As both an educators and parent who have been working with children for the over three decades, my philosophy of education stems from a belief that each person possesses their own unique gifts and talents. This being the fundamental tenet of the Resource Centre, I believe that it is vitally important to first discover the individual learning style of each child and establish the best way in which to allow their uniqueness to surface. I, of course, am not unusual in my goal of having each child reach his or her utmost potential, but the learning environment itself is specifically designed to enhance the discovery process within the basic, yet comprehensive model developed while working with children of varying ages and abilities. I have a variety of learners in our own family, ranging from children who were able to read by the age of three, to those who have never fully gained a love of reading- even at age twenty! The basic “thread” which ties together the kids’ growing up years is the opportunity to truly explore and expand on their hearts, minds and vision in personal, meaningful ways.
The Left/Right Continuum
One of the fundamental differences in learning style, however, can be found in the realm of “brainedness”. The issue of whether people are fundamentally left-brained or right-brained, or whether they fall somewhere on the continuum between left and right, utilizing both ‘sides’ of the brain with ease. The latter individual is referred to as “whole-brained“, able to access and benefit from both the intuitive right and logical left centres of the mind. To find out more about yourself or your child, go to our quiz for parents who are curious about their child’s dominant hemisphere, or to find out about their own brainedness.
Our philosophy has developed through the years, beginning with the environments we created and group dynamics which we observed as founders of the Narnia Child Care Centre. A new concept of “drop in” child care, blended with “traditional” child care challenged the children, and often the staff as well, to adapt to changes brought about by integrating new children into established groups. This model of growth and development is not often seen in the classic school environment, largely because of the stricture of curriculum and teachers who, themselves, often operate largely out of the left hemisphere. Where a child care centre is based on the idea of “centres”, for the most part hands-on and experiential in nature, the school classroom is curriculum-based and, despite the level of creativity exercised by the teacher, has inherent restrictions built into both its physical size, shape and the often unwieldy task of going elsewhere (e.g.: to common spaces such as the gym, on field trips, outdoors) to create or explore new environments.
Why Don’t Classrooms Work for Everyone?
When classrooms are operating at teacher to child ratios of 1:30 or more (as compared to a child care centre’s 1:4 or 1:8 staff to child ratios), it is no wonder that the idea of hands-on experience-based learning- especially while fulfilling the requirements of a detailed curriculum guide, are often compromised. We began a school ourselves and realize how quickly noble ideas about identifying individual gifts, mastery learning, mentorship and creativity in general get overshadowed by the demands placed on the teacher…and the school to ‘deliver’ on certain requirements set out by the school act. The school’s very survival, e.g.: funding, is often tied to its performance based solely on the criteria set out by its governing body, e.g.: provincially or state legislated standards. All of this is meant to say that some people do very well in the classroom environment. They thrive on the structure of the system, much like one of our own sons who enjoyed his stint in air cadets because of the “predictability” factor associated with such an organization. However, some children do not. The schools themselves have often maintained that, due to funding cuts or other restrictions, they are just not able to meet the needs of all children.
Learning Style and “ADD”
It has been our firsthand experience that limitations are a reality, and rather than be involved solely in the custodial or traditional education systems of child care or classroom teaching, we have opted to centre in on those children who, by virtue of their giftings and nature, respond to a more “active learning” style. These children are now often mischaracterized as having, to one degree or another, a form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or ADHD), a term which is widely used and little understood by the average layperson. We see a child who doesn’t excel in the traditional classroom setting, he or she is fidgety and distracted and we label them immediately as ADD or “behaviour” kids. As confirmed in such excellent books as Jeffrey Freed’s ‘Right Brained Children in a Left Brained World’, it is not so much a matter of children not fitting into the classroom, but of the classroom not fitting their needs. Some children, like myself some years ago, were physically challenged by the classroom environment. Their sensory perception is heightened and they are, by nature, more sensitive to such things as sound, even the breathing and pencil movement of other students, voices, florescent lighting (both it’s visual and audio effects), hallway and outdoor activities. The right-brained child is, for the most part, a non-auditory learner, meaning that the classroom style of a teacher reading or reciting a lesson or instructions, no matter how well presented, can be literally lost on certain members of the group. We believe that the left-brained learner is often well served in the school classroom, but it is the hands-on, sensory, visual, intuitive, curious, creative, active child, the one who does not easily fit into the parameters of a classroom setting, that we have in mind when developing any of our experience-based programs. These are often the same children who are being homeschooled, or who have opted for other alternatives, such as distance learning. They are also children who require “supplemental experiences” which affirm their gifts and validate alternate learning styles.
We believe that theatre is an excellent medium for introducing life skills which range from problem-solving to teamwork while integrating learning skills such as math, science, language arts and social studies into an vital, interactive experience. We don’t use terms such as ‘teacher’, ‘class’ or other traditionally school-oriented language, but choose rather to see ourselves as resource people, able to guide children in their learning experiences and allowing them to set directions and take responsibility as both individuals and as a group. Such a method of experience-based learning has inherent logical outcomes, for better or worse, meaning that there is often a need to reanalyze, reevaluate and, in some cases, restructure ideas. Through the use of one’s personal resources (ideas, gifts, hypotheses, body of knowledge) and the resources at large (library, Internet, peers, adults, brainstorming, trial and error) without fear of failure, kids begin to stretch and grow in a number of areas that will prove vital in the world they will be entering as adults. Children who are not reading, for instance, and who have shown no interest in “chapter books” or novels, like myself might follow along in a script as actors speak their lines of dialogue, or even to find one “cue” word that jumps out at them. I began writing scripts with dialogue and stage directions at an early age because of a vivid ability to visualize the action rather than reading descriptive narrative. As with “Right Brained Children in a Left-Brained World”, the book “The Art of the Playwright” validated our theory of varying reading and writing styles- styles which do not always gravitate to the “required reading list” which follows children and young adults throughout their school years. The author suggests that the reason that a good novelist is not often a good playwright is the exact one mentioned above. The playwright, being visual and hands-on by nature, would rather write dialogue and stage directions, allowing others with a shared vision to participate in the process of taking the idea from page to stage. The novelist lays out each detail for the reader who, if they enjoy the narrative style, becomes immersed into the writer’s world and imagination right there on the written page.
Process vs Product
Process is the defining characteristic of each programme we offer- not so much WHAT we learned but HOW we learn it. We hope to infuse each child, in his or her own way, with a zest for learning itself, spurring them on with the confidence to utilize their own gifts to their fullest, to call upon the gifts of those around them in a collaborative environment, to have a healthy curiosity and sense of vision which meets obstacles head-on and utilizes resources to the greatest extent possible. This style of process-oriented learning does not have at its heart letter-grades or curriculum per se. It can go in a variety of directions, depending upon the group dynamics involved. This is both the challenge and the reward of mastery learning, the kind of learning that has as a goal the desire to master concepts, no matter how often they have to be revisited, rather than getting the grades that will impress mom and dad. An interesting illustration of the difference was the challenge my own 12 year old daughter had at school when asked by a fellow student if she wanted the answers to the math sheet she was working on. Math has always been a challenge, and she has been using her own resources- her father the math teacher- to overcome some of her difficulties in learning specific concepts. Had the goal been to come home with an “A” on the paper (which she does manage in every other subject) she would probably have given into the temptation. But the true lesson has been learned and I was proud of her answer, “If I copy the answers I’ll get a perfect mark, but I won’t have learned anything. What good will that do me in the if I actually need to use math in the ‘real world’? I need to find out where I’m weak by doing the work, then get help in those areas so that I understand what I’m doing.” With an eye to Process rather than Product, children have the freedom to learn and achieve their full potential. Our productions are not “glitzy” and our creative projects do not have a specific outcome. If, at the end of the session, production schedule or camp a child can say they have truly been challenged to grow in their gifts and ability to honour and work with others, the learning will flow naturally as a part of the experience as a whole, and will overflow into the other areas of their life…including the classroom.
Why 6-12 Year Olds?
Kids often make profound discoveries about themselves and about the world around them between the ages of 6-12 years. Though I love to work with High School students and often do, I have, chosen to gear programs to this age group in an attempt to harness the vitality and enthusiasm that is still alive and well, and which often dissipates where unaddressed frustrations are allowed to settle in. As it says in Proverbs: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I hope that each child who passes through our program, and their parents for that matter, will have an opportunity to realize the hope- the gift- that lies within them.
We offer a variety of programs, both theatre and arts based, which, while not following a particular “curriculum” enhance the learning experience of homeschoolers who learn specific skills in planning, developing, creating and presenting hands-on projects. These skills will naturally follow them into their at-home learning experiences as they begin to apply newfound confidence and skills.
Adventure, Imagination, Honour
The criteria for every creative activity and educational experience is found in three principles:
Adventure – “an undertaking of uncertain outcome; an exciting or very unusual experience; participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises.” The challenge of going beyond, stretching and growing within levels that are exciting and new, but never overwhelming.
Imagination – “the act of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses; the faculty of forming such images or concepts; ability to meet and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness.” Problem solving skills are developed through the imagination, the “what if” aspect of learning that prompted Albert Einstein to make the controversial statement: “Imagination is more important than Knowledge.”
Honour, – “honesty and integrity in one’s beliefs and actions; high respect as for worth or merit; such respect manifested; the privilege of being associated with or receiving favour from a respected person or group.” Setting standards and living up to them, using our talents to the best of our ability, reaching our full potential and bestowing respect, whether deserved or undeserved, upon others. This trait permeates each of our relationships as we value the gifts and abilities of each member of the group no matter what their role and despite our differences.