Academic failure in the preschool years should not be defined as the failure to identify the names of cetaceans or root vegetables; it should describe the failure to ignite the flame of inborn curiosity.
…draconian school policies that push academic goals to earlier ages are contributing to—while at the same time concealing—the truth that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.
Apart from cases of the most severe trauma and stress, it’s almost impossible for children not to learn.
The realization that learning is seemingly everywhere (and, regrettably, sometimes seemingly nowhere) puts pressure on all of us to create a supportive environment wherever children can be found. We can no longer automatically blame certain kinds of parents or dismiss certain kinds of institutional or home settings as perforce inadequate, because the truth is that children can learn, and always have been able to learn, in any setting. It’s also harder to scapegoat young children themselves.
People who jump on the latest proofs about early education’s utility or uselessness would do well to remember that educational research is hard to do. The gold standard of scientific proof is a randomized, controlled trial in which study participants are randomly assigned either to a control group or to one or more intervention groups (and in which the study is double-blind, so that the subject and the person doing the measurement ideally don’t know who gets the intervention, in order to prevent bias). These sorts of experiments are rare in education (and other fields) because they are expensive and raise ethical concerns if children are being intentionally denied an ostensibly desirable form of treatment. It’s also hard to find a big enough sample size to give a study sufficient statistical power to detect the impact of the intervention. And so we frequently rely on observational studies (in which the researcher doesn’t actually create new study conditions) and on inferences based on statistical adjustments (of varying quality) that attempt to compensate for the lack of a true experimental research design.
Even if we were to agree on what constitutes the outcomes of high-quality early education—is it children’s health and happiness, promotion to kindergarten, performance on third-grade tests, staying out of jail at age eighteen?—we would have trouble knowing with certainty that we were even measuring those outcomes adequately, or attributing them correctly to the effect of preschool as opposed to some other intervention.
Sometimes our wishful thinking about preschool’s benefits borders on convenient self-delusion. One of the simplest white lies we tell about children’s educational progress is to believe that we are measuring the right sorts of outcomes when, in fact, we often measure the wrong outcomes, or we measure the right ones badly.
…multiple studies have confirmed that the parents with the lowest income and educational levels are often the most concerned about imparting preacademic skills to their young children, and they tend to be the most resistant to a play-based preschool curriculum. Their own hardships likely make them skeptical of the long-term payoff of something that could seem frivolous, even though the evidence suggests the payoff from playful learning is very substantial…
…there are two problems with the DI-centric preschool universe. The first is that the rampant proliferation of DI in the early years too often leaves little time during the school day for the teachers to develop individual relationships so critical to young children. The second is that DI is too readily adopted as a pedagogic substitute when teachers lack the professional skills that studies show are essential elements in high-quality preschool instruction.
…getting out of the way is often the best thing we can do for a young child.
The marks we see as signs of childhood immaturity are actually highly sophisticated tools for learning and growth. Play is a highly complex tool for developing a worldview, imaginary friends offer a sophisticated alternative reality that allows children to test the laws of behavior, and children’s uninhibited, “unfocused” attention is precisely what allows them to learn so quickly and rapidly. We don’t understand that the ways children interact with the world have developmental purposes of their own, necessary and complete as they are.
If I had to characterize the key difference between a high-quality and a low-quality preschool environment, it is this: in a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with children and paying a lot of attention to children’s thinking processes and, by extension, their communication.