Big Cats Class
The Big Cats classroom is often noisy, exciting, messy and full of little egos vying for supremacy in the environment: just the way it should be for ages from 4 and a half. The teacher is seeking to help them progress to the next level, where working with others is better than working alone. This Egocentric stage is incredibly important to honour as it sets up the healthy sense of self-worth that carries us through life. This stage is about hands-on concrete experiences, where our senses tell us how to experience the world. The Prep classroom has many of the same elements as Pre-prep as many children need longer than expected to get comfortable understanding themselves in this shared space with others.
The Focus of the Class
Accepting that Big Cats need time and opportunity to explore their own personal needs and passions—for example, free play, physical space choices and places to run around, an opportunity to call out and share ideas and thoughts.
Aspiring to guide the Big Cats through experiences that help them connect to others beyond their immediate self—for example, moving to rule based play, learning how to sit in fixed space and how to wait to speak.
It is imperative that this developmental group has this balance in their day. They need time to sit on the mat and learn how to work with others combined with time to follow their own wishes and needs. Time is the key. Once they show this readiness it is in indicator that it is time to move to the Rule-Oriented Penguin Room.
This developmental age has no notion of time beyond immediate experience. This has an impact on a number of decisions:
Although BIS is focused on intrinsic motivation as a core principle, we cannot fight the need for immediate consequences for this group. This means we need a way to help the Big Cat understand that some behaviours work for them in the group and some don’t.
Unlike other age-groups, they get no behaviour success out of conflict resolution and discussion as they don’t remember what happened at break, they don’t remember who was standing there or what they did. These time dependent strategies give them no immediate feedback. They need a response to what happens that is based on a classic consequence system that happens as soon as the issue emerges, without it being a fear-based consequence, merely something that works as a currency for them to measure against. Both the child who receives the consequence and the child who was hurt by the incident can get instant results and feel heard and safe. At the same time the teacher verbally resolves the conflict, modelling a second person perspective, demonstrating for them the next mode of development, that caring and negotiating works better.
This example of the teacher taking second person perspective allows the child to have their behaviour reflected through the needs-based filter that they respond to whilst allowing them to start to explore how other people involved in the drama feel.
“If you had asked Tom to give you the ball instead of pushing him would you be stuck here talking to me or would you be over there with him playing?”
Completing Focused Tasks
With no understanding of “15 minutes” or even “this afternoon”, the Big Cats need their teacher to map the day out clearly with them and help them to get through their tasks by clearly flagging the activities. This flagging involves notion of “now”, “next”, “later” so they know clearly what they need to be doing now and what comes next. This group is not yet ready for self direction, they cannot see any long term reason for learning maths or spelling so the experiences need to be quick, experiential, play based or full of instant gratification, “I did it!”. Their Self Directed Characteristic focus is on Intrinsic Motivation and Openness to Experiences.
Transitioning to Caring and Sharing
The Big Cats are at an ego and moral development level that makes it hard for them to feel empathy. For example, although they may say all the right things if they see it makes us happy, they then repeat the same action again straight away. The Big Cat classroom organisation is very focused upon helping these precious egos begin to perceive that their inherent need for gratification can best be served by considering others.
“Pushing Tom got me in trouble but asking Tom meant that everyone smiled at me.”
This cause and effect process is a very exciting core to the Big Cat teaching and learning experience as the awareness of these perspectives tells us the Big Cat is ready to be a Kestrel.
“Writing my own way is fun but no one can understand what I wrote so they don’t want to look at my stories. I want to know how to write so they will look at them.”
A Snapshot of the Big Cats Base Camp
Every morning at BIS starts with a morning meeting. For the Big Cats it is an opportunity for everyone to share their ideas and understand what needs to be done for the day. This is written up on the board for the readers and verbally shared throughout the day. Plans for learning and play can elicit many fun and exciting activities for the day. This is also the time for “show and tell”.