For the Love of Learning
Our children are growing up in a time when the value seen in schooling is not academics alone but is also the social and emotional lessons a child is exposed to. Our current generation was on the cusp of an educational revolution moving from what we know as formal education to what is known as alternative education. Our parents and generations before them grew up in a schooling system that was organized as a one-size-fits-all concept. Over the last few decades, academic research has reported on the changes in education due to the growing awareness of the brain in young children and how brain development works. We now know that children’s brains before the age of six are equivalent to a super computer. They are able to absorb, process, connect synapses and learn at a rate that most adults cannot even fathom.
“Surprisingly, the brain of a 2-year-old has trillions of connections — double the number that an adult has! The brain grows connections in response to all kinds of input in order to be adaptable and survive. Over time, certain connections are used again and again while others fall by the wayside. This normal process, [is] called neural pruning…”
-BabyCenter, L.L.C. 1997-2018
Educators have learned that things like emotional stability, personal safety and having basic needs met are major contributors of success in young children’s development and in allowing synapse connections to form healthy connections in the brain. “The fact that children are affected by their surroundings is too obvious to bear repeating. Child development specialists have produced decades of research showing that the environment of a child’s earliest years can have effects that last a lifetime” (© 2018 The Urban Child Institute.). With this growing knowledge about what the brain is capable of and what the brain needs in early developmental has also come what I perceive to be a misconception of what early education (birth through six) should look like. The environment they are exposed to in preschool matters, it will set them up for a life of success or failure.
Children need to learn in their younger years ways to handle their social and emotional psyches before they can truly understand how to navigate an academic setting. I agree with the concept that schooling cannot be a one size fits all model, in fact I advocate for this with every family I help. I do not think that children under the age of six should be forced to learn in a traditional environment and have the pressures of academic success placed upon them. So the question I keep asking myself is; why does the phrase play-based school feel like s misconception of what children need? It was in an ordinary moment that the answer came to me. What parents want out of early education in part is for their children to love school. Similarly, preschools also want their students to love school. So how could this be bad? Why was I stuck on feeling like this concept of “loving school” was so right and so wrong at the same time?
Simply put, loving school is not enough. If I want a child to love coming to my house to play with my daughter I can make it very easy. I can bake cookies, I can place a plethora of toys in the living room, I can blast the Moana soundtrack and paint their nails. I believe that every child coming to have a sleepover with my daughter would go home exclaiming that they “love my house!”. Why? Because there are ingredients by which children of a certain age “love” things. For the same reason we as parents soak up those moments of giving our children ice cream and hearing “I love you so much!”, child designed activities (including early education centers) also enjoy ensuring that they deliver the ingredients needed for children to express admiration towards them. In order for a child to love school you need to have thoughtful teachers who care and show kindness, gratitude, empathy and love for the children. You need an environment that is filled with open ended materials, objects to experiment with and opportunities of social, emotional and physical exploration. Most play-based preschools have put endless amounts of thought into these necessary components of making school a place that children will love. The theory here is that when children love school they will assimilate to the environment, feel comfortable with the space and will want to be at school. This enthusiasm is then seen as a success; we have taught children that school is a place they love. This is where I believe we have missed a major component that is fundamental for the success of our future generations. Children love preschool, yes. Children will soon transition to elementary school or beyond where they will have academic expectations placed upon them. Perhaps not until 6th grade or 9th or college or a career but at some point they will be faced with the expectation of knowing how to learn.
Children need not only to love school, children need to love how to learn.
I know this is a hot topic, I too want every child to have a childhood filled with outdoor time, free play, open ended materials, social exploration and emotional development. I want all of this for my child and for every child out there. I also want to be grounded in my expectations of what the world will expect of these growing minds and I want to be honest with myself, with you and with the academic world about how important it is to teach children to love learning.
I will not begin to try and teach or suggest how to encourage this lesson of learning, that is not what my expertise is or what this article is about. This does not need to revert us to a time where children sit at desks, get slapped on the wrist with rulers and flood with fear from getting the answer wrong. On the contrary. Children need to be taught that the world around them; no matter where they are, whom they are with or what materials they are given is an opportunity to learn, to discover, to explore and to wonder. The introduction of mathematics, science, social studies, reading and writing literally cannot be done too early. Our children’s brains are waiting, craving and desiring lessons and knowledge of every kind. We as a civilization are designed to crave new information, “When a child is learning to walk and falls down 50 times, they never think to themselves, “Maybe this isn’t for me”” (Johanna Burkhardt). I understand that the heart of every school is focused on ensuring the success of each child who passes through their door. My experience has unfortunately been that children love school until school becomes the capacity and ability to learn, at which point they are left looking around saying to themselves “I never learned how to do this”.
My message is simply to ask that every preschool/parent and caretaker regardless of philosophy finds a way within their school walls to ensure that every child not only loves schools but learns how to love learning. Teaching a child to understand the concept of discovery, the feeling of turning failure into success and illustrating how hard work translates into knowledge is the best gift we can offer our children. We as parents will not always be there to guide our children, lift them when they fall or help them through times of struggle. All we can do is arm them with the tools they need to be successful, knowledgable and happy in life. We try to instill in them good manners, social awareness, self confidence, kindness and work ethic. We now need to add the tool of loving to learn into our list and give our children the gift of seeing learning as a tool for success.
MA Human Development and Educational Psychology
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I am a mother, not a wizard. I share what is hard, what is scary and what is real. The rest I leave to you.