Some of the concepts in the Natural Path to Learning Program are similar to those that were developed in England in their primary schools and generally called the British Infant School

While I was teaching at Elmhurst College, Dr. Ervin Schmidt, our department chairman established a professional working relationship with the Nottingham College of Education in Nottingham, England. Several of their staff visited with us and we were able to send some of our staff to visit with them. I had the great opportunity to make one of the visits with 14 students. We lived in the homes of college staff members and the students were assigned to act as aides in several of the elementary schools. In this way, we learned about the British Infant School program first hand.

Briefly, the Infant School was created during World War II when the children were evacuated from the large cities, which were being heavily bombed, to the safer rural areas. There was neither the time nor the equipment to move the school equipment; books, desks, etc.; the teaching format had to be modified. Also since many of the teachers were on active duty most of those teaching the children had no formal training.

Thus, the system evolved with these general characteristics:

The teacher led the children in some kind of experience -- perhaps having a walk observing the flowers and birds.

The children drew pictures about their experience.

The teacher had the children tell about their picture and then wrote what they said. The teachers words were, "Now tell me about your picture."

The teacher and the child read the child's story together.

Later, the child copied over the teacher's writing. This is called "overwriting."

Next, the child wrote on the line under the teacher's writing. This is called "underwriting."

Each child kept the words he learned in a "jotter" Usually a pad of whatever paper was available stapled together and marked off in alphabetical order.

They listened to a lot of music and played on whatever instruments were available and/or constructed from raw materials.

They listened to a lot of poetry and wrote their own poems.

They wrote their own books and illustrated them.

Some of these systems were attempted in our schools in the 1970s and 1980s. We called it Child-Centered Education. With the advent of achievement testing, prescribed curricula, and "accountability" demands, these attempts were discontinued. You can find information about the British Infant System by bringing up the Plowden Report on the internet.

Here is a commentary from the official encyclopedia report:

In relation to the curriculum, the Plowden Report was clear. 'One of the main educational tasks of the primary school is to build on and strengthen children's intrinsic interest in learning and lead them to learn for themselves rather than from fear of disapproval or desire for praise.' The report's recurring themes are individual learning, flexibility in the curriculum, the centrality of play in children's learning, the use of the environment, learning by discovery and the importance of the evaluation of children's progress - teachers should 'not assume that only what is measurable is valuable.

Two other main principles in our program are the learning modalities, VAKT (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile), and Individualized Learning. Of course, we will be adding other interesting topics, such as Gardner's Multiple Intelligences and The American Rural School.

Peter S. Pierro, EdD

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