As parents and educators, we are constantly finding ways to make education relevant and useful. We want classrooms buzzing with curious minds, where knowledge doesn’t just stay within the four walls but extends into the real world.
But what’s the secret sauce to achieving this? Enter authentic learning.
Authentic learning is a child-centred approach to education that focuses on real-world experiences and problem-solving. It is based on the belief that children are capable, curious, and creative learners, and helps them to develop critical thinking skills, solve problems, and become more self-directed learners.
In this article, we will explore what authentic learning is, how it can be implemented in your child’s early years, as well as how Heartfield Kindergarten builds an authentic learning environment for our students.
What is Authentic Learning?
Authentic learning is an educational approach that bridges the gap between classroom teachings and real-world applications. It emphasises the importance of making lessons relevant and applicable to students’ everyday lives.
The core belief behind this method is that lessons should be relevant and pitched at a level respectful to children, i.e. neither too hard nor too easy. By doing so, students not only become more engaged and motivated — they’re also better prepared for future challenges as their learning experiences mirror real-life situations while developing practical skills.
To quote authentic learning advocate Steve Revington:
Authentic Learning “is real life learning. It is a style of learning that encourages students to create tangible, useful products to be shared with their world.”
Why is Authentic Learning Important in Early Education?
Ever so often, you might hear your kindergarten-aged child ask, “Why do I need to know this?” or “When will I ever use this?” These questions arise when they don’t see the relevance of what they’re learning to their everyday lives.
Younger children are not able to verbally articulate these questions. However, you might see a blank expression on your child’s face and wonder the same thing, “How is this relevant?”
Authentic learning addresses this gap. It connects early education in kindergarten with the skills and knowledge that children need to successfully navigate their lives. By doing so, it helps children to contextualise their learning with what they encounter in the real world.
Here are some of the benefits of authentic learning in early education:
Nurture self-directed learners: Authentic learning steers children to learn on their own. They are involved in making decisions based on their learning. For instance, a teacher might ask, “What would you like to learn about bees?”
Instil deeper understanding of concepts: Authentic learning helps children to dive more deeply into key concepts—they do not merely memorise and regurgitate facts, but find ways to apply them in real life. Doing so helps them to better retain and recall information.
Develop critical thinking skills: Authentic learning requires children to think critically about the world around them. They are encouraged to ask questions, gather information, and solve problems. This develops the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in school and life.
Improve problem-solving skills: Authentic learning also helps children learn how to solve problems. They are given opportunities to apply what they learn to real-world situations, strengthening their problem-solving skills. The open-ended nature of this type of learning lends itself to many opportunities to solve problems. For example, children can work together to create a city out of used items.
Cultivate love for learning: By engaging children in fun and meaningful activities that they are invested in, authentic learning helps children to develop a passion for learning.
The Pedagogy Behind Authentic Learning
Curious to know what’s the pedagogy behind authentic learning?
At its core, authentic learning ensures that education is meaningful, relevant, and rooted in genuine contexts. In kindergartens and preschools, authentic learning is particularly important as it lays down the building blocks for your child’s lifelong learning journey.
#1 Real-world Application
Authentic learning emphasises the importance of applying knowledge and skills to real-world situations. For instance, children might be encouraged to observe their local environment and then engage in projects that relate to their observations, fostering a deep understanding of the world around them.
#2 Embedded Assessment
Unlike traditional assessment methods that might rely heavily on tests or quizzes, authentic learning incorporates assessment within the learning process. This could be through performance-based tasks that are aligned with educational standards. The data obtained from such embedded assessments can guide instructional strategies, ensuring that learning is always tailored to the child’s needs. Moreover, since the data is collected in a natural setting, it provides a more accurate reflection of the child’s abilities. More importantly, it enables educators to evaluate the child’s thinking process and skills, not just their knowledge.
#3 Contextual Learning
Activities and projects in authentic learning often take place in settings familiar to students, such as regular play sessions. This ensures that children can relate their learning to their everyday experiences, making the learning process more intuitive, natural and applicable.
#4 Holistic Development
Authentic learning in early childhood education often integrates various subjects. For instance, a simple activity like creating a museum of children’s art can encompass elements of art, history, and even science. Such integrative experiences ensure that children develop a well-rounded understanding of each subject.
#5 Engagement with Multiple Modalities
The pedagogy recognizes that children have diverse learning styles. Hence, it incorporates multiple modalities, such as music, movement, tactile experiences, and technology, to cater to different learners and make lessons more engaging.
#6 Empowerment and Autonomy
One of the cornerstones of authentic learning is the belief in the child’s capability. Children are often seen as co-creators of knowledge, given a voice in their learning process, and encouraged to take ownership of their educational journey.
The Key Elements of Authentic Learning
In kindergartens around the world, there’s a growing emphasis on creating learning experiences that are not just informative but meaningful and relevant. This is where the elements of authentic learning come into play.
Here are five key elements needed to successfully foster authentic learning.
#1 Mindset of Educators
Authentic learning begins with cultivating the right mindset in both educators and parents. It’s the unwavering belief that children are not just passive recipients of knowledge—rather, they are capable individuals, brimming with curiosity and creativity.
This mindset shifts the focus from rote memorisation to exploration, from mere absorption of facts to cultivating of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. When educators adopt this mindset, they view every child as a potential innovator, thinker, and creator.
#2 Role of the Teacher/ Educator
In an authentic learning environment, the role of the teacher or educator evolves. They are no longer just transmitters of knowledge; they become facilitators, guiding students as they navigate their learning journey.
Thus, the kindergarten teacher’s role is to provide the tools, resources, and support that students need to explore topics deeply. They ask open-ended questions, encourage discussions, and challenge students to think critically and reflect on their learning.
#3 Setting and Lesson Plans
The setting in which learning takes place and the lesson plans that guide instruction are crucial components of authentic learning. Lesson plans in this context are dynamic and flexible, often shaped by students’ interests, questions, and curiosities.
Instead of following a rigid curriculum, educators may design experiences that mirror real-world challenges and scenarios. For instance, a lesson on ecology might involve a field trip to a local forest, followed by a project where students devise strategies to protect endangered species in their community.
#4 School Environment
The physical and emotional environment play pivotal roles in authentic learning. Authentic learning classrooms are designed to be inviting, stimulating spaces filled with resources that spark curiosity.
Often, you will see areas dedicated to hands-on experiments, reading nooks filled with diverse books, or corners equipped with tools for research.
#5 Emotional Support
The emotional environment is equally vital to cultivate authentic learning in children. There should be an atmosphere of trust, respect, and encouragement—one where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities and every student’s voice is valued.
Examples of Authentic Learning
Authentic learning is not just theory; it comes alive when applied in real classroom scenarios.
Let’s explore some examples of how authentic learning can be applied to various subjects:
#1 Authentic Learning of Chinese
Earlier generations may recall how learning Chinese used to be about memorising characters and practising how to write them. In an authentic learning environment, however, students are immersed in Chinese culture. They might participate in Chinese New Year celebrations, don traditional Chinese attire, learn traditional dances, listen to Chinese songs, or cook Chinese dishes.
By doing so, students learn the language and gain a deeper appreciation and love for its culture and history.
#2 Authentic Learning of Maths
Instead of merely solving problems in a textbook, authentic learning in maths could involve real-world applications. They could set up a mock store in the classroom, practising addition, subtraction, and multiplication as they “buy” and “sell” items.
Such activities make mathematical concepts tangible and relevant, showing students the practical value of what they’re learning.
#3 Authentic Learning of Science
Science comes alive with authentic learning. Rather than read passively about ecosystems, students could create one, observing the interactions between plants and animals firsthand. They might conduct experiments to understand the effects of pollution on local water sources or look at the clouds in the sky to track weather patterns and make predictions. Field trips to local science centres, botanical gardens, or shops can also provide hands-on experiences, fostering a genuine interest in scientific exploration.
How Heartfield Builds an Authentic Learning Environment
At Heartfield, we understand the profound impact of authentic learning on a child’s educational journey. We champion this in several ways:
#1 Integrated Lesson Plans
True authentic learning lies in interdisciplinary learning. By integrating subjects, we allow students to see the interconnectedness of knowledge. Here are some ways in which our lesson plans seamlessly blend subjects:
- Chinese-English: Students might read a story in Chinese and then engage in an English discussion, enhancing language proficiency in both.
- Maths-Science: A lesson on measurements in maths could lead to a science experiment where accurate measurements are crucial.
- Language Arts-Environmental Science: After reading a story about nature, for instance, students might explore our garden to see how a local ecosystem works.
- Visual Arts-Maths: Geometry can come alive as students create art based on different shapes, patterns, and symmetries.
#2 Open-ended Learning
At Heartfield, we view our children not just as learners but co-creators of knowledge. Our open-ended approach empowers them, giving them a voice and autonomy in their learning journey. This method fosters the development of the three Cs:
- Creativity: Children are free to explore topics in ways that resonate with them.
- Critical Thinking: They’re prompted to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and seek solutions.
- Collaboration: Open-ended tasks often involve group work, fostering teamwork and communication skills.
#3 Real-world Relevance
One of the hallmarks of our approach is the emphasis on projects that have real-world relevance.
A prime example is our “Recycled City” project. Here, children discuss and brainstorm what elements are essential in a city. They then use recycled materials to construct their vision of an ideal city. Such projects reinforce academic concepts and teach values like sustainability, community, and civic responsibility.
#4 Preparation for Primary School Education
Implementing real-life scenarios and practical skills in early education sets the stage for success in primary school, whether in Singapore or abroad.
For instance, heuristic maths problems in primary school demand critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, skills that can be nurtured early on. Similarly, English comprehension leans heavily on inference, a facet of critical thinking, while composition and STEM projects call for creativity. All of these are fostered at a young age at Heartfield to prepare our students for the challenges ahead.
#5 Nurturing Intrinsically Motivated Learners
At Heartfield Kindergarten, we aim to nurture children who are intrinsically motivated in school, enjoying the challenge of the learning process rather than solely aiming for results. Our approach helps them to adapt to new forms of learning, enabling them to apply their skills across various domains.
Authentic learning, a cornerstone of our philosophy, fosters confident learners. Because it is centred on engaging our children, they are more likely to approach learning with the confidence that they can tackle any obstacles with tenacity and hard work.
Authentic learning is not just a teaching methodology. Rather, it is an educational philosophy that believes in the innate curiosity, capability, and creativity of every child. It emphasises real-world relevance, integrates subjects seamlessly to everyday scenarios, and places children in the heart of the learning process.
At Heartfield Kindergarten, we champion this approach, crafting integrated lesson plans focused on real-world problem-solving while promoting open-ended learning. Our children are not just vessels to be filled with information, but co-creators of knowledge.