The Importance of Being Little

Erika Christakis, lecturer in the Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy & associate master, Silliman College (Viking)

Erika Christakis, lecturer in the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and associate master, Silliman College


According to Erika Christakis, little children come into the world “hardwired” to learn in virtually any setting and about any matter. Yet in today’s preschool and kindergarten classrooms, she contends, learning has been reduced to scripted lessons and suspect metrics that too often undervalue a child’s intelligence while overtaxing the child’s growing brain. These mismatched expectations wreak havoc on the family: parents fear that if they choose the “wrong” program, their child won’t get into the “right” college. But the author believes such fears are misplaced. Science gives more certainty than ever before that young children are exceptionally strong thinkers.

Christakis explains what it’s like to be a young child in America today, in a world designed by and for adults, where schooling is confused with learning. She offers real-life solutions to issues that go beyond the usual prescriptions for fewer tests and more play. She looks at children’s use of language, their artistic expressions, the way their imaginations grow, and how they build deep emotional bonds to stretch the boundaries of their small worlds. Rather than clutter their worlds with more and more “stuff,” sometimes the wisest course is to learn how to get out of their way, she maintains.

Christakis’s message is that young children are inherently powerful, and they (and their parents) will flourish when we learn new ways of restoring the vital early learning environment to one that is best suited to the youngest learners.

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