Blog
Photo of a young child facing the sky and trying to catch snowflakes

General and Specific Educational Objectives and Strategies in Baby's Education to the Environment. How it is All About Tasting Snowflakes!

Written by Suzanne Major, PhD, Anthropology of Early Childhood Education

This is the sixth of a series of eight discussions on principles, processes, and strategies involved in early childhood education, including environmental education. The last discussion titled "Beyond Scaffolding in Early Childhood Education and Education to the Environment. Secret Learning Spaces known only to Children" tackled the processes of building knowledge and seeing to child development using multiple strata as opposed to scaffolding. It requires that knowledge and experiences be retrieved from the realm of the concrete mind, thinking with our whole body, using our senses and intuition in the learning space between our body and reality. It also requires that knowledge and experiences be retrieved from the realm of literacy/alphabetization thinking, with our intellect in the learning space between our intellect and the intellect of others. Finally, it requires that knowledge and experiences be retrieved from the realm of opsistiation (education through fast-moving images and sounds on screens) thinking, with our affect in the learning space between our affect and that of others. These three interlocking bodies of knowledge allow us to respectively use analogies, syllogism, and algorithms. It seems to me that a balance between these bodies of knowledge should then be sought to ensure that education and development in young children are rich and diverse. It also seems to me that millennials are reaching for this balance as I write, and you read these lines.

In the realm of the concrete mind and reality, the general educational objective is to provide a comprehension of contexts and then acquire information, knowledge, and skills to determine a course of action. In other words, when educating young children about nature, we must first show them to assess the environment, get a sense of what is happening and identify what is out there prior to determining a course of action while ensuring safety. By doing so, they learn to name and identify, recognize functions, use analogies, and remember experiences. They become savvy about reality, nature, and the human condition.

In the realm of literacy/alphabetization, the general educational objective is to bring young children to acquire information, knowledge, and skills that will allow them to reach the next developmental stage and succeed in preschool, and later in school. They learn to respond to the adults’ expectations in terms of development and are socialized into the modern world. They learn words, identify symbols, and become aware of representations. They start to understand concepts and exercise their problem-solving skills. They learn to imagine and be creative. They learn to take their place in the social hierarchy.

In the realm of opsistiation, the general educational objective is to become literate in computer technologies and informed about trendy information, knowledge, and experiences. Young children become aware of conventions, tendencies, sequences, classification, elements of verification and methods. They have access to all the information and knowledge of the world as Michel Serres demonstrated in his book Thumbelina: The Culture and Technology of Millennials.[1] Guided by their likes and dislikes, they choose information and knowledge regrouped, classified, and presented by others. Through their affect, young children identify themselves to that information and knowledge and readily claim the authority computer skills offer. Like some adults, they believe in the computers’ contents. They are just starting to practice their critical mind. It is not easy to decipher good from bad information, fake from real news, or warp from sound knowledge. They don’t realize that people are behind the contents and not the computers themselves. Computers only record, retrieve and regroup types of information that give the impression of knowledge. They don’t know the knowledge. Scholars do. I can’t help being reminded of my grandparents who, in the late fifties, believed that the stories lived by actors on the television were the real lives of the people they watched!

Educational activities such as “observing the different parts of a flower”, “smelling different fruits from the kitchen”, “tasting the differences between flavours”, “hearing the wind blowing things around in the yard” or “feeling a wide-open space like the park at the end of the street” are the very first stepping-stones to environmental education.

At Twelve Months

As suggested by Thériault and Lavoie’s research, at twelve months old and as they develop and experience different capabilities, young children are able to “notice and be aware”[2].  As educators and teachers, we bring things to their attention and invite them to manipulate. Educational activities such as “observing a ray of sunshine coming into the room and feeling the heat of the light on your skin”, “listening to the bird signing outside”, “smelling the rain during a downpour”, “tasting snowflakes” or “feeling the sound waves of big trucks passing nearby” are readily available.

At Twenty-Four Months

Around twenty-four months old, they acquire “consciousness of self and get a sense of the structure of things”.[3] They have needs and desires and can now choose what they want to explore. They know that many things are made of parts that come together. They are aware of sequences and are interested in symbols and can identify them by name. Educational activities such as “observing the different parts of a flower”, “smelling different fruits from the kitchen”, “tasting the differences between flavours”, “hearing the wind blowing things around in the yard” or “feeling a wide-open space like the park at the end of the street” are the very first stepping-stones to environmental education.

At Age Three

Thériault and Lavoie note that, around the age of three, young children are particularly “interested by sounds”[4]. They pay attention to stories and learn about sequences and rhythms. Educational activities like “listening to the sound of blue jays and comparing it to the sounds of chickadees or those of owls”, “comparing the footsteps of the wolf approaching, the horse galloping or the bunny hopping”, “listening to the breeze coming through the window, the wind through the trees or a gust of wind picking up leaves”, “reproducing the sound animals make like the dog, the cat or the pig” or telling the story about the bird that fell out of the nest or the butterfly that escaped the spider’s web, can easily be collected.

At Age Four

Around the age of four, young children are “aware of quantities, value and cause and effect”[5] and when they reach five years of age, they are quite capable of “naming things, recognizing concepts, telling stories, and using rules and conventions.”[6] It is worth noticing that young children in this age group are very physically capable and enjoy endless energy.

They have already composed complex strata of information, knowledge, and experiences.

Educational activities include scientific experiences like “watching a cocoon for weeks and taking the time to see the butterfly emerge” or “putting a bean in wet paper towels and waiting for the beanstalk to emerge”. Educational activities include difficult learning sequences like “reading music notes and understanding their place on a music sheet”, “learning letters, reading words, and sentences” or “building things with blocks while referring to them as mental structures”. They also include “using a keyboard, opening windows, accessing the Internet, and calling up sequences of information and knowledge and creating bodies of knowledge to which one can identify.” Providing a balanced education with educational activities also allow young children to “learn how to drop a fishing pole in the water”, “collect eggs in the chicken coop while taking care of the chickens” or “learn to track rabbits or squirrels by following their footsteps in the snow”.

It is impossible to draw an exhaustive list of educational activities within the three interconnecting bodies of knowledge that are the concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization and opsistiation. There are simply too many. The ones proposed in this chronicle are part of a list prepared this past fall with and by educators and providers who were interested in educating children, from birth to three years of age, to nature and the environment in an urban setting.

That list[7] is now reaching seventy-five educational activities and it is available by using the e-mail below - compliments of the ladies from the Belz community of Montreal!

The concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization and opsistiation use different educational strategies. First, the concrete mind as well as literacy (because of the very young age of the children) proceeds with a global approach[8] to education, meaning that everything is considered and learned at the same time as it presents itself to the learners. It also means that contexts are considered first, then specific focuses and finally, single elements from outward to inward or from the global to the specific. The child standing in the gateway of the backyard, in the doorway of the playroom or sitting in front of a computer, appreciates the situation globally, then favours what catches its attention. It then looks at, manipulates, or clicks on specific elements - a flower, a toy, an image. Alphabetization and opsistiation proceed differently as they use a pedagogical approach[9] to education, meaning that young children are brought to focus on elements that belong to ensembles that function in different contexts. The process goes from inward to outward or from specific to global. A child standing in the gateway of the backyard, in the doorway of the playroom or sitting in front of a computer will be directed to the flower in the flowerbed in the garden, to the plastic letters C, A, T to be fitted in the template with the image of a cat or to the image of an elephant on a website about endangered wild animals.

Second, the concrete mind proceeds in regularly reassessing contexts and attributes meaning to actions that need to be taken. Literacy brings the child to manipulate, experiment, and explore. The child collects information and develops knowledge based on his or her interests. To decode realities, the concrete mind uses perception through all senses. Literacy brings the child to develop perception using his or her senses (only one at a time) to discover attributes, functions, and operations. The concrete mind identifies markers to decode contexts in the environment and communicates verbally and non-verbally, in person and in the moment. Literacy encourages the child to recognize symbols and proceed with association and classification while also communicating verbally and non-verbally, in person and in the moment.

Third, alphabetization proceeds by learning letters, words, concepts, and groups of concepts and brings the child to decode the meaning of written words, sentences, and story lines. Opsistiation brings the child to choose images using feelings and emotions. Then it brings the child to identify and remember groups of information and knowledge, and their systems. Alphabetization encourages the child to use language to abstract personal knowledge and experiences and to decode the meaning of written texts offered by others. Opsistiation uses images that are “concrete representations of experiences”[10]  from others to decode groups of images and to associate similar groups to create strata of information and knowledge. Alphabetization encourages verbal and written communication in person and in the moment using language and written signs and symbols. With opsistiation, communication is verbal, written as well as synthesized and virtual. It can be augmented to present altered information and knowledge through images.

All these global and specific strategies help educators and teachers understand how to educate young children to nature and the environment. They guide them in the planning of activities that create receptivity and sensitivity. They help them educate young children to their human condition embodied into the biosphere condition. Tasting snowflakes, smelling the rain, hearing a bird sing, seeing the sun rise, and feeling wide-open spaces is the path to be followed in order to see the beauty and feel the joy of being alive!

If you liked this blog, please let me know! Suzanne.major@umontreal.ca

SM/sm blog 14 (6-8) January 2022

 

References:

[1] Serres, M. (2012). Petite poucette. Éditions Le Pommier/Humensis. 84 pages; Serres, M. (2014). Thumbelina: The Culture and Technology of Millennials, Rowman & Littlefield International, 96 pages.

[2] Thériault & Lavoie (2002). L’éveil à la lecture et à l’écriture. Une responsabilité familiale et communautaire. Éditions Logiques. 149 pages.

[3] Idem

[4] Idem

[5] Idem

[6] Idem

[7] Educational activities for young children 0 to 3 years old as an introduction to nature and the environment in an urban setting. PDF prepared by Suzanne Major PhD. (This document is available upon request using the following e-mail: Suzanne.major@umontreal.ca

[8] Luc, J.-N. (1998: 325). Les premières écoles enfantines in Histoire de l’enfance en Occident, 2. Du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours, Éditions du Seuil, Points- Histoire, 321-348.; Major, S. (2014 : 68). Mamès, profèsorn oun kinder likth. Éducation en petite enfance en CPE. Le cas des femmes hassidiques Belz en services de garde en milieu familial accrédités, Ph. D. thesis, Université de Montréal, Anthropology, 294 pages.

[9] Idem (1998: 332); idem (2014: 68).

[10] Postman (1994: 73). The Disappearance of Childhood, Vintage Books,