The central idea of a life-based approach is that young children’s learning is delivered through nine life themes. The context of the proposal is England where life-based learning (LBL) was developed. The reference for LBL is the National Curriculum in England for 5- to 11-year-olds. However, LBL is an alternative in all countries which run similar curriculums across a similar age range.
LBL talks about ‘nine life themes’. Teachers will know — and I have a lifetime experience as a teacher — a ‘theme’ has connotations of a ‘topic’, or a ‘project’. A topic is where you bring together aspects of different subjects, without fundamental change to the purpose of education, as a bunch of subjects to be learned.
A typical example of a topic is ‘Fairtrade Fortnight 2021’ bringing together National Curriculum subject aspects of geography, science, environmental studies, food and nutrition (part of the design and technology subject) and the theme of citizenship.
The topic approach to learning is a great way of learning and the theme ‘Fairtrade’ is engaging and important learning.
However, LBL is much more than the word ‘theme’ implies.
LBL is a shift of curriculum focus to children learning about themselves and looking after themselves [Self]; interacting more effectively with other people [Society]; and improving their understanding and sensitivity to the environment, leading to sustainable living [World].
This adoption of the three areas of life as the principal purpose of education requires reviewing all content, learning and assessment in a fundamentally different way to the establishment National Curriculum view of education.
A major feature of LBL is the determination of curriculum content by the life purposes attached to it.
For example, the key life theme of society/citizenship gives greater purpose to children learning the history of what makes Britain today, how communities functioned in the past and how communities function now. The content of the history curriculum would be adapted to reflect the change in emphasis. Children’s understanding of community would be enhanced by the learning.
For example, the key life theme of sustainability gives greater purpose to children learning science in the context of the environment, such as the properties of water looked at in the context of global warming. Children’s learning and motivation to learn would be enhanced by children seeing a purpose to the learning.
For example, the key principle of children learning how the brain learns has implications for teacher training and teachers’ ability to facilitate learning. The implications for children are considerable as the brain is unlocked by the application of cognitive science learning.
Full consideration of the child’s physical, emotional and thinking life would additionally impact on the current norm-referenced examination system and first-past-the-post syndrome. The current system of assessment squeezes the initiative out of learning. It acts against society’s best interests to have an educated population for the contribution it can make to society more broadly and to meet the increasing demands of commerce and industry.
I’ll finish with this point:
LBL is not about doing away with the subjects of the National Curriculum. It is about realigning the subjects into more relevant ways that meet not only children’s learning needs in our rapidly changing world, but also the urgent challenges facing societies and environments at home and around the world.
The opportunity to take a life-based approach to learning is there for the taking. The country that truly does this will be a world leader, a beacon of light for the rest of us.
Your comments, points for discussion and disagreements are welcomed and needed.
Author, ‘Life-Based Learning’