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Rethinking Early Childhood Education

Dr. Ed Greene, CQCM National Board member shares some recent news about the U.S. work with the Pyramid Approach to Early Learning from the Netherlands.

The attached article was written during the recent study tour Dr. Greene conducted for Dr. Jef van Kuyk, the creator of the Pyramid Approach to which he was introduced by mentor and friend, Dr. Irving Siegel, several years ago. Dr. Siegel’s psychological distancing theory was an influlencial element in the development of the Approach.

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Rethinking Early Childhood Education

Liz Babiarz

In a sunlit room decorated with different colorful plants, the four year olds at Georgia State’s Child Development Center began their project on “How Does Your Garden Grow?”

Much like other preschool classes might, they started the project by talking about what they know about plants and drawing pictures.

But they didn’t stop there. They spent the following four weeks broadening and deepening the concept to include everything from parts of the plant and germination, to weather cycles and plants found in literature and music.

GSU’s Lanette S. Suttles Child Development Center is one of the first in the nation to pilot this educational approach to early childhood learning. It’s called the Pyramid Approach and it is a new American adaptation to a Netherlands-based method of educating the whole child through sequential levels of thinking and learning.

“When children learn and play only in the here and now, say, through their five senses, their learning is limited,” said Dr. Jef van Kuyk, creator of the Pyramid Approach who visited GSU this month. “But if we are able to expand their thinking through comparing, predicting, and re-presenting, children can come to a much higher level of development.”

Georgia State began piloting the Pyramid Approach last fall and it will continue for another two years. The approach is also being tested at two nonprofit, community-based preschools – Sheltering Arms in Atlanta and the Jefferson County Head Start in Alabama.

At the same time, Georgia State faculty will guide a research study of Pyramid’s effects at these centers. The study will look at teacher’s experiences with the curriculum, their success implementing it and the quality of instruction students receive. It will also evaluate the impact of the instruction on child development outcomes, such as the development of literacy, language, socio-emotional and mathematics skills, compared to existing approaches.

“There are a lot of approaches that work with young children and we know what good early childhood practices should look like,” said Gary Bingham, assistant professor of early childhood education and an evaluator for the study. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve upon existing practices and make them better. Early childhood education is important because children’s preschool experiences set the developmental pace for the rest of their schooling experience.”

Students in Georgia State’s Birth through Five year old undergraduate degree program will also learn about this international approach in their teaching methods class this fall. Pyramid is a total education approach where a child’s cognitive, physical, language and socio-emotional needs are balanced. The approach starts by introducing a child to a concrete idea and moving into more abstract understanding of the concept.

Teachers are given detailed project books with clear steps to follow. The first two steps, orientation and demonstration, help a child learn through their senses, and the last two steps, broadening and deepening, lead a child to a higher level of thinking. These steps start close to the child’s experiences and gradually take distance so that children are able to develop the abstract representations they will need to be successful in formal schooling.

One year into the pilot, teachers at the child development center say they are seeing results.

“We ask them more questions to get them to think a little bit more and they learn to verbally express themselves more,” said Ansley Bailey, four year old assistant leader teacher at the center. “It’s very effective.”

The Pyramid Method is widely used in the Netherlands and is also internationally well known. Along with in the United States, pilot projects have started in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

“We’re piloting this method because we have a strong interest in identifying best practices for young children in language, literacy and cognition,” said Ruth Saxton, GSU assistant clinical professor of early childhood education and coordinator of the Birth through Five program. “Pyramid is a good match with the research and training interests of the ECE department and the university.”

For more information, visit http://education.gsu.edu/ece/BirthThroughFive.htm or http://education.gsu.edu/ece/Child_Development_Ctr.htm.

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