To a four-year-old watching bulldozers at a construction site or chasing butterflies in flight, the world is awash with promise. Little children come into the world hardwired to learn in virtually any setting and about any matter. Yet in today’s preschool and kindergarten classrooms, learning has been reduced to scripted lessons and suspect metrics that too often undervalue a child’s intelligence while overtaxing the child’s growing brain. These mismatched expectations wreak havoc on the family: parents fear that if they choose the “wrong” program, their child won’t get into the “right” college. But Yale early childhood expert Erika Christakis says our fears are wildly misplaced. Our anxiety about preparing and safeguarding our children’s future seems to have reached a fever pitch at a time when, ironically, science gives us more certainty than ever before that young children are exceptionally strong thinkers.
In her pathbreaking book, Christakis explains what it’s like to be a young child in America today, in a world designed by and for adults, where we have confused schooling with learning. She offers real-life solutions to real-life issues, with nuance and direction that takes us far beyond the usual prescriptions for fewer tests, more play. She looks at children’s use of language, their artistic expressions, the way their imaginations grow, and how they build deep emotional bonds to stretch the boundaries of their small worlds. Rather than clutter their worlds with more and more stuff, sometimes the wisest course for us is to learn how to get out of their way.
Christakis’s message is energizing and reassuring: young children are inherently powerful, and they (and their parents) will flourish when we learn new ways of restoring the vital early learning environment to one that is best suited to the littlest learners. This bold and pragmatic challenge to the conventional wisdom peels back the mystery of childhood, revealing a place that’s rich with possibility.
My Thoughts: I found this book to be completely fascinating. The summary above gives a really good description of what you can find in this book, although I did feel at the end that the author spent much more time discussing what NOT to do than she did giving solutions of what we SHOULD do. Partly because what we SHOULD be doing is so difficult to quantify, evaluate, and standardize.
I did appreciate that she brings up the idea that just because children are small does not mean that they don't deserve a quality preschool program, and that's even harder to find than a high quality public school, given that preschool teachers are even more poorly compensated than their K-12 counterparts. Then there's the ever present question of when does "preschool" become just "daycare"?
I bookmarked a million pages in this book, because there was a lot I wanted to remember. For example, this quote "a teacher's educational level and licensure, preschool class size, and teacher to student ratio have only a limited and indirect effect on preschool quality, whereas a warm, responsive teaching style and knowledge of child development...have a direct positive impact on learning." (pg 20)
Another interesting point was the importance of just watching and observing our children. "It's essential to put the gadgets away, dispense with the educational work sheets and the beginner readers...and simply get down on the floor to watch quietly." (pg 56) It's important to interact with children on their terms, to let them tell us about their world, and without foisting our own expectations on them or their experiences. This part made me think of Mr. Rogers, who was somewhat of an expert at this."Loving, unjudgmental observation can help us guide children into the optimal learning zone, where we can see their vitality and power."
There's so much more that I gleaned from this book, and I think it was really useful as a parent and as a former (and possibly future) educator. I highly recommend this, if only to get your wheels turning a little bit about what you teach and WHY.