The Preschool Years: What We Should Be Teaching in Early Childhood
There are so many different theories regarding early childhood education and what is most important for a young child to learn. There are as many different educational theories and schools as there are psychologists, who have studied the early learner to determine how they learn. Jean Piaget, Vygotsky, Erik Erikson, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Frederick Froebel, Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf), Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia approach) have studied and established different modes of learning for the young child. It's of utmost importance to understand how a child learns in order to provide them with the ideal learning environment, whether it be in a state of the art classroom, or in a small village surrounded by mountains. What matters most is that the child is learning how to observe his world, how to think, how to solve problems, how to navigate and function in his environment.
Teach A Young Child How To Observe
Humans are born with reflexes and senses in order to learn and relate. A young child will begin learning with his senses; seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Sensory learning is integral in order to properly develop the brain, and to connect body-mind awareness. The more interactions a young child is able to experience using all of his senses, the greater the imprint will be with his cognitive development.
Gone should be the days of giving a child a print-out of an apple to color green, red or yellow for a lesson plan. A child will best learn about an apple by touching it and describing how it feels and smells and tastes. The parent or teacher can cut the apple in half to show the inside and describe how the seed grew, by reading a picture book, or drawing the process on a chalk board. Children can count the seeds for a math activity. Ask the children the different ways an apple can be used as food, and write their answers on a chalk board or easel.
Observation includes exposure to different stimuli and materials. Some of the best learning experiences are through hands on stimulation, touching different textures and surfaces, petting an animal at the petting zoo, digging in the dirt to plant the seed, and having the child describe the experience. How many blocks will be used to make the airport? What kind of sounds will we hear at the airport? It doesn't mean you have to physically be at the airport, but allow the child to make observations in daily activities, and stimulate the learning experience by asking open ended questions.
So we have to realize that how we learn how to do things is different than the way our kids are learning how to do things. They don’t see the need to wait for someone to teach them something. When they’re curious about something, they learn.— Jamie Casup - Google Global Education Evangelist
Teach A Young Child How To Think
The child first learns how to observe, as we read above. As the child develops and begins to communicate, the cognitive skills emerge. They are reinforced with repetition as the child recalls how to do something. Perhaps you have noticed that a child will go back to the same puzzle or the same activity often. It's perfectly normal, and helps the child associate specific actions leading to specific results. Once the child feels successful with an activity, ask questions which directly relate to the activity. Which piece did you use first? Why? Allow the child to process the experience by describing his thought process. The more a child is asked to describe and communicate the whys, hows, wheres, what ifs, whens, what kinds, etc., the more the brain is being activated and sequential memory will be strengthened.
While teaching in the early childhood classroom, I have open-ended questions posted throughout the room on the walls to help open dialog, and to stimulate learning using communication skills. By the second half of the year, some children can pick out words, so it also has a benefit for beginning reading. You can use poster board strips, and change them periodically throughout the year. There are two questions on each strip. These can easily be used at home also.
Ask The Child To Think
- What else could you do with...?
- What do you think would happen if...?
- Where could we do that?
- How can we make that work?
- What/who should we put here?
- I wonder what they will do?
- Is there another way?
- Why does it do that?
- What would you like?
- Can you think of another way?
- Why did they...?
- Can you tell me about..?
- Where else can you...?
- Could you use anything else to...?
- What will happen if...?
- How do you do that?
- What will happen next?
- I wonder what that could be?
- Why did they...?
- Tell me about...
- Tell me what happened.
- What do you think?
- What should I do?
Teach A Young Child How To Solve Problems
Preschool children are very curious, and they should be. We want them to ask questions. But there is a natural tendency to give too many answers, instead of requiring the child to think or to take action on his own. Very often a question can be turned around, as we see above with the sample of open-ended questions. Our children/students need to have opportunities to think through a situation or a conflict. Too often, a teacher will tell a child what to say, do or think, rather than ask "what else could you do ...? Is there another way this could work? Tell me what happened. What do you think you could have done? What comes first? Next? Why won't that work? What will you do next time? What could you do to make him feel better?"
Critical thinking skills help children learn that problems have solutions. The more we can help them understand how to ask the right questions of themselves, the more clearly they can understand cause and effect. Their brains are like porous sponges at this age, and it's amazing how much they really can comprehend. If a young child can learn how to solve problems, (why won't that piece fit, what happens if I hold the pencil this way instead of that way, etc.), his social and cognitive skills can be greatly enhanced. These are skills that are required in the workplace, in the laboratories, the CEO office, the great schools of higher learning, inside a rocket capsule, in every relationship a human encounters.
The Preschool Years Are The Beginning
Early childhood is the beginning. The preschool years are the most important learning years of a child's life. The brain is developing rapidly, the character is forming. Most preschool curriculums include math and science, early literacy, arts, and social skills. Whether a child learns to read, or learns to write and use a computer is not the most critical requirement of the preschool years. What is important is that the child is learning how to learn, how to observe, how to think and communicate, how to solve problems, how to listen, how to express, how to respect others and himself. With this kind of foundation, the young child is better able to learn how to navigate and function in the world. The possibilities are open and endless.
Famous Quotes About Education
The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. Jean Piaget
We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry. Maria Montessori
Voluntary activity, more than highly developed intellect,
distinguishes humans from the animals which stand closest to them. L.S. Vygotsky