by Neal Brown, Green Acres School, Head of School
This week I am reminded of a blog post from educator, author, and speaker Sam Chaltain, who came to Green Acres last spring to speak with members of the Capital Area Progressive Schools. The post, titled “Want to Get Smarter? Be More Childlike” reacts to an NPR story on research in neuroscience, which shows that students learn more when they benefit from the sense of wonder and curiosity that a prolonged adolescence encourages. The NPR story uses the example of learning a new language to show how young children are simply primed for learning. The researchers attribute this to an extended “sensitivity to the environment which is characteristic of earlier childhood.”
How do “childlike patterns of influence” accelerate learning? I would argue that at any phase of child development, providing students with open ended, collaborative, and meaningful projects helps accelerate learning. Students in early childhood classrooms, for example, are ungraded and extremely self-motivated. Yes, there are classroom structures in Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms that encourage independence, but there also is time for unstructured, imaginative play that fosters creativity that leads to learning.
Chaltain states that this approach to learning is something that educators have known for a long time, but that hasn’t always been reflected in learning environments. According to Chaltain, “The best way to help all children thrive is not by making Kindergarten resemble a 10th grade honors class; it’s by making that 10th grade honors class more like Kindergarten.” In other words, many times what we as educators and parents think is a recipe for success, namely more rigor and tight structure, may actually be inhibiting children’s capacity to learn now and down the road. Becoming a successful learner happens best, conversely, when children have the space to pursue their passions with the zeal of a 4 year old!