New World Kids — the approach
The New World Kids (NWK) approach is founded on basic principles that are supported by studies of the brain, of cognition and of best practices in education:
• All children have creative potential.
• Each child’s mind is unique.
• Thinking and learning is a creative process.
• Creativity is essential to the individual and to the global community
NWK begins with an assumption that each child is a genius and that it is the teacher and parent’s job to identify and nurture that potential. The child is seen as a “mind at work” that already possesses strengths and talents to build upon rather than as an empty vessel that must be filled.
Teacher-centered learning is curriculum driven and puts the student in a passive, receptive role. By contrast, child-centered learning begins with the student’s needs, abilities, interests and preferred modes of learning; the teacher is the facilitator of the learning process and students are required to be active, responsible participants in their own learning.
Child-centered educational programs make connections to the child and his/her previous experiences and current viewpoint. The NWK curriculum takes this a step further: the teacher actually studies the child and the child studies himself. This study is interwoven into explorations of new worlds of ideas and the practice of creativity. Instruction is designed not only to promote knowledge and skills but to lead to deeper self-understanding as well.
Windows of opportunity
According to research, for most people the height of creativity occurs before the second grade, some time before traditional education and society begin tolabel and classify them. Before entering school, young minds have been growing at a break-neck pace, expanding their creative powers, understanding more and more about themselves and their world.
NWK believes that early childhood is the optimal time to give children a more basic vocabulary —a vocabulary that helps them define themselves and their world and that forms a bridge between their native and unique abilities and the demands of school and the larger world. This vocabulary is the Sensory Alphabet.
The pattern language of the external world:
The Sensory Alphabet
Before people learn to think in words and numbers, they think very naturally in pictures, sounds and movement. Young children are more intimately connected to their senses and use both sides of the brain. They literally think with their whole bodies. The Sensory Alphabet provides a vocabulary for expressing and communicating in this primary language: line, color, texture, movement, sound, rhythm, space, light and shape. Paradoxically, this very basic alphabet is also the symbol system utilized by digital media — now urgently needed to develop emerging new literacies and to foster innovation in our rapidly changing world.
The Sensory Alphabet is a pattern language that is a perfect match for the pattern-seeking human brain. With these descriptive words, a child can make many mental connections and see patterns relating diverse objects, fields, cultures and his/her own way of thinking. The child comes to realize that both lemons and windows are shapes, and that both ballet and algebra have lines. Innovation and creativity come to those who can make these mental jumps and see the patterns and connections that have thus far gone unnoticed.
Growing a digital lexicon
In New World Kids, a variety of digital media are used as basic tools for collecting and creating. In the foundational program, the children collect non-verbal ideas about each element with cameras, video or digital sound recording. What we’ve found is that when children use cameras, they can communicate what they are seeing with precision — far better than their 5 yr old drawing skills would permit. Their observation skills expand dramatically. Projecting their pictures big and immediately allows comparing, contrasting and entering others’ points of view. Metacognitive thinking skills grow. Diversity is enjoyed.
Most importantly, the Sensory Alphabet is the link between the child’s natural way of thinking and adult fields of work. This provides the teacher and parent with concrete clues for ways to develop each child’s creativity. For example, if a young girl seems to love SPACE, SHAPE and LIGHT and repeatedly chooses materials that allow her to work with those elements, the teacher might infer that she is a budding architect, film maker or designer, to whom those elements are essential.
With this knowledge the teacher can provide this child with daily opportunities to create shapes and spaces with blocks and clay and other materials, as well as to use photography and other media that capture light, space and shape.
Parents who understand the unique creative strengths of their child’s mind can nurture those strengths further by providing work and play spaces, materials and experiences. In the NWK program for kindergarten and first grade, the Sensory Alphabet is the topical infrastructure. Each week focuses on a different element of the Sensory Alphabet and involves the child in creative experiences.
Practicing the creative process
In NWK, the creative process is taught directly. The process begins as children find and identify ideas through observation and interaction with the world around them, using the elements of the Sensory Alphabet as lenses. Next they experiment and play with these ideas to help them “grow.” Creative products emerge and are photographed or saved in a personal portfolio.
Finally, children learn more about their creative selves as they reflect on their experiencesand choose favorite elements, materials and activities. NWK uses a variety of media—from simple drawing materials to “smart” digital devices — to help children explore each element of the Sensory Alphabet and communicate their unique personal viewpoints.
The lessons and activities in the curriculum are designed to be open-ended experiences. This means that they are both highly structured as well as require a unique response from each child. Children in the program are given specific options and asked to make choices. They are asked to think divergently and to appreciate the diversity in their group.
They are directed to play, explore, generate ideas, invent, and create within given parameters. All activities require the young participants to think on higher levels—to evaluate, analyze, synthesize, apply and reflect upon what they are learning. Even daily homework seeks a unique response as children extend what they have learned at school to their home and community.
All NWK experiences are designed not only to heighten a child’s creativity but simultaneously to reveal his/her creative profile. As they share their favorite activities at the end of each day, each week and each nine weeks, these young children develop metacognitive skills: They begin to think of themselves thinking and begin to develop a vision of themselves as unique creative thinkers.
Hearing from the community
Each week an adult “expert” is invited to the program to demonstrate the value and use of the Sensory Alphabet in his/her own life and work. On another day of the week the teacher is the “expert” and shares his/her own experiences related to the element under investigation. In this way, the children are able to answer, “Why is this stuff important?” and “What does it have to do with my growing up?”
Unlike the lectures and textbooks of school, these adults share their creative thinking with the children and talk about what it is like to work and play from their point of view. Children will find creative connections with adults who think as they do; they will discover,
“I can do that!”
The role of the teacher
Because of the child-centered approach, NWK asks the teacher to be both scientist and artist. The teacher-scientist observes and seeks to understand the unique creative nature of the child. The teacher-artist uses this information to construct open-ended learning experiences that engender further development.
The program is “data-driven” in the sense that the data are the choices and preferences of the child. Professional development in the NWK approach is designed to help teachers look at each child and note their choices, analyze their creative strengths and then use that information to communicate to parent and child and to design subsequent classroom experiences.
The role of parents
Parents are important partners in the NWK program, especially during early childhood. Parents are involved in the ideas and goals of NWK before the program begins and are advised as to what homework and products to expect from their child. They are told that at the end of the program they will receive more information about the unique creative potential oftheir child and will be given suggestions for continuing to nurture that potential at home.