Parents and teachers tend to think they know what children need. The problem, as Erika Christakis points out in her book The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups, is that most adults have completely forgotten what it's like to be a child. Heck, we don't even remember what it was like to be a teenager, and much less about our preschool days. In this book, the author skillfully combines academic research, personal experience and anecdotes to convince us that early education needs a serious reform.
Christakis reminds us that children do not learn only in classroom, and they don't learn only by memorising facts. Children learn all the time. They don't learn only new words, natural phenomena and appearances, but also about human interrelationships, the meaning and significance of body language, and how to respond to their bodily and emotional needs. In a simple conversation with a preschooler over a picture or a drawing, for example, an adult can teach the child only by being attentive and asking a lot of questions in order to find out what it knows and what it doesn't know. Then a careful, patient and illustrative explanation helps the child learn new things. And, what's most important, children learn best while playing.
"The precinct of a classroom, even a warm and inviting one, can be painfully confining. Too boring, too confusing, too easy, too hard. Too stimulating too tiring. Just too much" Christakis writes (14). The roots of the disappointment in school comes from pre-school and kindergarten, she argues. The teachers are pressured to fulfill the requirements they have to prepare the children for school, so they try to cram too many facts into children's heads in an uninteresting way. Even though Christakis criticises early childhood educators, she is full of understanding for them, because she knows how much energy it takes to keep up with the kids. Her experience as a teacher, director and researcher helps her take a look at the problem from all angles. And she expresses her firm opinions well.
This book, written in an accessible language and full of engaging, personal stories, is a valuable contribution not only to early childhood education, but to education in general. Teachers, parents and those interested in the process of learning and education in general would all find it both interesting and instructive.
Erika Christakis is an early childhood educator and school consultant. She was a faculty member at the Yale Child Study Center and is a certified teacher and a former preschool director. A graduate of Harvard College, she has advanced degrees from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education. She has written about children for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, TIME.com, and the New York Daily News.