The Importance of Being Little | Erika Christakis

Summary of: The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups
By: Erika Christakis


In ‘The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups’, Erika Christakis explores the transformation American preschools have undergone in the last 50 years. Shifting from an environment focused on creative play, these institutions now prioritize standardization and rote learning. Christakis reveals how societal changes and a misguided understanding of children’s cognitive abilities have contributed to this shift, resulting in significant consequences both for children and for our future as a nation. This summary unveils the fundamental problems with our current preschool system, highlights the importance of play-based learning, and discusses possible ways to pave the way for a brighter educational future for our children.

Preschool Education in the US

Preschool education in the United States has shifted to a one-size-fits-all approach, forcing young children into a rigid curriculum and stifling individual talent and learning styles. The Common Core State Standards have forced preschoolers into a strict learning environment, ignoring their unique needs and capabilities and ultimately creating educational inequality. However, rather than being a progressive attempt to address social changes, this shift is the result of social and political changes that have occurred since the 1980s.

The Shift from Play-Based Education

The Impact of Parental Anxiety on Preschools and Child Learning

Preschools today are less about child-centered learning and more about meeting the needs and safety expectations of parents. The increase in public health information has made parents increasingly anxious about the safety and well-being of their children. This anxiety has resulted in a focus on safety, quietness, and teaching instead of play-based education. Consequently, there has been a 57% reduction in accidental deaths of children aged one to four from 1960 to 1990. However, it has also led to a distrust of play-based learning and a shift towards academic readiness curriculums, particularly among low-income and less-educated families.

This adult-centric approach to education has resulted in the use of Direct Instruction, a passive teaching method that doesn’t engage young children. Preschool teachers tend to teach details like days of the week and months of the year daily, but young children tend to forget such details and don’t think in terms of weeks, months, and years like adults do. As a result, children may not be developing the skills needed for lifelong learning.

Parents need to realize that children learn through play. Using it as a teaching technique is essential for children to understand and learn about the world around them. An ideal educational approach should be play-based, child-centered, and focused on creativity and social skills.

Rethinking Early Education

Our poor understanding of children’s cognitive abilities has led to a misguided strategy of cramming more information into their brains, missing the fact that children learn through fun. By forcing strict curriculums onto creative children, we damage their natural ability to teach themselves. Preschools are becoming more like real schools, ignoring the fact that every environment is a learning environment for young children. Adults need to understand that kids learn social skills through play and not rigor. This will prevent knee-jerk labeling of children and create a more informed sense of what is right or wrong in a child’s life.

The Harsh Reality of Education

Despite the increasing understanding of the importance of high-quality education and better knowledge of children’s minds today, the reality is that teachers remain some of the worst-paid workers in the country. In a study conducted by Steven Barnett of The National Institute for Early Education and Research, low teaching salaries are directly linked to low-quality teaching. The lack of resources, funding, and teacher training has resulted in the use of ineffective teaching methods, leaving many students behind. Furthermore, minimal funding is allocated to implementing individualized programs, resulting in standardized teaching methods that do not cater to students’ developmental needs. Teachers’ licenses and funding are dependent on meeting rigid targets and standards, leaving teachers compromising on their students’ education. The current situation calls for a change in the allocation of resources and funding to provide better quality education that caters to individual students’ needs.

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