Experiential learning experience of a preschool

Midesh Maharjan

We learned from our past experience that teaching language in isolation as a subject does not actually help learners understand meaning in context. This learning motivated us, while working in team of a pre-school in Kathmandu to design and implement integrated curriculum aiming to address the need of 3-6 years old children for their language as well as social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development. This article presents some examples of our successful lessons.

I’ve been working as a director of a preschool located in Kathmandu since 2017. During my work in the school, I always encourage the school family to apply integrated approach to teaching preschoolers. Similarly, I encourage them to let preschoolers learn through their own experience. While doing so, we focus more on students’ language development, both Nepali and English. Our experiential integrated learning environment provides students with wider opportunities to use the language freely and in context. Here are some sample lessons practiced in my preschool:

Sample Thematic Unit 1

In the month of June, we start with our thematic unit- Plants. Students learn about the paddy plant from sowing to harvesting throughout this unit. We follow the following steps in the whole process:

  1. Growing seedlings: The school team work in the field and get the seedlings ready beforehand. Seedlings are prepared in a separate nursery area and children are told that the seedlings grow around two months before they are transplanted in another wet field. Children observe the adults working in the field and keep a journal about this step in their separate journal book. Then they draw and colour pictures based on their observation.
  2. Preparation of beds: Tilling is done and the field is ready before preschoolers go there to work. In this step students, under adult supervision, use tools to smooth the wet beds. During the whole process, conversation takes place a lot (among students and between students and teachers) about the tools, e.g. names of the tools and how to use them and also about the process of bed preparation. Back in the classroom students write their journal “Ropai” explaining about the tools, measurement they’ve made, amount of seeds used, etc. and their experiences as well as feelings.
  3. Transplantation: Transplantation is the process of transferring seedlings from seedbeds to the wet field. All the teachers and students together transplant the seedlings in the field on the Paddy Plantation Day which falls on 15th of Ashad (tentatively last of June) according to Nepali calendar. They sing the traditional folk songs while planting. These songs are practiced in the classroom before the plantation day.
  4. Field Maintenance: Students observe school staff maintaining the field that generally includes managing water and nutrients that the plants require and separating the weeds from the plants to help them grow better.
  5. Harvesting: School team including the students together collect the mature rice crops from the field. Harvesting activity generally includes cutting the mature crops, stacking, threshing, cleaning and hauling. Children learn how carefully rice is protected from getting damaged so that the quantity of good quality rice is maximized.

In each step, students keep their journal and teachers discuss on the process on a regular basis. After the whole process, they will have beaten rice prepared from the plants they sowed and celebrate their success eating the beaten rice with curry together as snacks.

Sample Thematic Unit 2

Community Study: we take our students to visit different places around the school. This includes visiting local vegetable market, visiting a temple and interviewing of senior people about the history of the place. Every time they have a trip, children draw a map that tells them how one reach from the school to the visiting destination; this helps them learn drawing and mapping skills. They make tally marks on the way to the destination, they count vehicles and back in the school they prepare the pictograph of the vehicles they see. This helps them understand mathematical concept of chart and graphs. They draw the picture of the temple they visit and back in the preschool they make the model of temple in group. This helps them develop fine motor skills, spatial skills, ratio and proportion, and creative arts. During the interview with senior people of the communities, students make notes (write words or short sentence or draw relevant pictures). This helps them develop the listening skill, communicating skills and moreover they learn about the history of the place they live in. In addition to this, as students have better knowledge of the places in their surrounding, they develop stronger feeling about their community. On top of it, communication is the central during the whole process, as there is always a pre-trip as well as post trip discussions and also students talk among themselves during the trip itself.

Sample Thematic Unit 3

Students are taken on a day trip to the zoo under the of ‘Animals’. They have a pre-trip discussion about the animals they love, wild and domestic animals and about the animals that can fly, crawl, walk, run, etc. On the trip, they draw the picture of the animals they see and make short notes. Back in the school, they have a month long activities based on what they observe during the trip. The activities includes counting the animals, adding them, subtracting them, animal  model making, colouring their model, writing about the animals, uses of animals, categorizing them, etc. and all these activities are very interactive in nature.

We teach our students important life skills such as communication, problem solving, critical thinking and decision making through various interactive activities as mentioned above. Also we use appropriate stories and songs that are related to our theme. For instance children watch the video of children song ‘Let’s go to the zoo’ and practice singing themselves while we are dealing with animal theme. Similarly, we read aloud to them ‘The Little Island’ or ‘The Ant Cities’ while we are dealing with the theme of community. Thus, providing the preschoolers with wider opportunities to get exposure to English and Nepali language inside and outside the classroom. And this the crux of our integrated curriculum.

Conclusion

Integrated lessons in our preschool are designed in a way that facilitates learning both languages- English and Nepali by using them meaningfully in various contexts. The lessons we have developed are more process oriented, where children learn language by experiencing it while being engaged in various tasks related to different subject areas. Although English is used as a medium of instruction to teach senior preschoolers, children’s mother tongue is always preferred a language of transaction when we need to explain concepts of various disciplines.

About the Author:

Midesh Maharjan has been working as a teacher educator in Rato Bangala Foundation for 15 years. At present he is also a director at Innovative Preschool, Kritipur. He is a graduate of Primary Teachers Training Programme (PTTP) from Rato Bangala Foundation and Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) from Kathmadnu University in 2005.

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