The Big Cats
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 1/2. The teacher is seeking to help them develop to the next level; which means working with others works better than working alone. This ego centric 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 experience of the world where our senses tell us how to experience the world. The Prep classroom has many of the same elements of the Pre-prep as many children need longer than expected to get comfortable understanding themselves in this shared space with others.
Consequently the room has two features to the choices in design and organization of the space, resources, teaching and learning.
1) Accepting that Big Cats need time and opportunity to explore their own personal needs and passions; e.g: free play, physical space choices and places to run around, an opportunity to call out and share ideas and thoughts.
2) Aspiring to guide the Big Cats through experiences that help them connect to others beyond their immediate self; e.g: moving to rule based play, learning how to sit in fixed space and how to wait to speak.
It is an imperative to let this development group have this balance in their day, 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 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 focussed on intrinsic motivation as a core principle, we can not fight the need for immediate consequences for this group. This means that we need a way to help the Big Cat understand that some behaviours work for them in the group and some don’t. 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 them the next mode of development; 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 other people involved in the drama that has unfolded.
“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 Focussed 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 can not 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 about sharing with others
The Big Cats are at an ego and moral development level that makes it hard for them to feel empathy, although they may say all the right things if they see it makes us happy but then repeat the same action again straight away. The Big Cat classroom organisation is very focussed 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.”
“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.”
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 Penguin.
A Snapshot of the Big Cats
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. 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”.
First session – Lab 1
Lab 1 activities happen every morning and are focussed on individual children progressing through the academic curriculum program in English and Math. Students work with the teacher, teacher-aide and parent helpers to achieve book work goals, game outcomes and mini lessons. The Big Cats teacher will often have a one- on- one lesson during this time to help children move through the academic program. The learning at this stage is very concrete and hands-on with students counting with materials, feeling the sounds of vowels and consonants and exploring science through observation and hands-on experiments. Art is free expression that explores different media and different modes of art making.
Depending on the day of the week, the temperature of the class and the week of the term this middle session will either be when the Big Cats are working on Science, History, Geography, Technology or the Arts. Either as experiential lessons or projects to work on together these sessions are about sharing ideas and knowledge and learning how to work with others to achieve results. During these Lab sessions the Big Cats may work with the Dolphins or Penguins on tasks, depending on their skill level. Sometimes this deep thinking will best be achieved by ensuring periods of undirected play or “processing time” to allow our young minds to think up new ideas or relax their cognitive mind and explore their feelings. A balance between is an imperative. Process is the key focus here not product. We want the Big Cats to explore and play with learning and feel passion for their learning. There is plenty of time for them to learn the “rules” of these different ways of learning.
Third session – cultural and individualised program
During this afternoon session the Big Cats need time to relax and take a back seat as they enjoy quiet reading or relaxation. They may go for a walk to practice being quiet or do some listening while a story is read. Some days there will be Whole School Meeting or an afternoon sports session with the whole school. This part of the day is always about connecting to self or connecting to others. It is our chance to review the day, think about tomorrow and dream.