Early Childhood Development is a specialised area of teaching and learning that requires an in-depth understanding of child development. The practice of Early childhood teaching and learning embodies the growing awareness and recognition that teaching and learning need to be experiential, flexible and based on constructivist principles (Duffy& Cunningham 1996). These principles state that learning is achieved by the active construction of knowledge supported by various perspectives within meaningful contexts. Vygotsky, 1978 proposed that social interactions are seen to play a critical role in the processes of learning and cognition.

Herzlia Preschool Campuses have educators who have integral knowledge of the developmental phase of their learners and focus on each individual within a holistic educational framework. Maximizing teaching and learning is dependent on the educators that lead and facilitate in the classroom. The educators’ most powerful contribution to the learning process is their understanding of the developmental stages of each preschooler in the teaching and learning process. Our preschools are open-ended learning settings where each individual preschooler is present in the process.

We advocate the engagement of our preschoolers in their own learning and not merely to acquire facts and knowledge. Our educators engage with children to ensure that they make meaning from the learning experience. We are more aware than ever of the need to maximize the years we have with our preschoolers to equip them to engage in future formal learning. In our classrooms, we apply a child-centered learning approach in the areas of literacy, numeracy and life skills. We prepare preschoolers to be citizens in an increasingly globalized world by relating to others, trusting and connecting and valuing our preschoolers’ opinions.

In this article, I explore how planned, prepared and presented play experiences scaffolded by educators, form the foundation for future successful formal learning.

1. To maximize learning in preschoolers, the introduction requires concrete materials and audio-visual images to alert the pre-schoolers to the excitement of the topic and to encourage their curiosity and interest.
2. Planning and preparation for learning have to focus on stimulating the preschooler by enticing their senses and integrating the learning through concrete manipulation of materials. They receive feedback in an authentic engaged manner.
3. Once the material has been introduced to the preschoolers, they work in groups collaborating, thinking and reflecting on all the dynamics in the learning process. The key to ensuring that learning is maximized is to follow through with music, art and creative expression. The more the learning is explored through a variety of mediums, the more it becomes internalised.

To illustrate the powerful learning process, I will share a teaching and learning experience in a Grade R classroom that maximized our preschoolers’ thinking skills, encouraged problem-solving solutions to address authentic life challenges.

The recent Cape Town Fires affected all preschoolers living in and around Cape Town as the flames were seen for miles and the smoke-filled the entire city. Preschool learners are fascinated with the role that firemen play in our society. Many learners voice the desire to be firemen when they grow up. Exploring the theme of the Cape town fires was an opportunity to maximize our preschoolers learning through the approaches I described above.

The use of fantasy play to enact real life settings such as clothes to dress up in as firemen, hoses and boots to enact the rescue operations. Fantasy play enhances the ability for children to internalize this learning. Project-based learning where children are guided to work in teams to plan the materials they need to construct a fire engine of their own design and feel success. The teacher uses guiding questions to stimulate thinking and includes the learners in the problem-solving approach.

1. Using technology preschoolers were shown the latest videos and photos of the fires on the smartboards. They were invited to share what they had heard at home and what they had seen around them in their immediate environment. Discussions were facilitated by exploring how to help repair the environment and support the firefighters.
2. Preschoolers chose to butter bread for the firemen and felt agency over their actions to fix the situation to contribute valuably. It is powerful to build feelings of being valued as a member of a community at an early age.
3. Learners were encouraged to create drawings of how the mountain looked on fire including the helicopters they saw and heard. Class books were made of the drawings to take to the firefighters to show appreciation for the work they did to save the City.
4. An educational outing was organised to the fire station in the area to hand out the books and the sandwiches to firefighters. The learners spontaneously clapped when the firefighters stepped down from the fire engine.
5. The fire theme can then be extended to include discussions and actions around care for animals who were injured in the fires as well as dangers of fire and the rules of fire safety.

In conclusion, it is evident through the processes explored above, that the Herzlia ECD Phase of teaching and learning is relevant and powerful in every way. We ensure that our teaching and learning is value-based and focused on the preschoolers’ ability to begin to make sense of their emotions and to name them. We explore feelings and how to gain control over our emotions. As a result, they begin to have agency over their actions and channel them constructively. Our approach to maximizing teaching and learning is presented in a manner that takes into consideration that preschoolers have the power to think and to participate in their own learning, make choices every step of the way. The quality of the teaching is determined by the questions and the discussions they engage in and not in their ability to learn by rote or recitation. We measure powerful teaching and learning by our preschoolers’ responses, the inventions they create and the questions they pose. Our Herzlia preschoolers are being equipped and prepared for a changing world ahead.

by Jos Horwitz