Everything in its own time

The importance of an Elementary School that respects children’s own time

We live in a social structure in which children are often treated as small adults as they enter Elementary School. Suddenly, school is no longer a space of joyful experiences and play, as 6-year-olds start to experience a perspective of education disconnected from the fundamental needs of childhood.

Childhood ends by age 10 or 11, when preadolescence begins. Elementary School I is the learning stage in child development that provides all the tools children will need for their study journey: Reading, writing, mathematical logical reasoning, a systematized insight into research, in addition to the whole process of organizing time and space and learning to carry out work from start to finish.

Therefore, we at be. Living look at middle childhood with great warmth and kindness, seeking to respect children’s own learning time as much as possible without skipping or hastening any steps.

Our pedagogical coordinator Gabriela Fernandes explains that Elementary School I is a cycle in which children need to learn how to do things. “From the moment children begin to write or draw their first letters, it is mistakenly understood that they are already able to do homework, take tests, and write in cursive script, but the truth is they’re not. They have to learn to take a test, to participate, the same way they learned throughout early childhood education, to engage in a research process. Elementary School 1 is a cycle in which children need to learn how to do things. Learning to participate in a discussion, learning to support their ideas, learning that there’s a huge gap between giving my opinion and reflecting upon an issue that scholars are considering, that giving an opinion is completely different from saying what I understood about a topic – in short, all these tools that are called skills and competencies in education.”

She emphasizes the importance of offering these children smaller classrooms with a limited number of 25 students at most. “It’s very challenging for a someone teaching 35 students to look closely at everything that is still in development. And in this age group, children need someone who follows them up close, in a smaller environment, where they not only have the support of adults, but also the autonomy to move. This type of environment helps develop and consolidate the tools that will become learning experiences.”

Gabi states that in smaller groups, in which teachers look closely at each child, both in Portuguese and English, and in which children have more time available for school work, it is possible to shape up all the tools they need to be more prepared when they get to year six. “In Elementary School II, many of these children will have to deal with 15 teachers. And those 15 teachers will bring their activities and lessons, and these kids will have to organize themselves to deliver their work on the next class, which may not be until next week. How will they handle all this without having gone through the process of organizing their daily and weekly routines? Knowing how to manage time, knowing how to be organized is both procedural and procedure; we only learn by doing things over and over, alongside those who know how to do them.”

She likens this learning process to learning how to brush your teeth. “At home, we have to tell children 10,000 times to brush their teeth, until they eventually learn. Likewise, at school, we have to ask children 10,000 times to put a period at the end of each sentence. This is how habit is formed, be it a writing habit, a reading habit, or a study habit. Therefore, I believe in the work carried out at smaller schools, because in these spaces, with a smaller number of children, teachers can really monitor the entire learning process considering what these children will need in the future.”

The coordinator says it’s important that we understand school as a cyclical process. “Elementary School I is another transition within the learning process; it doesn’t stand alone. Early Childhood Education prepares the children for Elementary School I, which will monitor them and get them ready for Elementary School II, which will prepare for them High School. If school is this cyclical process, how can I cut out the experiences lived in Early Childhood Education with so much curiosity, hard work and enjoyment, and transform Elementary School into a school of penance, which is that school to which the child doesn’t want to go? Children need to want to come to school, to hunger for knowledge, to find joy in knowledge.”

She says that enjoyment in knowledge is something to be developed as well. “I believe in spaces, environments, and educators that focus on this, that look at a human being’s entire development process, at their cognitive structure alongside their psychological development, that promote knowledge as a collective experience, that school has a concerted process, that we’re together and that I’m the subject of the other’s action, and the other is the subject of my action. All this makes up a self-reliant, genuinely active and transformative student. One who will look at everything that humanity has ever produced and change it with their new insight.  That’s why this work, which looks so carefully and respectfully at childhood, is so important.”

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