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December 05, 2019 Thursday 03:46:13 PM IST

Approaches to Early Childhood Learning

Cover Story

The new Education Policy 2019 has emphasized the importance of starting the early learning process at around 3 years of age. Early learning is the first rung in the ladder of education. Contrary to the common belief, learning doesn’t just start at 3 years. In fact, from the time the child is born, the child slowly starts to respond to the environment and that’s when the process of learning begins. When the various senses of the child develop gradually, the child unconsciously and effortlessly takes in the environment. For instance,the child flashes its first social smile at around two-and-a-half months or three months.  All we need to do is to give appropriate stimulations at the right stages of the child’s development.

J.J Rousseau the founder of the Nursery believed that education should happen according to the developmental stages of the child and not as per adult-imposed criteria. It should be based on concrete experiences and through a trial and error experimentation method wherein the process of learning is natural, satisfying and offers ultimate happiness to the child.

Friedrich Froebel, too believed that learning happens through ‘self –suggested” activities from nature. He made “gifts ‘and suggested activities for the sensory-motor development of the child. For instance, the “building –blocks” were designed by him for the very purpose. He considered children to be tender saplings and the teachers as gardeners taking care of them. And so, his classes were conducted in gardens and not indoor rooms.
Relevance of Montessori
Dr Maria Montessori was a paediatrician and a psychiatrist and so her methodology of education was scientific – based on her 25 years of rigorous observation. Her predecessors were French physicians, Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin. Her roots were in special education. She started working with special children and then extended her work to normal children. She believed children have an absorbent mind wherein they take in the environment unconsciously first and then consciously during the early childhood years. Children have sensitive periods of development and so learning will be easier if we provide a “Prepared Environment”. She developed a structured curriculum wherein she detailed the years and months at which the child can be introduced to various concepts like the colour concept, the number concepts etc through a self-directed learning method.  Her auto didactic apparatus helps in self-education. She believes that the teacher shouldn’t “teach”, but only “direct “the children. Their development should be from within and shouldn’t be forced.

“Exercises of Practical Life” and “Sensorial Learning” is what the child should experience in the early years as these lay the foundation for academics. For example, grading materials from thick to thin or tall to short is a pre-math concept. And identifying the basic shapes or colours is a pre-reading skill. There are various Montessori materials designed to aid the development of pre-writing skills in children. Dr Montessori believed that we shouldn’t wait till the age of 6 or the start of schooling for the child to learn these basic skills because by then the child would have missed the sensitive periods of development and acquiring these skills would become difficult and cumbersome after that.


The Nursery, Kindergarten and the Montessori methods are all based on the “Playway” method which is very constructive. However, care should be taken not to lean too much on free play which could lead to the child engaging in meaningless and destructive activities. This is why early educators should be well-trained to give guided play through which the child can achieve the various domains of development.

The Bank Street Approach

The Bank Street approach is a theme-based approach founded by Ms Lucy S Mitchel. The Bank Street’s Developmental Interaction Approach is based on the theories of Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson and John Dewey. They ensure that the children are motivated to be life-long learners. The classrooms are organized with an abundance of materials that encourage and invite the children to engage in individual and group activities. The teachers focus on fewer topics which are however developed thoroughly. The concepts are introduced with deep insights. Each theme would continue for a month or more. Developing a sense of community through interaction with social and physical environment are the recurring themes in this method.

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy which was started by the villagers around the city of Reggio Emilia in Italy after the World War II. Parents felt the need for early years of development. Loris Malaguzzi who founded this innovative approach believed that children are not empty memory banks waiting to be filled in with facts, figures and dates. This method follows a flexible curriculum which emerges from the children’s own ideas, thoughts and observations. It is a project-oriented approach stressing the importance of symbolic languages. Howard Gardner’s notion of multiple intelligence is incorporated in this approach.


Rudolf Steiner founded the Waldorf approach for the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette company’s school in 1919. He follows the “Head, Heart and Hand “principle. He believed in developing critical thinking, feeling and determination to resolve problems to face the future. While this method is against accelerated learning, more significance is given to balanced development and emotional responsibility. All methods have their own merits and short-comings. A true educator should be a visionary who’s able to integrate the best of these ideas into her approach, keeping in mind the ultimate benefit to the child.


Durga Devi

Durga Devi runs a Montessori Training Institute as well as a pre-school in Kochi

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Need Guided PlayWay Methods