What is the HighScope Curriculum?
HighScope's educational approach emphasizes “active participatory learning.” Active learning means students have direct, hands-on experiences with people, objects, events, and ideas. Children’s interests and choices are at the heart of HighScope programs. They construct their own knowledge through interactions with the world and the people around them. Children take the first step in the learning process by making choices and following through on their plans and decisions. Teachers, caregivers, and parents offer physical, emotional, and intellectual support. In active learning settings, adults expand children’s thinking with diverse materials and nurturing interactions.
A Framework for the Day's Events that Supports Children's Security and Independence
Following a consistent routine day after day gives children the sense of security they need to make choices and take risks, which opens the door to exciting learning opportunities.
Each HighScope program decides on the daily routine that works best for its setting, schedule, and population. The following components are always included in the routine, although the length and order of the segments vary from program to program:
Daily Routine Components
Plan-do-review sequence — (planning time, work time, recall time). This three-part sequence is unique to the HighScope Curriculum. It includes a 10- to 15-minute period during which children plan what they want to do during work time (the area to visit, materials to use, and friends to play with); a 45- to 60-minute work time for children to carry out their plans (or shift to new activities that interest them); and another 10- to 15-minute period for reviewing and recalling with an adult and other children what they've done and learned.
Small-group time — During this time, a small group of children meet with an adult to experiment with materials, try out new skills, and solve problems. Adults develop a small-group activity based on children's interests and particular skills, materials, or content areas that suit children's developmental learning needs. Though the adult plans the activity and sets it in motion, children make choices about how to use the materials and freely communicate their ideas.
Large-group time — Large-group time builds a sense of community. Up to 20 children and 2 adults come together for movement and music activities, interactive storytelling, and other shared experiences. Children have many opportunities to make choices and play the role of leader.
Outside time — Children and adults spend at least 30 minutes outside every day, enjoying vigorous and often noisy play in the fresh air.
Transition times — Transitions are the minutes between other blocks of the day, as well as arrival and departure times. Teachers plan meaningful learning experiences for these times, which keeps children engaged and minimizes disruption.
Eating and resting times (if applicable) — Meals and snacks allow children to enjoy eating healthy food in a supportive social setting. Rest is for napping or quiet, solitary activities. Since both activities happen at home as well as at school, adults in HighScope programs try to respect family customs at these times as much as possible.
Adult team planning time — This time happens every day in a HighScope program. It can occur during children's nap time, before children arrive, or after they leave. The teaching team meets to discuss their observations of children's developing abilities and interests, focusing on these observations as they plan activities and review the materials in the classroom.
An Environment That Supports Learning
Teachers in HighScope settings recognize that children's play items are the "raw materials" of learning. The space and materials in a HighScope setting are carefully chosen and arranged to appeal to children and promote the curriculum's content goals.
Although we do not endorse specific types or brands of toys and equipment, HighScope does provide general guidelines and recommendations for selecting materials that are meaningful and interesting to children.
Characteristics of the learning environment — The learning environment in HighScope programs has the following characteristics:
- Is welcoming to children
- Provides enough materials for all the children
- Allows children to find, use, and return materials independently
- Encourages different types of play
- Allows the children to see and easily move through all the areas of the classroom or center
- Is flexible so children can extend their play by bringing materials from one area to another
- Provides materials that reflect the diversity of children’s family lives How teachers select materials for the interest areas — The materials in each interest area are carefully selected to reflect children's interests and developmental levels. Teachers choose many open-ended materials — materials that can be used in a variety of ways, such as blocks in all sizes, art materials, and fabric pieces. Teachers seek out natural, found, and recycled materials, such as shells, twigs, rocks, carpet pieces, used containers, and old clothes.Storage and labeling — To help children find and put away materials themselves, materials are stored in consistent places in the classroom, on low shelves or on the floor, and in containers that children can see into and handle.
- Shelves and containers have labels that make sense to children; for example, the labels might contain words, drawings, tracings of the object, photos, or an example of the actual object.
- Teachers consider it especially important to have plenty of real items that reflect children's lives, for example, cooking tools, small appliances that no longer work, dress-up clothes, and other objects and tools from children's houses and yards. These items reflect children's home cultures and allow children to imitate adults.
- Dividing the classroom into interest areas — The space is divided into interest areas or learning centers equipped for distinct kinds of play. The areas are chosen to reflect children's natural interests.
Sharing Control: Adults and Children as Partners
In the HighScope Curriculum, shared control is central to how adults and children interact. Even when activities are planned by adults around specific concepts, adults encourage children's initiatives and choices. In play situations, adults follow children's lead. While teachers may look for opportunities to gently challenge children by introducing a new idea or appropriate vocabulary, they stay within the context of the children's play goals.
HighScope has neither a directive nor an “anything-goes” atmosphere. Instead, HighScope promotes a supportive climate in which adults and children are partners throughout the day.
Research on the Importance of Adult-Child Interaction
Research indicates that they way adults interact with children plays a very important role in children’s learning and development. These studies demonstrate that in classrooms where teachers are responsive, guiding, and nurturing, children take more initiative and are more likely to be actively involved and persistent in their work.
Interaction Strategies that Promote Active Learning
Some of the most important adult-child interaction strategies used in HighScope programs are listed below. Details on how to apply these strategies, as well as many other adult-child strategies for specific areas of learning, are given in HighScope's training and publications.
- Adults participate in children's play. Adults look for natural openings in children's play and then join the child or children at their physical level. As a pretend play partners, adults take roles assigned by children and stay within the play scenario the children have created.
- Adults converse as partners with children. Adults look for opportunities for conversations with children about the activities children are engaged in. Adults make comments about the child's activities that allow the conversation to continue without pressuring the child for a response.
- Adults use encouragement instead of praise. Rather than statements that evaluate or judge, adults make objective, specific comments that encourage children to expand their descriptive language and think about what they are doing.
- Adults encourage children’s problem solving. Whenever possible, adults encourage children to solve problems for themselves. While adults could often solve the problem more easily by taking over, the goal is for children to develop their own problem-solving abilities through trial and error.
When children have social conflicts, adults stay nearby to be ready to offer support as needed (but intervene immediately to stop hurtful words or actions). When necessary, adults use the six steps in conflict resolution to help children find a solution to their problem.
Effective adult-child interaction is essential to a successful early childhood program. Changes in how adults interact with children do not happen overnight. HighScope is ready to offer training, publications, and guided support to help teachers and caregivers strengthen their skills in this critical area of program quality.
What We Teach — Curriculum Content
A Comprehensive Curriculum
In the HighScope Preschool Curriculum, learning is focused on the following eight content areas, which are based on the dimensions of school readiness identified by the National Education Goals Panel. HighScope's curriculum content areas are
- Approaches to learning
- Social and emotional development
- Physical development and health
- Language, literacy, and communication
- Creative arts
- Science and technology
- Social studies
Key Developmental Indicators (KDIs)
- In the HighScope Preschool Curriculum, learning in these eight areas is guided by 58 key developmental indicators (KDIs) that meet all state standards. Each KDI is linked to one of the dimensions of school readiness, and each is a statement that identifies an observable child behavior reflecting knowledge and skills in those areas.
- While learning in these content areas prepares children for later schooling, HighScope takes the learning process beyond traditional academic subjects by applying methods that promote independence, curiosity, decision making, cooperation, persistence, creativity, and problem solving in young children.