Applying Nursery Philosophy to Higher Education: Principles in the Foundation Phase


“I saw as a teacher how, if you take that spark of learning that those children have, and you ignite it, you can take a child from any background to a lifetime of creativity and accomplishment.” (Paul Wellstone)

Creativity allows novel ideas to flourish into achievement. The progression of research, technology, and society requires individuals to be flexible, open-minded and critical in their thinking. As suggested by the quote from Paul Wellstone, learning should promote this. So why are we often passive consumers? Particularly in higher education, is regurgitating facts for an exam really allowing us to explore and enhance our knowledge and creativity? 

In University we are often taught information via lectures. However the effectiveness of this teaching method is continuously criticised within research. As suggested by Bligh (1998), in comparison to other methods, lectures are ineffective at encouraging thought, flexibility, open-mindedness, inspiring interest, and for personal and social adjustment. Therefore through the use of lectures, education loses its ‘spark’. For me personally, my motivation to explore areas of interest is often forgotten under the pages of lecture notes I have to learn for an upcoming exam. When did I lose my motivation to engage in creativity? 

As a child, where everything is novel and exciting, this passive attitude to learning isn’t apparent. This active engagement is encouraged by the Foundation Phase, the education provided for children aged 3-7. This phase follows principles that encourage the child to experience things first-hand, through exploration and curiosity for the world around them. Children are taught to have positive attitudes towards new learning experiences, and write about what is interesting to them. They are expected to reflect on their answers and consider alternative solutions, and the aim is for the child to become an independent, creative learner (Welsh Assembly Government, 2008). These principles are in opposition to the higher education experience, where we are often a passive (rather than an active) learner, rarely given opportunities to explore areas we are interested in. Lectures teach us the ‘right answer’, yet as a child we’re encouraged to question everything.

Therefore I cannot help but question, why not apply these foundation principles to higher education? This could increase creative thinking amongst students, allowing them to discover novel ideas and have an enriched learning experience. An example of how this could be achieved is through blogging. In this module, we are expected to question, critically analyse and provide alternatives to educational practices. Studies have shown blogging is an effective method, increasing reflective analysis to ensure students are achieving deeper learning (Downes, 2004; Xie, Ke, & Sharma, 2008; Yang & Chang, 2012). Self-directed learning from blogs allows the student to become an independent researcher, and collaborative learning is encouraged through commenting on other’s blogs (Robertson 2012; Yang & Chang, 2012). Thus it appears this method of learning fits the foundation principles’ ideals.

It is important to remember that although students do not need too much knowledge so that thinking becomes inflexible, they need enough to have a basic understanding of what has already been achieved (Jusoff et al, 2008). Therefore if lectures are still used to provide this basic understanding, creativity and engagement can also be developed through additional strategies within the lecture. An example of this is the use of ‘interactive windows’ (Huxham, 2005). This is where problem-solving or discussion sessions are provided within the lecture, causing a small positive effect on learning and recall. Inevitably, there are a multitude of methods for enhancing creativity in students, including asking them to find solutions to a difficult question, or to creatively synthesise various information (Jusoff et al, 2008). One must question why these simplistic methods are often not used within university.

As said by the crayon company Crayola (2013), “The seeds of creativity live in everyone”. Regardless of whether an individual is in nursery or higher education, all they need is the provision of nourishing opportunities for creativity to flow. Thus if creative, active learning is considered important in the foundation phase, surely teaching methods should build on this initial principle, to ensure students reach their creative potential at later stages of education. 


5 responses »

  1. When I think back to my educational experiences, the term ‘spoon-fed’ comes to mind. Especially during GCSE and A-Level years, textbooks are provided to students where they are to draw their information from for the end of year assessment. Students aren’t taught to go beyond this. Research by McKay and Kember (2006) found that headmasters were aware their students were being spoon fed which meant students became masters in regurgitating information. The researchers implemented an alternative curriculum which was based around independent learning. Results showed students adopted more meaningful learning approaches, which became their preferred method that encouraged harder working. Head teachers and teachers, in secondary schools, should be less inclined to use methods which simply teach students to regurgitate.

    McKay, J., & Kember, D. (2006). Spoon feeding leads to regurgitation: a better diet can result in more digestible learning outcomes. Higher Education Research and Development, 16.

  2. What about applying these principles throughout formal education? As you stated, the foundation stage is for children aged 3-7 years; what happens when children reach 8 years old? They are taught to become narrow-minded and straight-forward. These nursery principles should be implemented throughout formal education, so that when one comes to university, they have the creativity and critical-thinking skills essential to do well. Romeike (1) found that when a creative framework was applied to computer science lessons in high school, students were more motivated and interested in the lesson. Although this is specific to one subject, Romeike’s research does suggest that implementing frameworks that teach creativity in high school can increase individuals’ motivation and interest for the subject. More importantly, students learnt and understood more information as a result of the creativity framework. Romeike in particular found that females performed well in the class and therefore suggested that females have higher benefits from a creative setting. This could suggest that there are gender-differences within the framework of creativity.

    Reference 1 –

  3. I agree with both of your comments that the foundation principles of encouraging creativity should be applied throughout education. I didn’t mention applying these principles to the entire education system in my blog as I wanted to focus on an area most significant to us currently: the higher education system we’re in. However implementing these strategies throughout will allow students to develop a predisposition for creative thinking, prior to reaching university level. As Rebecca suggested in her comment, a change to the curriculum which encourages independent learning (like the change suggested in my blog) would be beneficial for the majority of students. Studies have shown that students recognise these benefits too, with Lea, Stephenson & Troy (2003) showing the majority of students hold positive attitudes towards a student-centred learning approach. Several students were concerned about the approach lacking structure (Lea et al, 2003), however if the foundation principles were applied throughout education as I have suggested, this would provide a structured framework for learning.

    When considering applying these principles to high school as Francesca suggested, similar creative-inducing strategies could be used. For example, Romeike (2007) suggested high-school lessons need to allow students to experiment in their answers, consider novel solutions, have no time-constraints and apply student-centred learning where the teacher merely coaches, in order to increase creativity.

    With regards to Francesca’s other comment suggesting there are gender differences in creativity, research by Baer & Kaufman (2008) suggested that evidence in this area is often inconsistent. The literature into gender differences within creativity often counterbalance one another, however as Francesca suggested there are a larger number of studies suggesting women outperform boys. Inevitably, more research is needed for a conclusive decision on this issue.

    Another question that arised when researching gender differences in creativity was the different creativity tests used to measure creativity. Divergent thinking tests such as the Torrence Tests for Creative Thinking are often used, however their validity has been continuously questioned. Self-report methods and assessment of others (i.e. lecturer assessing student) are also used (Baer & Kaufman, 2008). This made me question, how can we accurately measure something as abstract and diverse as creativity? Perhaps true creativity cannot be quantified.

    Baer, J., & Kaufman, J. C. (2008). Gender differences in creativity. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 42(2), 75-105.
    Lea, S. J., Stephenson, D., & Troy, J. (2003). Higher education students’ attitudes to student-centred learning: beyond’educational bulimia’?. Studies in Higher Education, 28(3), 321-334.
    Romeike, R. (2007). Applying creativity in CS high school education: criteria, teaching example and evaluation. In Proceedings of the Seventh Baltic Sea Conference on Computing Education Research-Volume 88 (pp. 87-96). Australian Computer Society, Inc..

  4. Pingback: The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education (Albert Einstein) | hcrettie

  5. Pingback: The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education (Albert Einstein) | Science of Education

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