Meaningful Curriculum and the Three Levels of Learning

I was recently given the task of training an associate Pre-Kindergarten teacher. I have been searching for a way to explain why our emergent curriculum works and why it is important to teach young children through discovery learning and play. Luckily, my reading of chapter 11 in Wolfe’s Brain Matters, coincided with my training. Wolfe describes the three levels of learning, concrete experiences, symbolic learning, and abstract learning. Children need concrete experiences to build a network knowledge on an subject. Wolfe gives the example of a small child learning about a dog. First, they see the animal and are given the label of ‘dog’. After that experience, they might see other dogs in the neighborhood, pictures of dogs, or hear about dogs, and their network of knowledge about ‘dogs’ expands. As early childhood educators, our job is to provide as many concrete experiences as possible and expand children’s networks of knowledge. In an emergent curriculum, we create developmentally appropriate lesson plans based on children’s current interests. This allows us to guide their play and learning towards new concrete experiences and expand their knowledge base through symbolic learning. When children have experienced something concrete, we can bring it back in the classroom through symbolic learning. We might read a book about dogs, have dog figurines in our classroom, or expand their animal knowledge by introducing new kinds of animals. Every learning center contains toys and materials placed there with purpose, to expand children’s experiences and help them create more knowledge networks. By presenting Wolfe’s ideas about the three levels of learning, I was able to discuss with my coworker, the significance of what we do.



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