I recently read an article written by early childhood guru, Lillian G. Katz, PhD. She reflected on our country’s trend to push academic instruction at the preschool level in order to prepare children for kindergarten. She illustrates the differences between academic goals versus intellectual goals for children.
Academic goals consist of acquiring smaller bits of information like alphabet and number recognition, the days of the week, etc. These skills are practiced for mastery and require knowing the answer, rather than understanding the meaning of the information.
Intellectual goals are based on the development of the mind with an emphasis on wonder, reasoning, critical thinking, and the quest for acquiring knowledge with true understanding.
I often hear parents question if their child will be ready for kindergarten. Do they need more letter practice? What if they can’t count to 100? Would one of those practice books help? While these academic skills are important, rote practice alone is not the answer.
But what is the best way for children to learn?
Research shows that, “preschool programs are best when they focus on social, emotional, and intellectual goals rather than narrow academics” (Katz, 2015)
When children are actively engaged in their learning, they learn to become self-starters, regulate their behaviors and emotions, and interact with others. It also allows children time to practice basic skills within the context of their intellectual development. Within these experiences, they shift from knowing ‘trivial facts’ to the deep conceptualization of knowledge. For example, a student can practice writing the letter ‘B’ on paper, but until he uses that letter to create a menu for their classroom restaurant, does he truly understand that letters make words, and words convey meaning, and that the written language is a form of communication.
In conclusion, academic instruction alone is not developmentally appropriate for early childhood. Early childhood curriculum must be intellectually engaging and stimulating. However, there is a place in the curriculum for practice of skills within children’s experiences. This balance allows children to learn and become successful life-long learners.