How Does Learning Happen?

Featured member: Shannel Watt-Charley of the Ottawa Child & Youth Initiative


When a baby is  born, he/she already knows how to breathe, blink, cry, drink, and sleep. But in order to fully adapt to its new surroundings, that baby will have to learn other  complex, skills. Some of these skills can be directly taught, but others must be experienced.

With the autumn season upon us, children all across Ottawa are settling back into school, some of them for the first time, and many of them, in fact 25%, are just not ready. The skills needed to endure those 10 months at school stretch farther than just the capacity to learn in a structured environment. They are skills that must be introduced before the very first day of kindergarten. Many studies over the past decade indicate that high quality early years education leads to both short-term and long-term results, resulting in the development of a child that has increased self-confidence and healthy motivation in life. When we take a look at Ontario’s Pedagogy for Early Years, “How Does Learning Happen?” the document outlines four key aspects that are foundational for early years education: belonging, well-being, engagement, and expression. When we speak about belonging, we are speaking about the child’s autonomous freedom to think as well as the contributions they make in a group/community and the world. When faced with new situations or placed in unknown contexts, an overall strong sense of self or well-being, that is, a stable physical and mental health, is needed to cope. Children are naturally curious and interested in everything that they’ve never seen and have seen many times before, and to limit their curiosity is only to hinder their engagement with their own emotions and with others. Children are communicating with us in more ways than we know and this expression extends beyond the usage of words and body language. It includes the materials they use, the topics they are interested in, and the relationships they form.

These four foundations cannot be taught. They must be experienced. There is an expectation for early years programs to provide  their educators the tools and direction of best practices, but it is also the  the early years educator who can foster an environment enriched in opportunity to allow a child to exercise their own inherent sense of wonder. Challenge the child but set them up for success. Allow them to play, interact, and explore. Put them in situations and give them tasks just slightly above what they already know and are used to and see how they fair. Prepare them now so that they will succeed later.