Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis *****

Early childhood education produces more anxiety among parents, teachers, and politicians than other child rearing topics. Somehow, we all feel that this is our opportunity to make a difference before the later years where the child's increasing agency, and our increasing impotence, dulls optimism and enthusiasm. By the time adolescence hits, they seem to be on an independent path and much beyond the influence of the previous generations.

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis, by Yale Professor and Harvard honors graduate, with 20% of its pages dedicated to notes, bibliography, and index, dives into these fraught waters with ample references to history, politics, anecdotes, and personal experiences. Before you cross this off you list, consider Christakis' primary theme and recommendation: Get to know your child and appreciate their unique powers and capabilities.

From her lofty position, Christakis discounts today's ubiquitous early education standards, academic preparations, and skill training.
"the prime purpose of being four is to enjoy being four; of secondary importance is to prepare for being five." [... nothing about college entrance exams]
Do not be concerned if your child is not reading or doing math, and certainly don't fret if the child can not sit still and take notes while a the teacher lectures.

One of her criticisms is the packaged curricula, including my personal pet peeve: seasons. How foolish and irrelevant is it to teach seasons in southern California, with pictures of falling leaves and snow appropriate for New England. Southern California has seasons of rain and wind and fires with ample educational topics. Why use the foreign examples of leaves and snow?

She also points out the urgency of skill objectives. For example, when introducing children to clay, it is folly to start with creating bowls or animals or whatever project is in the lesson plan. Small children can benefit from spending days or even weeks just experiment with the material. The same is true for all materials from mathematical manipulative (what a terrible name, right?) to the various projects which seem to have more emphasis on something to put on the refrigerator than on child education.

One last thing to remember on those sleepless night...
"Studies of identical twins raised apart seem to put a damper on the idea that what we do for our children has much effect."
If you are a parent, this is a book to give you license to appreciate your child as they are, and help you through the stress of today's pressure cooker of early childhood education. Can not recommend this any higher for all parents of children through first grade. It is full of advice, examples, and encouragement.

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