What experiences should a young child have?
Young children should frequently have the following experiences:
- Being intellectually engaged, absorbed, and challenged.
- Having confidence in their own intellectual powers and questions.
- Being engaged in extended interactions (e.g. conversations, discussions, exchanges of views, planning, and even arguments).
- Being involved in sustained investigations of aspects of their own environment worthy of their interest, knowledge, and understanding.
- Taking initiative in a range of activities and accepting responsibility for what is accomplished.
- Knowing the satisfaction that can come from overcoming obstacles and setbacks, and from solving problems.
- Helping others find out things and understand them better.
- Making suggestions to others and expressing appreciation of others’ efforts and accomplishments.
- Applying their developing basic literacy and numeracy skills in purposeful ways.
- Feelings of belonging to a group of their peers.
This list is derived from general consideration of the kinds of experiences that all children should have most of the time, especially time spent in our educational settings. It is based on philosophical commitments as well as the best available empirical evidence about young children’s learning and development.
If the focus of program evaluation and assessment is on “outcomes”, such as those indicated by test scores, then evaluators and assessors would very likely emphasize “drill and practice” of the phonemic, rhyming, various kinds of counting or introductory arithmetic.
While in and of themselves such experiences are not necessarily harmful to young children, they overlook the kinds of experiences that are most likely to strengthen and support young children’s intellectual dispositions and their innate thirst for better, fuller, and deeper understanding of their own experiences.
A curriculum or teaching method focused on academic goals emphasizes the acquisition of bits of knowledge while overlooking the centrality of understanding as an educational goal. After all, literacy and numeracy skills should not be end goals but basic tools that can be refined and applied in the quest for knowledge.
In other words, children should be helped to acquire academic skills in the service of their intellectual dispositions, not at their expense.
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