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Developing the wholeness of a child – a glimpse into ISKL’s Early Childhood ‘Provocations’ Program

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At The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL), in the Early Childhood (EC) program (Prep Reception, Prep Junior, and Prep Senior), learning is inspired by curiosity through play and where creative skills are developed to encourage students to become lifelong learners. 

Parents with young children often wonder to themselves how learning through play can benefit their child. Research suggests that it’s important to highlight progressive and forward thinking classroom-based settings to empower children to be more creative and engaged learners. Socio-emotional, physical, creative, and cognitive abilities are deeply intertwined within play as it is just as critical to secure a child’s wellbeing, learning, and growth.

The play based approach uses guided inquiry to nurture a child’s curiosity whilst providing learning opportunities to develop in all areas from social-emotional to cognitive to pre-academic skills. This approach is a powerful pedagogy to build the foundational skills our youngest learners in EC need to demonstrate the readiness skills that will ensure success in their transition into ES.

It is crucial, then, to nurture our student’s creative abilities to best express themselves, understand others, and navigate through the early years so that they can be confident and spirited young individuals in an ever-changing world.

early childhood

This process is exemplified through the EC program, Provocations, ISKL’s educational terminology, which describes a learning journey where students in Prep Junior (PJ) and Prep Reception (PR) are invited to explore, create, and build using different materials that are open-ended and hands-on to encourage the students to think and wonder and to discover all the possibilities.

While Provocations are based on developing the child by cultivating social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and creative skills, it is also guided by principles of ‘The Melawati Way,’ which incorporates ISKL’s code of behavior that encourages students to focus on ‘Taking care of yourself, Taking care of others, and Taking care of this place.’

The Journey

Elementary School (ES) Assistant Principal Azra Pathan explains that Provocations are set up in the classroom to provide students with intentional experiences to help inspire them to explore, wonder, talk to each other, and share different ideas. “During the process, our youngest learners participate in an investigation, inquiry, and discovery process and are encouraged to be inventive and creative while learning to negotiate and work collaboratively,” she adds.

Group Provocations start at the beginning of the academic year with introductory videos created by ISKL’s faculty that help provoke the students’ sense of wonder, with the intention to immerse them in a learning exploration. 

“When our youngest learners explore the classroom, we watch them and begin to notice their interests and document them. With this information, we provide more Provocations during the second semester which are geared towards their interests,” says Azra.

Whole group Provocations and in-class engagements culminate with the young students voting on a particular interest that sparks each classroom’s creative spirits. “Allowing students to vote themselves promotes self-advocacy, develops effective communication, and heightens critical reasoning skills,” adds Azra.

Azra continues, “After completing their first semester, we identify three common child-led interests, which our EC faculty have observed throughout the school year –  and this year this was buildings, animals, and imaginative identity play.”

‘A Learning Celebration’

As the academic year came to a close in April, the students’ efforts were recognized in a “Learning Celebration”, an exhibition that features each class’s interest projects, self-portraits created by each student, and two self-selected individual pieces of artwork made during the school year. 

“It is a beautiful opportunity to make visible all the student’s wonderings, collaboration, and creativity through various art forms and media,” commended Azra. “Each of the PR and PJ students reflected on what it was about their chosen topic that ignited their passion most. As a class, they then collaborated their ideas to deep dive into their particular interest topic,” she continued.

Azra explained that by inviting special guests via Zoom or ISKL specialists into their classes, the students experienced individual and collaborative work where they create imaginative handmade artwork, self-portraits, and unique artistic creations. Each class engages by working with various materials, such as loose parts, recycled materials, clays, and materials from the natural world.

Based on the students’ interests, here is what some of the classes created as part of their Provocations projects:

  • The PRPJLN Pythons got in touch with their inner builder by engaging in the elements of carpentry by using pieces of wood, glue, drills, woodwork tools, and other materials from the classroom to build houses and hotels for their makeshift mini-city. Inspired by the Kuala Lumpur city skyline and the world around them, the little builders got to work. Planning, journaling, and brainstorming for what a city requires involves thinking about roads, bridges, ramps, cars, flower beds, houses complete with carpets and roofs, a city flag and even a mermaid! 
  • The PJYN Orangutans voted for sea animals by learning with experts, and engaging in collaborative work presentations. This involved exploring the works of sculpture artist Stephanie Kilgast who uses recycled materials to create sculptures, and meeting diving enthusiasts and ISKL faculty members, Max and Chris Wright, who shared their expertise on sharks. The Orangutans then worked on a fabulous life-size recreation of a mobile basking shark for their showcase.
  • The PRKG Tigers engaged in a Provocation spirited by the book “Commotion in the Ocean” by Giles Andreae. ‘Wibbly wobbly jellyfish‘ inspired by the book were created from recycled materials, and students made a sea of swimming turtles, starfishes, vibrant ocean corals, and ocean plants. A visit from four turtles from the ISKL pond spurred students to continue to reuse and recycle materials in the classroom with much passion.

In a typical year, parents would be invited to attend the exhibition in person; however, due to the present circumstances of the pandemic, the Learning Celebration’s best moments were captured in a video shared with the parents. “It all culminates into this fantastic Learning Celebration showcase being presented and exhibited for the student’s families,” Azra commented. 

“I am always fascinated by how the student’s thinking comes together in the work they produce in the exhibition. There’s a whole lot of exploration which is inspired when children direct their learning. Even three to four-year-olds are encouraged to follow their interests and passions to produce high-quality demonstrations of their knowledge,” says Azra.

She also expressed how ISKL’s faculty are there to guide the students throughout the entire process – from ideation, to creation, and exhibition. “Our faculty are here to support our student’s learning process through  these Provocations and we want our students to know and understand that not only can they make a difference and positively impact the world but also HOW to take action in order to do so”. 

To read more about ISKL’s Early Childhood education head over to the ISKL website. Make Our ISKL, your ISKL, today! 


About ISKL

Established in 1965, The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) has become known as a center of excellence in the world of international education. ISKL is a co-educational, private, not-for-profit school responsible for the learning journey of 1,500 students aged 3-18 years representing more than 65 nationalities at its campus in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

ISKL offers a robust international curriculum which combines leading North American educational frameworks with global best practice.  The curriculum recognizes that students are on a lifelong learning journey and is driven by ISKL’s mission to challenge each student to “Be All You Are” and develop the attitudes, skills, knowledge, and understanding to become a highly successful, spirited, socially responsible global citizen.

ISKL is accredited internationally through the Council of International Schools (CIS), and in the United States through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). There is a strong focus on service and sustainability across its divisions and is a member of the Eco-Schools organization and the Green Schools Alliance.

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