I’ve seen the world of Early Education come a long way over the past few decades- as medical science has progressed in our culture, the information we now have regarding child psychology and brain development is astounding. As an early educator, I find it exciting and motivating, and I enjoy employing new techniques to support our young learners. What troubles me, however, is our tendency to embrace new information in lieu of the old, and that’s not always the best approach. Let me explain.
If you look at the progression of Western medicine, we initially took this newfound knowledge and accepted it as absolute truth. We treated the mind and the body as separate entities, and we shunned the Eastern views as “traditional” and “dated”. More recently, it’s begun to come full circle, and we’re now embracing both perspectives as an integrative, holistic approach to healing both the mind and the body. We’ve accepted the understanding that the mind and the body are a fully functioning unit, and by marrying the best of both medicines we’re better equipped to heal quickly and entirely.
This parallels Early Education. As researchers began to dictate what kind of music to play, what flashcards to use to make the best of your quality time with your child, and how many sight words they should know BEFORE Kindergarten, parents went into a tailspin. As they were pressured and guilted into providing the most optimal learning environment for their kids, playing Mozart became an act of obligation, not enjoyment. What’s a child to learn from that? Recently, there’s been a great deal of noise from child advocacy groups to just “get outside”, to allow for more free exploration and less structured learning. There’s a small amount of resistance that seems to be gaining traction, whereby parents and caregivers are shunning the “push to perform”, and urging folks to allow children to be children.
I believe in both perspectives, more of an integrated, holistic learning approach, if you will. Just as is the case with medicine, the research on both sides has merit- the first 5 years of a child’s life are crucial in their brain development, true story, we know this. And the natural world supports emotional development, increases fitness levels, and reduces stress, again- true story, we know this. So what’s a parent to do? Personally, I think the best use of that window of brain development is to teach coping skills. Teach them to problem solve, teach them how to interact effectively with the people around them (that means eye contact and manners). Support them when they show interest in something, so they know what it feels like to enjoy learning. Tell them you don’t know when they ask you a question, seek the answer together. Prefer the Dixie Chicks to Bach? Rock out to that instead, they’ll learn from your enthusiasm. Dump the flashcards, go sit in a chair and count the birds at the feeder. The structured, directed activities have their place in the classroom, and that’s because the expectations there are formal and concrete, and the educators are trained to teach with love, without pressure. As for children being children? Absolutely, to me there is no other absolute truth. By combining the research with what we know to be true, a holistic approach, there is no stronger foundation to be had for our young learners.