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Exploring the stages of Discovery

Discovery is a disposition that seems to flow freely for most young children as they learn through experience in every moment of their lives. Capturing and shaping that magical attribute to extend and develop it is another process altogether.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

"What I hear, I forget. 

What I see, I remember. 

What I do, I understand." 

This ancient Chinese proverb is as essential today as it was when recorded and passed through many generations. Essentially the message is that experience is the teacher in the ‘equation’ of learning, meaning the adult’s role is to facilitate and shape the experience. With the emphasis on how the child is progressing and integrating their learning, the educator and learner relationship is one where trust and respect are required.

For young learners, it takes skill to provide a delicate balance of planned and spontaneous teaching, along with working in cooperation and collaboration with the expectations and wishes of their families. Discovery is a disposition that seems to flow freely for most young children as they learn through experience in every moment of their lives. Capturing and shaping that magical attribute to extending and developing it is another process all its own.


Stages of Discovery

From birth, discovery begins during interactions with children. Learning that they are individuals separate from their parents is one of the first considerations that can be both subtle and obvious to those who care for them. 

Developing each of the senses starts with small but essential routines in which children begin to understand how they can be intentional in their exchanges. From mouthing a rattle or teething ring to tracking the movements of a mobile hanging over their cot - all these little things are magnified for infants.

As children progress and advance their skills from sitting to crawling, every stage leads to the next, with the inner motivation of the child at some point to want to discover more about their place in the world. Sights and sounds play a significant role in providing the stimulus to generate movement. 

Toddlers mastering the ability to walk are suddenly on a path to a new world in which they gain autonomy and independence. Learning more about the world from their point of view barely requires thought as it is almost automatic and instinctual to want to explore. 

Preschoolers are more verbally articulate in what they want to do and have often cemented their preferences from experiences they have already had. This is when they generally wish to find common ground with their peers, which can directly impact their choices of what they want to learn.

Common to all early childhood development stages is the need to form relationships with trusted educators who help guide them as they learn.

The Early Years Learning Development Framework (EYLDF) and Victorian Early Years Learning Development Framework (VELDF) are underpinned by Practice Principles. The fifth focuses on the relationships between children and educators and how they are interdependent. ‘Play is essential for stimulating and integrating children’s intellectual, physical, social, and creative abilities. Active engagement with and attunement to children in their play extends and supports their learning. Shared, sustained conversations are also a powerful and important feature.’

Play stimulates and integrates children’s abilities

 Discovery primarily occurs through play, whether planned or child-led. Acting as a response to a stimulus is personal and intuitive as we all have different needs, views, and interests to draw upon.

Drawing upon observations and conversations, educators can learn more about what entices children's interests and supports how they view the world. The beauty of play is that learning occurs whilst the child experiences it in the moment. Critical neurological pathways are constantly connected within the brain through repeated experiences, faster than if learning by rote alone.

Active play extends and supports children’s learning

Active play within this context refers to any engagement the learner participates in. This exchange occurs between Educators and children in addition to any resources. Active play supports learning when educators consider their current level of understanding about a topic of interest and then determine where they may be extended through the scaffolding process. This aims to assist children to progress from one level to another as they invest time interacting.  Focused time is spent to draw out the learning, which can then be supported with crucial language, including open-ended questions and statements.

Shared conversations are a powerful feature of engagement in learning

Along with the active play element, quality conversations in which learners are encouraged to talk and be heard by their peers and educators are a vital part of engagement in learning.  Another key strategy that can be implemented is reflective listening. By repeating what the child (or children) are stating, questioning, or saying through their non-verbal body language, and space is being held for them to do so unhurriedly, it inspires confidence to continue and become part of the dynamic of a respectful conversation. Integral to learning is children's ability to be responsive to educators when engaged in direct teaching moments.

Discovering takes time, but the rewards are priceless 

Any time we intercept the potential of a discoverable moment within a child’s play, we send a negative message that the child is not yet competent enough to do it independently.  Whilst unintentional, it can have a long-lasting impact on their self-confidence. 

Providing the right tools and listening more than giving instructions communicates with the children that they are seen as capable learners. When children only learn passively, there are fewer opportunities to consolidate their learning.  

When planning learning experiences, Educators may tire of them as much as children do, but by including children in any future decision-making, we can find out why they may not be capturing their interest. Small steps may be taken in collaboration that entice children to return to them with renewed vigour!

Discovery as a learning process does not always involve new experiences. For the activities that children seem to return to repeatedly, recognise that this can be a sign of developing persistence, comfort and safety, which, when supported, can zero on learning in a very personalised way. Trusting that the child will choose other experiences in their own space and time demonstrates that they are supported to interact and engage in meaningful ways that deserve our respect. 



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