Calming classrooms build critical thinking

students sitting in the classroomWhen you walk into a Kindergarten classroom at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School Clifton Gardens, the first thing you notice is student work.

The light-filled room’s furnishings are impressive, but their soothing blue and green tones are designed to blend in seamlessly with the space rather than dominate it. The resulting classroom looks a bit like a well decorated home – complete with lots of children’s art.

Principal Louise O’Brien explained it’s not aesthetics that have dictated the classroom’s design. The Italian early childhood educational philosophy Reggio Emilia is responsible.

Ms O’Brien spent a week in Italy earlier this year learning about the latest advancements in the educational practice, and the school is incorporating more and more aspects of it into Kindergarten’s day.

‘The classroom is viewed as the third teacher, and the focus is on the child as the centre of learning,’ Ms O’Brien said.

‘It really promotes the critical or creative thinking, and then the children build on that. They see themselves as worthwhile learners who have rights. They are less fearful of making mistakes, which builds their confidence and resilience.’

The school has been implementing the philosophy since 2011, when teachers first attended professional learning from a Reggio Emilia expert as part of the rollout of Sydney Catholic Schools’ Early Years Position Paper and Framework.

Some of Australia’s curriculum requirements can make the more unstructured elements of the student-led program difficult to implement, but the school is having success offering educational tasks and projects across several ‘tiers’ of learning tasks and activities. As students work through the tiers, the tasks becomes increasingly more challenging.

Instead of working through every tier, children begin from their current place of understanding, allowing for a personalised learning experience.

While the philosophy is designed with younger children in mind, its alignment with the core values of any Sydney Catholic School – including hospitality and the protection of student rights – has seen Blessed Sacrament adopt select principles all the way from Kindergarten to Year 6.

Kindergarten students say they like their classroom because everyone can see their work, and were quick to point out favourite things they had made.

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