Susan Bouffard’s new book – The Most Important Year – is definitely next up on the docket.  She discusses what a thriving early childhood classroom looks like and NPR’s Claudio Sanchez interviewed her recently about her work.

Getting the Most Out of Pre-K – ‘The Most Important Year’

The first point Bouffard makes about how early childhood education should facilitate a love of learning and curiosity is on the mark–YES!  She goes on further to emphasize the importance of building executive function skills like self control and conflict resolution.  In short, as Bouffard states, executive function is “the ability to manage your thoughts, emotions and behaviors to accomplish a goal.” For more on executive function, check out MIND IN THE MAKING.  You’ll learn all about the “seven essential life skills” that help develop executive function.

In an ideal world, every school would focus on providing opportunities to develop executive function–at every age.   Given that this part of the brain continues to establish connections well into our twenties, we could all benefit from experiences that kick this portion of the brain into gear.  During early childhood, though, we are working with a blank canvas, wrought with possibilities.

Bouffard discusses how we should really keep in mind that there are windows of time when kids reach milestones.  Unless there is some sort of developmental delay that causes a child to be well outside of these windows, kids will grow and master skills and knowledge at different points within a range.  And, it’s all normal–and applies to learning how to walk as much as it does to learning how to read.  When we push children to master something before they are ready, this can backfire and cause a total loss of interest, or worse, frustration and result in a lack of motivation to continue.

I think it’s equally important to note that Bouffard believes that providing language and print-rich environments and experiences are beneficial.  Absolutely.  These visuals, sounds and experiences are important.  And, if they are delivered in fun, interactive, exciting ways, ABC’s, 123’s and phonics can all spark interest and motivation to learn, without pressure.  And, as we discussed in What Makes a Good Teacher Great, if the teacher and child have a well-developed and healthy relationship, these experiences  are even further guaranteed to have an effect.

In this previous blog post – we highlighted how The World Economic Forum further supports experiences that foster skill-based learning (writing letters and numbers and connections to sounds), however, the delivery of these lessons should be in ways that foster creative thought and executive function skills.  When kids are passive learners, they retain less.  When kids are engaged verbally and physically, interacting with hands on activities and having fun (playing!), they are actively learning the skills presented, as well as those deeper skills like focus and critical thinking.

When we present opportunities, at any age, for people to muster their intrinsic motivation to apply their skills and knowledge to create and innovate, we are encouraging learning and growing of the mind and the heart.  This establishes a foundation for a lifetime love of learning.  Further, we are encouraging a mindset of production, versus consumption.  Early childhood is not the only time we have to facilitate this development–it is however a time when it is perhaps easier to do so perhaps, given the blank canvas, just waiting to be filled.

With a balance of freedom and focus, early childhood classrooms can be a place where children thrive and establish the groundwork to learn, create and flourish in every endeavor they attempt.  And with that groundwork, the sky isn’t even the limit.

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