The Power of Reflection in the Early Childhood Classroom

A defining condition of being human is that we have to understand the meaning of our experience.
Jack Mezirow

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.
Mark Van Doren

Educational research has long supported the use of intentional reflective activities and practices in school-age classrooms to best support the internalization of new skills and information by students.  It is easy to imagine the middle or high school classroom discussing books and articles in order to harness critical thinking for the purposes of deeper meaning and understanding of themes.  But how can we accomplish similar goals with our youngest students?  In the early childhood classroom children are not quite reading.  Some are not yet talking!  How can we provoke the reflective learning process with these young students?

The answer is simple and I bet, as a parent or adult close to the life of a child, you already do it.  What happens when the young children in your life see photos of themselves and people they know?  Quite simply, most young children, even infants, engage.  And so do you, right?  Let’s face it, even as adults, we secretly love seeing ourselves in photographs.  Take one look at your social media pages and you will see for yourself how much you and your friends “like” pictures of each other.  As a matter of fact, next time you peruse these images, as you are thumbing by and pause to examine one, take a moment to reflect on your own thought process.  Are you remembering an event?  An emotion?  Does the photo trigger a memory assumedly unrelated? 

Children experience a similar reflective process when they see photos of themselves and each other.  When the photos are from school activities, such as construction in the block area, shapes at the math table, or a field trip, memories of these events are triggered, including memories of learning content.  Because memory is personal and involves known players (friends), critical reflection is activated. This allows the child to form a meaningful relationship with the learning content depicted in photographs.

In the Child Learning Center classrooms at the Round Valley Branch of the Hunterdon County YMCA, we are intentionally engaging the reflective process. Child-safe display boards have recently been mounted at child’s eye level in the classrooms.  Teachers can capture photographs of children in learning action and print them in color on site.  These photos are then mounted around the classroom on the display boards.  The boards are strategically located near the learning centers where children do their work.  Therefore, the photos mounted on the boards reflect the work happening in the immediate environment, reinforcing the learning experience for even the youngest child.

Michael Reisman, M.Ed. is Director of Early Childhood Education for the Hunterdon County YMCA.  mreisman@hcymca.org  908-483-4623

For information regarding Round Valley Child Learning Center Programs call 908-236-0055, ext. 4605. 
For the YMCA Milford Preschool, 908-995-8107


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