“It can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed over the past two decades,” writes Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator at the Yale Child Study Center, in a recent piece in the Atlantic. She then details the shift to an ever-more academic approach in many preschools across the U.S.–and her concern that maybe educators are missing the point.
The shift from an active and exploratory early-childhood pedagogy to a more scripted and instruction-based model does not involve a simple trade-off between play and work, or between joy and achievement. On the contrary, the preoccupation with accountability has led to a set of measures that favor shallow mimicry and recall behaviors, such as learning vocabulary lists and recognizing shapes and colors (something that a dog can do, by the way, but that is in fact an extraordinarily low bar for most curious 4-year-olds), while devaluing complex, integrative, and syncretic learning.
For Christakis, it’s really about the teacher-child interaction.
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Christakis is the author of the forthcoming book, The Importance of Being Little. (February 2016)