Experience – the Early Learning Advantage
The final nutrient needed to cultivate a rich soil that feeds your young child’s early cognitive growth is experience. God has created a marvelous environment to promote this — it’s called “outdoors.” Further, He has given your kids five intake valves through which to process this information. These are called the 5 senses: hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling. The more intake valves processing information, the more brain-building this information promotes. Your job? Allow your young kids the freedom to immerse themselves for long periods of time in a rich, mulit-sensory environment that is always refreshing with new and delightful adventures and experiences. Don’t overly-control the situation. They do not need you to manage this exploration. Rather join them in the inquiry.
What’s the one support you can provide? Direct their attention to intriguing sights they might not see – the butterfly emerging from its chrysallis, the tadpole swimming just below the surface, the ants working industriously to build their colonies. Focus is a skill you can help them to develop. You can aid in this by showing them ( gently) how to take their time, study the environment and pick out the individual parts of the whole. Perhaps everyone, including you, might spend a sunny afternoon in a field with a sketchpad and drawing pencils in hand. ( If this sounds like Charlotte Mason, then you are right — despite living a century before much of what neuroscience has learned about how the brain develops was known, Charlotte Mason’s insights into how children learn are amazingly accurate.)
Working from the backyard out, take them further afield to discover how each place has its similarities and differences. If you spend a lot of time in the car, don’t short-circuit the opportunities to look out the window with media players. Listening to music, yes; watching a video, no. Playing “I Spy” – absolutely.
In addition to heavy doses of the natural world, open wide the windows of their budding imagination through books. Curling up together on the bed or in a special reading nook brings together all three essential ingredients: language, warmth and experience. Here is where you most potently lay the foundation for later formal studies: reading aloud from the world’s treasury of classical children’s literature. The books by Beatrix Potter and E.B. White, for example, put your kids in the hands of two of the most talented writers for children. They use language inventively and expansively. No controlled vocabulary here. Your children do not need to understand every word to grasp the storyline. In fact, learning new words in context is the best way to build their vocabulary. Hearing the same word in a variety of different situations is an even better way for them to recognize that words have multiple layers of meaning and connotations. So read, read, read aloud and let the music of the words wash over your kids in leisurely abundance.
Finally, what haven’t I said. I haven’t said send them to preschool, have I? Playschool, perhaps (if you must). But certainly not a place where structured formal learning is promoted. I’ve also not encouraged you to teach them to read yet. The brain is not ready. It is a modern idea that young children need a highly structured and restrictive environment in order to learn. It’s also a modern notion ( invented by Madison Avenue) that young children need expensive, complicated toys to promote brain growth. No, they need imaginative play. And that is better accomplished with sticks, old clothes, blocks, puppets, pets, stones, water, sand, paint, brushes, rag dolls, homemade play-doh, any item with endless possibilities, etc — all the more natural elements we’ve been using for generations.
Play Is The Work of the Child ~ Maria Montessori