The HighScope approach originated in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1970. It was an offshoot of the Perry Preschool Project which was developed to provide early childhood education to the poorest areas of Ypsilanti in order to give 3- and 4-year-olds a better foundation for their future in high school. The study found — decades later — that children who received a high-quality preschool program based on the HighScope “active participatory learning” approach were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool; they also committed fewer crimes, were more likely to be employed and had higher earnings.
The nonprofit HighScope Foundation now promotes and supports educators and parents as they help children learn.
The HighScope approach to learning supports children at their current developmental level while helping them build upon their abilities. The active learning that is promoted means that students directly engage with objects and ideas through hands-on experiences.
“The HighScope curriculum is for all students, regardless of background or ability,” says Jessica L. Gschwend, early childhood interventionist with the Barren County School District in Glasgow, Kentucky, explaining that classroom materials are available for students to manipulate in ways that encourages their learning interests. “Teachers are less direct and instead work alongside their students to support them through questioning, guidance and supplying learning materials needed.”
The learning process is initiated by the children as they make their own choices about what they want to work with and follow through on their plans and decisions (including cleanup).
While children do work and play individually much of the time in learning centers arranged throughout the classroom, the HighScope approach includes group time and children are encouraged to share their thinking with their peers. HighScope classrooms do emphasize a consistent daily routine which provides children with a structure while still allowing them to make choices and follow their own interests.
HighScope teachers observe and record what the children are doing in the classroom and facilitate conflict resolution as the need arises, but their support for each individual child’s learning process is what is crucial to the HighScope method. “It is my job to take the students’ lead and provide any other materials to take their idea further,” explains Gschwend.
“For instance, if a child shows interest in mixing colors to create a new color, I would take supplies for them to the art center that would allow for mixing paint. Or in the science center I would set up materials for mixing food coloring and so forth. I would find out about their desire to understand color mixing using questioning techniques to start their thinking but also have them explain why they are doing something and lead them to the next step.” Children are encouraged to be creative and use critical thinking skills rather than just offering up “yes” or “no” answers.
The HighScope classroom is a materials-rich learning environment that is purposely arranged to allow children to explore and build social relationships, often with well-defined areas for different activities.
The curriculum content, according to the HighScope Foundation, is organized into eight main categories: Approach to learning; social and emotional development; physical development and health; language, literacy and communication; mathematics; creative arts; science and technology; and social studies.
“Materials differ by center. There are at least nine centers available at all times,” says Gschwend, explaining that there may be dramatic play (kitchen, doctor’s office, restaurant, grocery) or a water and sand table equipped with watering cans, shovels and funnels and which may also be stocked with rice, birdseed or dried beans (for the kids who love scooping and pouring).
“A study can last five minutes or multiple weeks based on student interest. Students are not forced to participate but, as the teacher, it is one’s job to create opportunity for each student to achieve the standards,” says Gschwend. “The biggest thing is knowing the children and what they like. When a student is interested they will want to learn and when they want to learn it stays with them.”
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