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“My son knows his ABCs. Look how smart he is!”
“Show Grandma how you can count to 10, honey!”
Does this sound like you or anyone you know who is a parent of a young child? Chances are you would say yes. We are so proud to see that our children are learning, and that they are capable of doing and thinking more than we thought they could. We want to share our delight with the world.
But what does it really mean to be smart? Is being able to count or reciting the alphabet really an indicator of learning? Yes … and no. While it is true that these are signs that young children are able to memorize numbers or letters taught to them, this is not yet the kind of learning or critical thinking that will carry them through their future educations and through life. The ability to memorize comes very early in life, using only the part of the brain dedicated to memory.
Critical-thinking skills are developed a bit later, by living, through trial and error, by noticing cause and effect, and by making mistakes. These life experiences exercise many different parts of our brains simultaneously, giving us “whole brain workouts,” as it were.
Your preschool-aged (and younger) child may appear to benefit from flash cards and workbooks by storing more information, more rules and more facts. But if this is how children spend most of their time, then the true value of the earliest years of life has been underused. This is the time when little human beings build the cognitive foundations that last a lifetime. This is when your child learns how to learn, how to solve problems, and how to think. Additionally, this is the time to begin to practice social skills, to learn how to deal with emotions, and to figure out how to use little finger muscles to hold a pencil and bigger leg muscles to climb.
Most often, critical-thinking or problem-solving skills are learned in the presence of a caring adult, like you or your child’s teacher. We are here to help your child use different parts of the brain, the parts that don’t just memorize but strive to make sense and find meaning. We are here to help by providing carefully thought-out environments, materials and activities through which your child may learn or discover. We are here to ask questions that assist children in thinking through their experiences.
But the process of discovering how things work, that words have meaning, or that numbers have patterns is your child’s journey to take alone. We grown-ups are there to encourage, to challenge, and to facilitate your child’s growing understanding. We are proud to be partnering with you in this daily endeavor.