Self-organized learning spaces (SOLS) are springs of creativity, innovation, and expression. SOLS allow children to express their voice in multiple perspectives. One such attempt at establishing and integrating SOLS in mainstream formal education was done at Walden’s Path Kinder, Hyderabad from February 2015 to July 2015. It was an extremely successful pilot following which SOLS has become the classroom structure at Walden’s Path.
Our main responsibility as adults towards children is to provide the time and facilitate the space they need to shape their own future. “Children are born to learn, not to be taught”; The Learning Pad (SOLS) at Walden’s Path Kinder provides such a platform for children to nurture their natural instinct to observe, deconstruct the environments around them, and construct their own knowledge.
It is well known that children like to play and learn in the zone between real world and imagination. The interplay of thematic learning with active play creates a learning environment that supports the child’s overall growth and development.
The Learning Pad is set up into eight corners – Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Reading, Global Culture, Math, Science, and Art. The scope and sequence of the curriculum is set to follow a theme for 12 weeks during which time children are free to explore, make connections with real world scenarios and construct meaning out of lived experience whether at home, school, or elsewhere. E.g., ‘Emotions’ was the first theme explored for the first 12 weeks followed by ‘Flight’ for the next 12 weeks.
The visual centre aims to support and link creativity and thinking through its exhibits and art forms. Thinking is an art form; the child is engaged through art and play similar to the actions of a visual artist perfecting his/her craft. The SOLS focus with visual center was on early creative learning dispositions during the brain’s most active period of synaptic growth. The outcome was that children engaged at the visual centre and were inspired to make their own innovations and creations.
The auditory centre provides a very innovative avenue to engage children through sound and music, and enhance their listening abilities. The ability to listen is central to the development of literacy proficiency and language development. Reading proficiency and speaking skills are mostly based on auditory skill development. The auditory centre helps the child in overall holistic development. The outcome was that children made natural connections between listening and speaking, reading skills and got deeply interested in storytelling and puppetry as a group, developing language skills very rapidly. Even children who had never spoken English earlier started speaking in English in about four weeks.
The kinesthetic centre is a place where child-centered learning and flexibility are facilitated in a learner-led environment. The child had many natural toy options to tinker with, textures to touch, and creative building block options along with sculpting material for motor and neuro skill development. The kinesthetic center also allows for dance, movement and theater to engage the child in learning involving their whole body and not just the mind. The outcome being that children developed an understanding of spatial skills, movement, balance and started using their body consciously in the process of developing awareness.
The reading centre supports children’s deeper understanding of the picture book’s purpose through small group discussions, with advancement of the level of questioning in every session. Picture books hold deep philosophical curiosities. The children created a community of inquiry as a social-emotional tool to build a respectful discussion community. Through the reading centre, children learned to listen and respect the ideas of others. They had the freedom to change their minds when new information arose. With time and ongoing discussion, the child’s thinking and feelings evolved.
The math centre at the Learning Pad provides an opportunity to examine, construct, and integrate mathematics with the world around us. It is an interactive space providing multiple opportunities for the child to experiment through trial and error and build their own understanding of how mathematics is applicable in daily life. The learning through doing approach integrates mathematics with all other disciplines building a strong love and liking for mathematics during the early years.
Early learning experiences involving inquiry and creativity have significant long-term benefits. The science center supports facilitators in developing authentic learning experiences with a focus on inquiry-based instruction. The children plan, design, and implement the many ways that are possible to make the impact tangible for themselves and their surroundings. E.g., children making their own miniature gardens.
Art and craft centre
The SOLS art and craft centre is a mini maker space, and it abounds with DIY materials. The art and craft centre engages children in the design process by immersing them in local culture and craft. A variety of indigenous and international art and craft forms support and build the child’s skill, dexterity, and pursuit of excellence.
The global centre at the Learning Pad is the centre for awe, inspiration, awareness, and understanding. It ties up the understanding from all other centres providing the Aha! moment for the child for every theme he/she is learning. It showcases different perspectives from different parts of the world, so the child develops an understanding of the various ways people and cultures live across the world with disciplines like mathematics, science, arts, etc., incorporated into daily lives.
It is important to help children explore, create, and develop their imagination and original ideas. The Learning Pad as a SOLS provides children with materials, tools, and facilitation to be creative. Every child creates original artifacts which are a reflection of their own ideas and personal interpretation. The ultimate goal of the Learning Pad in the form of SOLS has been initiated to facilitate unlimited possibilities for children.
The author is the Founder and President of Adhya Educational Society, a nonprofit organization developing innovative teaching methods. She can be reached at [email protected].