the group problems. Collectively, they work out solutions. The Danish understand that empathy is a learned skill with incredible value, and they work to cultivate it in children throughout their education. These countries are all consistently ranked among some of the top education systems in the world, yet they all put a high value on things other than keeping children at their desks and drilling in facts. Is being the best in math really as important as learning to empathize with our peers or act mindfully? I would certainly argue that it isn’t. Do you know of any innovative approaches to education? Please share below!
Danielle E. Owen