Roads are not always created with blocks. When children are allowed to explore their curiosities they end up using a variety of materials designed for entirely different purposes. Yet, being able to manipulate a wide variety of objects and discover multiple uses for them is how children form the knowledge bases they need for all academic areas they will be more heavily involved with once they enter elementary school and beyond.
Nature also provides an endless supply of wonderful materials for all sorts of creations. Stick, leaves, bark, rocks, grass and the list goes on, are all important parts of a child’s foundation for learning. Kinesthetic/tactile experiences are so vital for concrete minds. When children are constantly interrupted from their natural way of learning to sit and do a direct instruction activity that an adult wants them to work on the real tragedy of that moment is that the child is only doing something to please the adult, but is not learning as deeply as is needed for future success and confidence. When a child is allowed to explore and construct knowledge in an environment that is set up for “play” learning has no end.
Respecting each child’s age and developmental journey is also very important and directly affects a child’s future social and academic successes. When a child is three they are spending that year gaining more and more vocabulary, their fine and gross motor skills vastly change, their ability to understand conversations, ask questions, make observations, tell stories, and the list goes on is all new and exciting. However, they are still three and there is much more learning to come. Don’t rush a child who is three, allow that child to be the age they are. Enjoy all the new and old discoveries. Enjoy the back and forth progress and journey of growing and learning. And remember that literacy and mathematics are part of a bigger whole. In early childhood education, the focus is on the needs of the whole child, not just letters, and numbers. These abstract concepts are incorporated into play to help their concrete minds build a foundation to add onto as they grow and develop over a number of years.
Yes, children can memorize letters and numbers and when they do they are pleasing an adult, but when a child is allowed to learn these abstract concepts in their own time, a much deeper understanding is able to form. They will have a more stable grasp of the information and will be more successful through their school career. Listen, observe and be the support the child needs when they are showing an interest in letters and numbers. Be the child’s scribe, provide them with the tools they need to show their understanding in a natural play context with no pressure, so there is no anxiety tied to learning academic concepts.
Learning new things happens over and over again. There is a spiral of new and revisited concepts and that is normal development. Interest can be strong for a long period of time in a certain subject or category, but when the child discovers newer information their brain shifts to make new pathways for those concepts. Once a child feels comfortable with their newly acquired knowledge they will spiral back to other areas of interest and add more pathways of understanding. Influences for this process are both internal and external. It is important to support a child’s interests and make sure the new and old information can be explored, questioned, experimented with and built upon. When a child leaves one interest and becomes more engrossed in another subject for a while, they will return to the original interest that much more competent with that subject because their minds have had time to continue to work on any curiosities they had. Working in different areas of interest does not occur in isolation, rather they fit together, all areas are related and are fluid and not static. A child’s mind is rapidly growing and taking on more and more information, so do not worry if they lose interest in counting for a while, the other interests they have actually allow their subconscious to continue working on any areas they had questions about. Once they return to counting they may be rusty at first but then there will be a burst of new information showing through their play because their minds have had time to process and assimilate new information that will allow the child to go further with their understanding of numbers than they could before.
Let children be children and cherish the time they are young and the world is new to them. This perception will change as they get older, so do not feel you need to rush a child to become an adult. They will get there in their own time through their own unique journey of curiosity, discovery, and construction of knowledge.
*Walk, ride a bike or drive to The Marigold School of Early Learning: Preschool Specifically Designed for Children Ages 3-5! 🙂
*Heidi Scott is an experienced Master level Teacher with 20 + years of teaching both early childhood and primary grades.