Discovery Driven Learning

Discovery Driven Learning

Claire: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for today's webinar. We are here today to talk about Discovery Driven Learning, and I can't tell you how interesting and exciting this topic is for us at Bright Horizons, but also for all of you families out there who are joining us today. My name is Claire Goss. I'm the manager of Family Education and Resources at Bright Horizons.

So I sit in the education department, I live outside Boston, Massachusetts, which is where our global headquarters is at Bright Horizons. And my role in the education department is to support families. So enrolled families, client families, prospective families, my goal every day is to bridge that gap between school and what our educators know, and what families know, and what they're doing. They're the experts on their kids, and get lots of resources to all of you out there. So that includes things like webinars like today's event. I do workshops with families. I co-host a podcast with Rachel that's on parenting topics. And I also do lots of articles, anything child development related that's going out to families, I get to help manage.

I have three kids, schooling kids of my own. And I will tell you that between my formal training as an educator and my other job as a parent, I really do feel very strongly about Discovery Driven Learning. I'm really privileged to be joined today by Rachel Robertson, who's our Vice President of Education and Development. Rachel, can you tell us about yourself?

Rachel: Hi, everybody. Thanks, Claire. It's nice to join all of you today. And like Claire, I also work in the education department. I am not in Boston regularly. I travel there frequently and more now these days than I have in the past couple of years, but I live in San Diego. I lead the learning in our centers. So that includes what's going on for children, and what's going on for educators. And as parents, that part should be really important to you as well, because you want your early childhood educators to have a very respectful progressive science-informed education and professional development experience so that they can do their very best work in the classroom. So we think about making sure both of those things happen at Bright Horizons.

And then also, of course, as Claire's talking about, all the family education and support as well. This is no easy task to understand child development, and there are so many resources, and we've learned a lot in the last decades about brain development, but it's really confusing and lots of opinions and ideas out there. So we really try to help parents figure all that out and find out what's important to focus on.

And the thing I do the most of is go through all the research, both the historical, long-term, well-founded research, as well as contemporary research that's coming out and figure out what is exactly right, what's the best for early learners, and how do we implement that in our centers and schools.

So today, I'm so excited to talk about Discovery Driven Learning, because it is all about a reflection of the science of early learning. It is a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning in classrooms. And it's very sophisticated, because we packed in all of this really meaningful, important knowledge, but the way you're gonna hear about it is not gonna feel very complicated. So those are sophisticated, but not complicated.

I also am an author, I do podcasts with Claire, and then I am a mother of two children as well. So that always helps give me some credentials, because I not only will talk about it and know about child development, but I've actually had to practice it and very imperfectly, but I've had to put my skills to the test.

Claire: So we're gonna get started talking about Discovery Driven Learning.

Rachel: Okay, so like I said, very excited about this topic, because Discovery Driven Learning is all about how children learn. That is my area of expertise. What I study all the time is how people learn, any age. And a lot of it's pretty similar. The thing that children have, is that they are learning everything about everything, they don't have any prior knowledge. For adults, we have to be convinced to learn, children do not have to be convinced to learn, they're ready to go. They're figuring it all out.

So that translation of research into practice is central to the success of the work that we do at Bright Horizons. We don't just make what's easiest, or what's trendy. We do exactly what is right for children, and really exciting, we can impact children's trajectory for a lifetime in early childhood. So sometimes I know that can feel pretty weighty. Like I said, it's sophisticated, but it doesn't have to be complicated because the things that are most important for children in those early years are things that both early educators can do and we're partners here with families. And then families can do some really meaningful things at home without signing up for a bunch of things, or having a degree in child development. And we're gonna share a lot of that with you.

We've had these principles at Bright Horizons in place for decades. What we have done with Discovery Driven Learning, which is a new name that we have created to talk about our pedagogical framework and approach to teaching and learning is we have elevated and organized some of the factors that have been part of our approach, based on what the additional brain science research has told us and what we know even, just in the research that's coming out from the pandemic, about what's most important for the early years.

So as we go through this, I want you to think about children, the early years in life as a foundation, maybe if you were gonna build something, if you would...a house, you can think about that, and the early years are the foundation. So as we talk about, if we think about lifelong learning, you can really think about if you started to build a house on top of a foundation that wasn't solid and strong, if you rushed to do something, like, say, decorating the house before you have the foundation set, the same kind of thing would happen in development, it would be a little bit on shaky ground. It might not work out as well as if you just spent time on that foundation, because there's so much powerful, important development happening in those first years.

Anyone have a guess how many...? Put it in chat if you have it, I'll keep going, and then I'll reveal the answer. How many neural connections are happening per second in the first years of life? How many neural connections happening per second in the first year of life? I'll give you the reveal after I see some answers.

But these years of brain development, you've probably heard about this, that they're sensitive. And that means that a lot of development is happening, a lot of things coming together with those neural connections. They are figuring things out, so it's prime opportunity for them to have the richest, most meaningful learning.

The other thing to remember about young children is their brains are plastic, which means that, scientific term meaning they're moldable and they can change really easily. When we say, "Oh, you can't teach an old dog new tricks," that's because we're referring to the decreased plasticity of our brains as we get older. We can still learn as we get older, but it's just harder to do it sometimes, but children's brains can change quite a lot. So we don't miss necessarily opportunities. So that if we say things like learning loss when we're talking about little kids, we don't need to apply those concepts, because it's just different timing, because of that plasticity.

All right, let's see if we have any guesses here, I have to look down on the screen. Any guesses about how many neural connections? Maybe you can help me, Claire? Oh, yeah, you guys got it. You've read about this before or have seen, maybe some of you are brain scientists, so 1 million neural connections per second. That's pretty amazing. Like, to just think about that 1 million neural connections per second.

So when we think about that, in early childhood, we know that all of the things necessary for a child to be able to, let's say, walk, all those connections have to happen, they don't have those connections already. And then as they practice experiential learning, those connections strengthen. So think about that. And that's what we think about in early childhood is that's what we do through play and hands-on learning is we strengthen those neural connections. And we do this by following children's interests, because they learn through discovery, and frankly, we all do. Discovery drives learning, and children are driven to discover. So that is the core of our philosophy and our belief system and how we have designed experiences for children in the classroom.

Claire: I'm so happy that so many people knew that it was millions, first of all, because I know that we are always reading up on the current science of brain development. And I know that when we think about this new version of our educational approach, we really were so intentional about making sure it was rooted in science. Right, Rachel?

Rachel: You got it. Absolutely. And sometimes what parents or anyone is looking for is the stuff on the top of the foundation, but we're focused on the foundation and the bottom, what's below because if we get that really strong and right, all that other stuff blooms and flourishes and it's strong for a lifetime.

So think about early childhood like that, because if we're just looking for the outcomes on the top, that's like building a house without a foundation. And that can really, in the short-term, look lovely, but won't be as strong and successful as it would be long-term if we had that strong foundation.

So this philosophy that is really rooted in the research for a long time, and not only have we rooted it in the research, but we also have an education advisory council of esteemed academics and leaders in early childhood across the country that give us feedback and weigh in on our direction. So we know with confidence that we are, again, not just doing what seems like a good idea or what a trend might be, but actually what the science, what the research tells us children need in the early years, and we pay attention to it all the time. So we're updating our knowledge, but the exciting thing for me is that our knowledge about what works for early childhood, we don't really have to update it that much. The current research mostly reinforces what we've already been doing. But some of it was lost in this idea of it being just a curriculum and curriculum focuses more on content.

So we really wanted to create this framework that elevated these four cornerstones, so we have responsive and nurturing relationships, there is nothing more important for early childhood development. Children, anyone cannot learn if they don't feel psychologically and physically safe, and the best way to do this is to have a responsive and nurturing relationships.

One of the things that's most important to me to make sure everybody knows and feels confident about is that care and learning are completely integrated, they should not be separated. If you're looking for learning instead of care, or, "Oh, we had care the first couple of years, and now it's time for learning," that will be disruptive and not as high quality as if they're fully integrated.

Children need adults to be mindful of them, to know them, to be attentive to them, and to be very responsive and consistently so. So that's teachers and family members, whoever that is, and the more adults they have like that, the better it is for their early development.

Joyful, playful, and inclusive communities. This one seems maybe obvious. So we want joy in our classrooms, and that is paramount to us. Children should be laughing, adults should be having joyful moments, so that is we are preserving a beautiful and lovely, joyful childhood. It must be playful. Children learn through play, and we're gonna talk a lot about that.

And inclusive, that everyone is a part of that community. That community is reflective of the children in it and in the families in it, that not that that community is reflective of the same thing the teacher has been doing for the last five years and has a theme that they wanna do and the families last year liked it. Sure, some of that might happen if it's reflective of the community in the classroom, and in the center, we want be sure every child and every family feels a sense of belonging.

Then we have proven instructional method down there on the bottom left, and this is how teachers teach. I'm gonna talk about this a little bit more later. But this is really important to us and in a unique aspect of our framework. So we're not just talking about what children learn, we're talking about how teachers teach.

And then the learner centered environments. If you've ever been in one of our spaces, you've probably noticed a lot of care about materials and environments and design and colors. We put a lot into that because we believe, like many other philosophers in early childhood, that you can almost consider the environment one of the teachers in the classroom. If children have choice, if they feel they can succeed in the environment, if they don't have a lot of rules in the environment, and if it's a beautiful space for them, they will learn better.

Claire: Those cornerstones first of all, I just love this framework, because I see the child right there at the center, which is how we always think about every single child in all of our centers. I wanna quick...I know we have a video to show everyone but I thought we might take a quick minute and just do a little activity. Because something that I've heard you say a lot, Rachel is hands-on, minds-on. Can you just tell us a little bit about what that is and how that fits into this framework?

Rachel: Yeah, I'm so glad you mentioned the child at the middle because that could not be more important. And that is one of the things that I value so much is keeping the child...our decisions are about that child in the middle all the time. And you see that world at their fingertips curriculum right there. I skipped that part because I was so excited to tell you about the cornerstones. But then around that in yellow is a meaningful assessment and planning process. And that is our ongoing approach to observing children and responding to each individual child's developmental needs and interests. And so we have a very responsive, often called emergent approach. And that's something that is key. If you read about high-quality early learning programs or curriculum, you'll see where it's like constructing knowledge or responsive to children's interests or child-led and that's how we do that.

So yeah, so Claire that's a good idea. Let's do that activity. So while you're sitting at your desk, I'm assuming or wherever you are, if you just grab three to five items that are closest to you, no rules about what those items are, we won't see them, you're not on camera so they can be whatever five items, or three to five items that you can find or see.

Claire: I'm gonna do it too. I'm gonna do it and [crosstalk 00:15:04.856].

Rachel: Okay. I have a pen, sunglasses, and headphones right in front of me. So that's as willy-nilly as you can be about this. Oh, I have a pad of paper. I'll put that in here.

Claire: I have a couple of things here.

Rachel: Five items, three to five items. And then I want you to stack them in a way that they will stand up, that you can take your hand hands away, and they will stay.

Claire: I've got a candle, and vitamins, and I've got hand lotion.

Rachel: I wish I can show what I'm doing here. Yeah.

Rachel: Yeah, you did pretty good there. You had some stable materials. During this activity, I to mention...so a debrief in that, I would just like you to put in the chat what skills you applied while you're doing this activity? Some thoughts. What did you have to think about or do?

Claire: The one thing I learned is that I immediately put the heaviest thing on the bottom.

Claire: Yeah. Didn't even have to think twice about that.

Rachel: And that's a good thought, Claire, because then you know what that takes is that takes a lot of experimentation as a young child to learn what the heaviest thing is, you just knew it, because you've learned that.

Claire: Yeah, I have learned that. That is probably not how I made my first block tower, though.

Rachel: Yes, reasoning, balance, heavy balancing, and weight, size, shape, balance, what would allow for that, yeah, weight of items, lots of good ideas, okay, great, flat surface. So this is... Exactly. Look at the depth of things that we would have explored or we were exploring in that quick amount of time, and we have those synaptic connections. So we're able to do that, but a young child doesn't know, so they're gonna have to do a lot of experimentation. They're trying different things, they're gonna repeat, and they're gonna freely make mistakes.

And that, with a lot of joy, and fun, and the space, and time, to do that, and an attentive teacher who is aware when he or she might interject and intervene and when the play is doing the teaching, and the environment, with the right materials is doing the teaching, that's a whole bunch of fantastic learning. And that is hands-on, minds-on learning.

We could have sat kids down and said, "We're gonna do an exercise here, watch the teacher do this. Now you do the same thing as the teacher or you paste something on a worksheet, or a piece of paper, or you do something on a worksheet." Not nearly the amount of processing and thinking, and trial and error, and reasoning, and problem solving, and joy, would have happened if we did it like that. Much better outcome...

Claire: That's the most fun I've had today. Thank you for bringing some joy to my desk. We have a really short video that we're gonna share with all of you and I think it's only a minute or two long just to give you an idea of what Discovery Driven Learning might look like.

Claire: That video was such a fun way to show the different types of joy we see in our classrooms every day, the meaning that we can bring to everyday activities. And it really is all built on science. Right, Rachel? It's all there.

Rachel: I'm gonna shout out Elizabeth here because she said, "I can't see the slides but I am building my tower." And challenged herself even with the tower. So that's another thing you're pointing out that happens is you persevered and you were using resilience. A lot of you are doing that right now. So that is fantastic stuff that kids don't naturally have. They have some levels of resilience, but we can really extend that and extend their perseverance as they get older and older.

In fact, the ability to stay on task and to persevere through frustration is a real hard thing for life. And we start that not in the toddler years where we all wish we could have kids do that, but it's sort of starting to evolve once they get into that preschool age, the beginnings of being able to do that. And they can learn it, if we give them the time, and the space, and the materials, and the support to be able to do that, rather than, "Okay, now it's time for this or now it's time for this, okay, now we have to go to this, and we have this lesson, or this activity, or this worksheet, or this rotation." That would be very disruptive of this kind of rich, meaningful learning. And that's why we don't do that or practice things like that in our classrooms on a regular basis.

Rachel: Sorry, I got off track on debriefing that with Elizabeth because I just love that comment. But yeah, so you probably heard of some of these theorists, maybe Piaget, for sure. Lev Vygotsky really introduced this idea of scaffolding learning. Thinking about what you can do now, and then what you want to be able to do, and that an adult or a teacher would help the learner go from what they can currently do to where they wanna go next through approach of scaffolding. So you can kind of envision what that looks like.

And we really use that constructivism idea a lot in our classrooms, as you're probably picking up on if you didn't know that before. We get asked a lot of questions about how is what you do at Bright Horizons different than Montessori. Well, Maria Montessori had a lot of good theory and ideas. And we have packed those in to Discovery Driven Learning. We aren't using the full Montessori method that she created, but we are using a lot of her theories.

And then Magda Gerber was an expert in the earliest years and her...this quote I use all the time because it is so true. And it has been verified through years of other research from other researchers and experts is that, "Earlier does not mean better." So if you're thinking about I mean, "Should my child read by the time they're three?" Earlier does not mean better. If they do naturally do that, that's different. But if you're pushing them to do that, because it feels successful to achieve something earlier, again, think of that foundation, we'd be skipping and going on to building the house before the foundation is done.

Claire: Great analogy. Let's talk a little bit about how that research has been folded into our beliefs at Bright Horizons.

Rachel: So to take that research into practice pathway with me for a moment, what we do is we look at the research, we check our research, okay, this is the research we've been using, what has happened recently, what's contemporary science telling us? We use our advisory council to help guide us as well. And then we do a comparison to those two things. And then we evolve it or create it into a way that's real practical and accessible for educators and families to consume. And it has resulted in a set of foundational beliefs, what we believe about children, what we believe about the role of early care and learning and how that comes together, then, in a Bright Horizons or a Discovery Driven Learning classroom.

They're about five pages long. So here's just an example of what they are. But we know these things. So we've built our philosophies, and our practices, and our principals off of these beliefs, that every child is born with an innate sense of wonder, I love that word so much. I love the idea of wonder, and tinkering, and marveling, and just being in awe of things. And we lose that sometimes through school because we start focusing on what's right, what's the right answer? How do I get a good grade on this? Versus exploration.

Well, this is the best time for that rich, wonder-based exploration, discovery driving children's learning. That curiosity, curiosity is a skill set that a whole bunch of organizations are identifying as super important for future careers, to be curious, to try to figure something out, to be a problem solver. To take emotional and logical information and bind those two things together. To be a resourceful, resilient, agile problem solver. That all stems from a sense of curiosity.

We use this quite a lot at Bright Horizons that we say, "Why not?" Or we say, "Well, let's find out. Let's discover it, let's figure it out. Maybe we'll get it wrong. That's okay. We'll learn from that process." And we want them to feel real good about that. And that their questions, you know, kids ask a million questions a day, so we're ready for that. We love it. Their questions, the things they're curious about or enquiring about, that is the basis of how we shape learning in our classrooms.

I've already talked about this, but really, it truly is, and the research from the last couple of years have just reinforced this, is when children thrive, when they overcome challenge, small or large, most of it is due hinging on trusting and reliable relationships with adults in their life. If you've ever played the game tag, we probably all have, you're running around, if you know there's a home base over here, somewhere, you look like, "Okay, I'm gonna go over there and rest." If there's no home base, you're kind of frantically just running around. That adult relationship, that's home-base.

So kids are more likely to explore and try things and feel safe in the world if they know that home base is there and they can rely on it. You are home-base. That's a nice way to think about it. And so are we in the classroom. Again, the more the merrier, and we do this in partnership with you.

And now each child is different. We do not say every child is gonna get this exact experience. Who is this child? What are their strengths? What are their interests? What are their temperaments, abilities? We pay attention to all of that. It's kind of a triangulation approach, if you think about, we understand and think about children's development. Typical, and there's a huge range of typical that we think about each individual child, and then we pair that with the interest in the classroom of the children. And that's how we create the learning in our programs.

And lastly, and I've said this, but I'll say it again, is childhood is a real special time to just be treasured by us as adults, but also by those children. And we wanna make sure that we have those joyful, meaningful, slow it down if we can, because it's so precious and build such a good base for lifetime, but just in and of itself. It's such a special time in life, and we don't want it to feel rushed, or unimportant, or not as joyful as it can be.

Claire: So these beliefs that you just went through are things that all of our educators at Bright Horizons know about. They're trained on it when they join our teams. But I wanna just talk a little bit more about some of the science, and evidence, and research-based features of Discovery Driven Learning, because I think they're really important to tell our audience about.

Rachel: Yeah, so here's a couple of things. I mean, as you can probably tell, I could talk about this for hours and hours. And I do talk about it for most of my life, and most of my job, and think about it, read about it, all the time. I care so very much about this. And I think it's that fascinating and exciting, in and out of it. But I try to whittle it down to some real key things that I thought it would be really important for families to understand about Discovery Driven Learning and our intentions here.

So I mentioned this already, but I'll talk about it just for a moment here, again, is we would say we have an emergent philosophy or an emergent approach, but maybe a more accessible word is responsive. So we don't have a set of, "Everybody's gonna be studying apples in the fall, because that's what we think from the education department is important." We don't do that. We provide the tools and the resources so that the classroom is responsive to what's going on in the classroom.

A lovely example of this just happened in Boston, it's been on our social media. So if you've seen it, or you could look for it. It's at the Landmark center where there's a construction site nearby, and children were really interested. So we worked with the construction company to create a way that children can observe what was going on with the construction, and they learned so much. They're doing this huge project on building things and they're learning language, science, math, physical, social, emotional, it's all happening in an integrated way through this responsive approach. So no one would ever say, "Oh, we can't watch the construction over there because it's Apple's week." So that would not be... that is counter to Discovery Driven Learning. So that's really important. That's what I mean by emergent and responsive.

And now I'm getting my hands into the interdisciplinary and immersive ideas that we take all of the domains of learning, so language, math, science, and we put those together as STEM. So we can make sure we're thinking about engineering, which we were just doing a bit of, and technology, and not only screen technology, technology in the broader sense of the word, and the arts and wellness, and all of it. And bring it together in the projects or the interest of the classroom.

So again, we don't say, "Okay, it's language time, and now we're gonna rotate to math time." We do all we can to integrate all of that into our project. So maybe they're measuring and exploring the materials for building, so they're getting math, and science and engineering, naturally, and they're learning new language and ways to express themselves. They're writing a letter, they're writing notes, they're asking questions to the construction workers. They're learning new vocabulary, it's all built into an experience.

And then an important part of our curriculum. I know I kind of brushed over that saying that's the what children are learning, but we have added, in the last couple of years, elements of the what, to build thinking and learning skills. Because as we're paying attention to the future, the skills and the knowledge children are gonna need to succeed in the future, and how school and education has evolved, we know that we need to spend time on building thinking and learning skills, not just language, math, science, etc. We know those are very important, but we want children to have the capacity to be great lifelong learners and thinkers.

And again, I did also mention this too. So quick, I'll just say the how to learn and how to teach are equally important to us, as well as those environments. So if you're looking at an environment, you're thinking, "Where did they get those materials? And how did they choose this? And why are their shelves this size? Or labeled this way?" We're making all those choice very, very intentionally to support children's own agency, which means they can make choices and act on them. And their autonomy and their feelings of success in that classroom. We used to call it a yes environment that they get to discover and explore and get their hands-on stuff.

Claire: So all this discovery is happening, all this wonder and joy, but what competencies are we trying to build with Discovery Driven Learning?

Rachel: So good question. So I just alluded to that with a curiosity comment a couple slides ago. So really thinking about, and you can look this stuff out, too, if you're interested in it. So I've been talking about using the research from academia, but we're also looking at what organizations like World Economic Forum are predicting of the skills of the future. And we're making that connection between what is important in early childhood and what's possible in early childhood, and how that prepares children to not just be ready for kindergarten, but to be ready for a lifelong of school and learning and then success later on in life. And there are ways you can look at things that happen in early childhood, and how that impacts what happens in elementary school, and that impacts what happens in high school and so on. So we're really mindful about that.

And we know, we all know technology is advancing, and there are a lot of opportunities for what technology can do. So that kind of rote learning, logical sequential learning is important for children to know but it's not all that you need to know. Because we need them to be able to problem solve, to think creatively, to sense other's emotions, and to incorporate those into their decision making, to prioritize, to collaborate, to work with others, to be a negotiator. And those are the kinds of skills, and I think you're probably noticing it, that we have all over the place in our philosophical approach here, because it is really about building those thinking and learning mindsets and skill sets for now, but also for the future.

We know, and you maybe can reflect on this as an adult, that children when you ask little kids, who's an artist in the classroom, who's creative, they're all raising their hand, and they're all right. And then we get to older kids, and as kids get older, and we get to adults, fewer and fewer hands are raised, and they're wrong about themselves, but that skill set hasn't been reinforced, or valued, or supported. Even though we know that skill set is critical for the future.

Claire: I think about this a lot, and I know you do too. I'm gonna move this along, even though I know you and I could both talk about that topic for another hour. I wanna talk now about a question that I hear a lot from families. When we talk about Discovery Driven Learning, a lot of folks wonder, "Well, is this just like the Montessori method or is this just like Reggio Emilia?" And there's all these other frameworks and pedagogies is out there. So I thought we could just take a quick minute to talk about that a little bit.

Rachel: Yeah, and it's a really good question. And we have additional resources if someone really wants to dig into the differences. Again, I said this earlier, but Montessori was a researcher, a pioneering researcher in early childhood, and she had fabulous findings, and they have been verified many times. And also a method was created from her findings. So we use a lot of Montessori's principles, but we integrate those with research from other pioneering scientists as well as contemporary researchers.

So we don't leave it simply at her research alone. So that's one distinction. Some of the things in the Montessori method is it doesn't have as much of an emphasis on dramatic play and imaginary play. That is core to our philosophy that children have a lot of time for that. So that's one difference. And then one similarity is that building children's independent skills and self-regulation skills, that they get a lot of space and time to pursue their interests. That's something in Montessori practices and that's something we practice as well. So there's a lot of overlap. And again, we take what we consider the best of the best from all the theories, and integrate those together versus a singular mindset or a theory.

Reggio, if some of you have heard of that, that's where we get the environment as a third teacher thinking that the environment and the beauty of an environment is really important. Both of those philosophies focus a lot on respect for childhood and children. And I hope you hear that coming through about Discovery Driven Learning as well. So that's an overlap.

Where we have less overlap is if some of the programs that would market themselves maybe as an academic, or real school or something like that, because there isn't science or research to back up that children at early ages should be learning in ways that they learn in elementary school. It feels, again, at that kind of, like, it looks like the house, like, "Oh, they're reading, and they're doing math," and it's so young, and it feels really successful and exciting, but the question to ask is, what is that taking the place of if we're focusing on that? A lot of research would tell us that a child that might develop a particular skill in the first five years, if they're getting a lot of coaching, or practice, or classes, that same skill would evolve naturally, a year or two later. And they'd be exactly in the same place a couple years later, but maybe have missed some foundational experiences, because they were focused on something else.

So that's, again, I just encourage everyone to think of it like that, and that's certainly how we're thinking about it. If a child is ready for a new skill, we are right there to scaffold that skill for them, but we wouldn't promote developing new skills, just for increased kind of outcome or academic outputs. Because we know that foundation, for example, we wouldn't worry about flashcards maybe for little kids, but we would think about sequencing, and patterning, and comparing, and contrasting, and math vocabulary.

Claire: So that's the perfect segue to my next topic, which is, how do kids learn? Let's say your child was interested in numbers or your child was asking questions about more than and less than. How do kids learn? How do young children learn these concepts?

Rachel: So the best way to do it is to just let them play. And one of the strategies we talk about or teach teachers in our philosophy, in our instructional method is do something called guided play. So that would mean you're paying attention to the child and the experience children are having, and as the teacher, you're making an intentional decision, "Should I interject? Should I join in this play? Is that going to help children's development here? Is that how I can scaffold this learning? Or maybe I should just ask some open ended questions or make some comments that would provoke some thinking or problem solving. Maybe I offer them some new materials, or simply just set some new materials next to them and see what happens and observe that."

So that would be a real perfect way for kids to learn, and you can do that at home as well. So if children are playing around with the idea of more or less, something like that, then you could say something like, "Oh, tell me what more looks like? What's more of this item that we have here? What is less of that?" And then you can extend that, maybe you play a game in the grocery store, "What's bigger than this cereal box?" Or you're driving in the car, "What is smaller or faster?" Or whatever version of that you want to use when you're driving down the road. Or you're on a walk and you look for patterns in nature. There's so many ways to do this in a meaningful way, that they're getting all these concepts and applying them immediately. So it's that hands-on, minds-on learning that you wanna be replicating as much as you can.

And really good questions are so key to helping children think. So if you say something, if a child is doing something and you say, "What color is that?" That's a pretty closed question. There's a right or wrong answer. And when they're learning colors, it's not bad to ask, but what if you said, "Oh my gosh, I'm so interested in these choices you're making. Tell me why did you choose that color? Or what are you writing your letter about?" If you see them writing letters, or, "Tell me more about that?" Things like that really unlock a child's thinking.

Claire: So let's talk about if we're thinking about children learning through play, which, you know, we know as educators and researchers that they do, then how does that prepare them for school later in life? Like, you know our kids have to move on to 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th, 12th grade, go to college. So how does learning through play help them with that?

Rachel: Again, it's just about that foundation. So I wish that all children got to learn through play throughout their education. When adults, if you've ever, as an adult, we've all probably been through training sessions and the one where someone gives you a PowerPoint and just talks to you the whole time, not engaging, not interesting, it's hard to retain information. As much as we moan and groan about having to do something like a role-play, we remember that stuff, if we get to do an activity, get our hands on things, we remember. That is how people learn. That is how humans learn.

So that strong foundation that they're getting through play can carry them forward into the older years. But I'd also think about making sure that they have a lot of free play and outdoor play and experiential types of learning in their life, whether it's in school or not. I hope it's in school for all of them, but if it's not, the best thing to do is not to sign them up for a whole bunch of different structured activities, but to allow for times for them to get their hands on and just be playful.

Just think about for a moment, riding a bike, nobody learned how to ride a bike because someone lectured them or sat them down in front of a PowerPoint, right? You get to play.

Rachel: You get to try. There's a lot of hand-eye coordination, muscle movements, sensory motor coordination going on, a lot of motivation to learn in that. So we think of riding a bike learning as a good basis for how everybody should learn everything, adults included.

And then that brings that up to that can carry that foundation through grade school and beyond. Because we know that children that are at a certain level with things like executive function, meaning how you're kind of controlling your thoughts and focusing your energies and planning ahead. If they're doing well with that in kindergarten, they're typically doing well with that in third grade and so on, and so on. So that's predictive, but it's not, you know, if you're not doing well on it in kindergarten, that's not a foregone conclusion that you're not gonna do well in third grade. I don't wanna say that, but it can be predictive of future skills.

Claire: Okay, I'm gonna give us... I wanna make sure that we leave at least 10 minutes for questions so that, again, if anyone has any questions there about anything that Rachel has said, or you want clarification, or even a follow up question, you can send us a question in the Q&A. I wanna just do a really quick shout out to the training that our educators go through because I know you could talk about this for a week straight, Rachel, and that your passion does translate to our teachers. So can you briefly just talk about that for a minute?

Rachel: Yeah, so whether you're a Bright Horizons parent or not, I would ask you or recommend that you ask about teacher and professional development at your program of choice. This is a really important aspect because if the teachers are skilled, and confident, and competent in the classroom and really understand some of these principles we've been talking about, their children are gonna benefit greatly from that. So that's the most important thing we can do for you, families, and for the children in the classroom.

Discovery Driven Learning has a whole bunch of training in it, and the training is designed around that framework. So everybody gets training in the different aspects of Discovery Driven Learning, and once they have reached a level of competency and completion of different trainings, then they will get a certificate to verify that. That's just brand new this year that we've started that so that teachers are all currently working on that. We have a very robust orientation for new teachers, and ongoing professional and teacher training days throughout the year.

And we invest, I'd be remiss if I didn't say this, and I hope Bright Horizons, parents know this, but just in case you don't, all of our full-time teachers in our centers and schools get 100% free credential in early childhood and degrees. So it's not even just our own professional development, but their ability to go on to college or receive a child development credential, without any costs upfront, because that's how much we believe in long-term learning and education for both the children, but also for the educators.

Claire: We are going to end with one of my favorite quotes from you, "Each day of learning and growing at Bright Horizons is designed to develop lifelong learners and future leaders, innovators, citizens, and stewards who think critically, solve creatively, connect and communicate and act with empathy."

Rachel: Yep, I like to say that because it's so true. And it's amazing to me that we can do all that in early childhood, that we can think short and long-term, be in the moment for a joyful childhood and prepare children for a really successful life in school, kindergarten, yes, but so far beyond that. And that's really exciting.

And I'll leave you with one last little quote, too, that I like to say a lot is, "Whoever's doing the thinking is doing the learning." So if you walk into a classroom, where the teacher is doing most of the thinking and giving most of the answers, then that's the only person in the classroom that's doing the richest learning. So if the control and the onus is on the children, which might just look like a lot of fun and play, which is exactly what you want, you're the one who's doing the learning in that classroom.

Claire: That's great. Okay, we are going to take questions now. So let's see, I'm gonna switch over to our Q&A and see what has come in.

Rachel: Oh, I'm gonna call out a quote here because I see Spring making a comment here in the chat, and I cannot let this one go because she's a teacher and saying, she's never had to go through so much training as she has with Bright Horizons, but also, "Never been more committed to the work I do. The passion is contagious. Credentials, I'm currently working on a degree." So you don't even have to take my word for it. Thanks Spring, it's not even planted in the audience.

Claire: Oh, it's so wonderful. That's great. Let's see, I'm gonna go to our Q&A here. How do you manage curriculum and staying on track with lesson plan in terms of staffing shortages? It's a fair question, given the current state of education in the whole country.

Rachel: Yeah, it is a great question. So what we have is a set of prepared plans that have opportunities for modification and customization, and that we allow teachers and classrooms to be using those. While there are challenges, maybe if there's not a permanent teacher in the classroom, or a teacher is out for a little bit. And of course, we know that has happened with all that's going on, and during this pandemic. So we, in times where children's experience might be slightly at risk, and I'm not talking about health and safety risk, I'm just talking about the full quality of the learning experience that we want to offer, then we provide these prepared plans that, again, allow for some customization. So it's not very rote and routine, but ensures that teachers have all of the materials and resources they need so they can implement a really wonderful experience for children no matter what else is going on.

And we also focus a lot even more than normal on those teacher/child interactions and responsive relationships. That's where that care and learning comes into practice even more. Because if children have stress, they can pick it up from the adults. If they have stress in any parts of their life, we wanna make sure that they get that nurturing, calm and caring support. We co-regulate with them if they can't regulate themselves or calm themselves, we let them borrow our calm and our regulation. And that is key and has been paramount the last couple of years.

Claire: Okay, Rachel, here's a question that was actually sent in right before the webinar from someone who's in the audience. How do you keep playing new and interesting, or is repetition good?

Rachel: So both, so have you...? You know, you're all parents, so you've had to read the same book over and over and over again. And I did, this is where I'll admit I know the value of reading the same book over and over again, and boy did I try to skip pages on "Goodnight Moon" and "The Poky Little Puppy." But I was always caught... But they like repetition because they are learning about prediction, and they feel in control, and they feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence because they know what's happening next. And they build early literacy skills as they're connecting to what you're saying with symbols on the page, assuming they have to learn that first, those are symbols that have sounds and meaning. And then you put them together, and they have different meaning. So that's all happening as you're doing all that repetition.

And they're just these little scientists, they don't know that the same thing will happen every time. So the example I use all the time is a child dropping a spoon off their highchair. And maybe I have that a lot in my life, and that's why I use that example. But they're kind of figuring it out, how's this adult gonna react this time? How's the adult gonna react this time? Is it gonna still drop the same way? It's a huge science experiment these early years.

So we think of that's what they're trying to do, figure out how things work. That's what they're all about, figuring out how the world works around them, how people work, they don't have any knowledge to build on. So that's why the repetition is valuable and important. And so even though an adult might get kind of like, "Oh, we've done this three times in a row," that is very good for them. They like that repetition, and it's very healthy for them.

And you can mix things up, just don't do it so much that it's about your choices, but it's about what's right for your child. If you're paying attention, they're kind of getting bored with that, they played with it last time for an hour and this time, only 10 minutes, that tells you they need something different.

One of the things we would just do in a classroom is add some materials. Well, maybe they're in the block area. What if I just put the shells next to them? What will they do with that? Or maybe some pebbles, maybe different size blocks? How will that change what happens? Have a cardboard box, add some fabric to it, see what different things happen. Just be mindful of it. And if you're observing that play, you could be multitasking, you can watch that play for a couple minutes back and forth, you'll know exactly what to do next and how to interject something that could get them thinking, creating, and solving and exploring their curiosity.

Claire: I think you did a great job explaining that, Rachel. And I'm hoping that everyone heard what you said, especially at the end, because I think it answers a few of the questions that have come in, which is we've got quite a few folks in the Q&A asking how do we extend Discovery Driven Learning at home? Which is, I mean, thank you for answering...

Rachel: Yeah, so I just shared some ideas with you. Right, yeah, I just shared some ideas with you. We also have learning at home on our website, but here's what I'd say. There's a reason kids like the pots and pans and the cardboard box, because they're open ended experiences, they're not a, "Here's exactly how this thing works, and this is the only thing you can do with it."

They love free art materials, they love playing and jumping and running around outside, they love to be able to express themselves, and to direct some of the play. They don't love a lot of rules, or "This is how you succeed," that takes away the learning actually, although that seems kind of counter to what you think.

So you can introduce rules intentionally, like a good one example is, like, Simon Says!, because those kinds of rules don't get anyone out, then they miss out on the fun learning. Just play the game of Simon Says!, that's building a lot of muscle control, cognitive development, flexible thinking. So those are good rules. But, "You can't do this, you can't do this, you can't do this, you're out if you do this," that kind of stuff just takes the joy out of that learning experience. And then they're just thinking about how they'll succeed versus how they'll learn.

So it's really, like, you don't need a lot of materials. You don't need lessons. You don't need specific activities. This just kind of playful, experiential, "Let's find out. Why is the grass over here feel different than the grass in our yard at home? Well, this is a new tree. I've never seen this tree, why is the bark coming up?" Those are just simple things you can explore. Okay, like, "How can we find out? Should we go to the library and research that? What questions do we have? How would we figure that out? How would you figure that out?" Perfect ways to learn at home.

Claire: I love that. The "Let's find out" has become a reframe in many, many of our centers. And I think we've got time for one more question. This one came in ahead of the webinar. How can I figure out the timing of when to intervene when my child is playing by himself?

Rachel: Oh, that's a good question. So again, I would just borrow those skills that we use in our classroom and our meaningful assessment and planning process is just do some observations and take some notes. Adults are real quick to interject and intervene, and we have to hold ourselves back, because we're using all of our experience and all of our knowledge and our rushed schedules in the moment. But if we just watch them, we'll figure out the cues and the clues from children.

So again, how long are they engaged in something? What questions are they asking? Challenge yourself to ask more of those open-ended questions. Try not to correct them if it's not necessary. So if you say maybe something like, "What do you think about this zebra? Do you think is just like a horse?" And they say, "Yes." Don't say, "Oh, no, it's not. And here's why." "Let's figure that out. How can we figure that out?"

Things that are not real consequential like that gives them an opportunity to explore that and figure that out, get their hands on things, sensory experiment, try different textures. And when you're observing a child, then you can really think about, "Would this be better if I interjected with them? If I played with them? Are they looking for that? Is that valuable?" And maybe if they're always looking to join in on the play, you can make a conscious decision about it based on your observations.

I do wanna just...I know you're gonna tell me it's over Claire, but I'm gonna ask to say one thing to someone in the chat is that about the concept of daycare, and I am all over social media trying to get people to stop calling early childhood daycare, I 100% agree with you.

Child care, daycare can sometimes feel like it's not as important but at the same time that care, I don't wanna dismiss care, because care and learning are super important together. So thank you for that comment, and I appreciate your camaraderie and alignment with our effort to make sure that everyone knows how valuable and important these always are.

Claire: I wanna draw everyone's attention quickly to the slide that's up now. It lists a bunch of resources that we have available to you. They are linked below in the widgets, just some articles about Discovery Driven Learning. We've got a couple of videos, including the one that we showed today. And we just wanna thank everyone who was able to join us today, and we're excited to keep learning with all of you. Thanks, Rachel.

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