Lifelong Lessons in Learner Centered Education


When I talk to people inside the school age care field about my work with children, many teachers are surprised that I employ practices inspired by the philosophies of learner-centered education. Some educators believe that only a traditional top down education model works with school age children and that different practices would be too difficult to implement and create an unstable classroom environment

Traditionally, the work and concepts shared by schools that practice learner-centered education are only thought to be applicable to younger children, primarily 3-6 years old. In school age care we have a larger age range of 5-11 years old. I have discovered through practice and continuing education that the concepts shared in learner-centered education are applicable to older children and make the experience in out of school care better for children, families, and educators.

Here are the concepts that I have continually practiced during my career with school age children. These practices have worked wonderfully, supported the children, their education, the parents, and the entire learning community.

Choosing Work –In our time together, children come to the program each day and decide what they are interested in doing, investigating, playing, or creating. The children become involved with a wide variety of projects and the educators offer support when necessary. Based on observations of the children’s work, educators generate provocations to inspire the work or investigation to move forward.

Children Lead – The children are the leaders of their community. Children have rights and as educators we want to honor those rights by inviting the children to lead as we come along as partners in community building. The program is the children’s world one that is governed by their ideas and agreements. As educators we guide the children, ensuring that their decisions are welcoming and respectful of all community members and that all community members have a voice in making agreements.

Environment – The classroom environment is influential to the success and enjoyment of the children in the program. No matter what type or size of space we are gathering, the quality of the materials, design of the space, the organization and availability of materials makes all the difference in the learning experience. The way a space looks and feels sends a message to the children and all community members who experience it. This message is reflected in the quality and care the children express in the work they create and how they care for the environment.

Documentation – Listening, recording, and interpreting the ideas and experiences of the children is a valuable experience for the learning community. Documentation invites the educator to learn more about the children and themselves. It invites the children to observe and revisit their own work, an experience that leads to new expressions of learning. Documentation is also a wonderful connector to the parents and community at large, who through the children’s learning stories experience education as a living breathing active entity. The documentation shares the story of the classroom by sharing the meaning behind making something and shares the relevance this work has to the work done during the school day.

Professional Development –The daily work, collaboration, and sharing of the teaching journey is our greatest form of professional development. We learn best by doing and applying our current knowledge while developing new knowledge as we work with the children. By sharing our experiences, challenges, and examining our practice with other educators we are supported, encouraged, and enlightened becoming better practitioners in our teaching journey.

These are the key concepts I have employed in my practice with school age children. The theories and practices of learner-centered education are always evolving. The concepts mentioned above are the foundation. I want to learn more as I work with the children and other educators. I look forward to trying, evaluating, and adopting new ideas that support growth in the learning community. 

Are there any practices mentioned above that would enhance your work with children and the learning community?

Are there new practices that you would like to try in your work with school age children?