Equipped with more knowledge than ever before about how a child’s brain develops and how children learn, educators and parents have a better grasp on why it’s so critically important for toddlers and preschoolers to receive quality early childhood learning. Based on recent research, several emerging trends in early childhood education are taking hold.
Learn through play
Local researchers Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD from the University of Delaware and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD from Temple University have documented how crucial play is to a child’s development. One example they cite is that when children play with blocks or divide their share of candy with a friend, kids are learning the foundation for mathematics and building social skills.
First developed by Dr. Maria Montessori more than a century ago, experiential learning, also referred to as child-centered learning and intentional teaching, has become mainstream. The progenitor of “learn through play,” this method is based on the theory that children learn best though the process of experimentation rather than through a didactic or rote system.
Lessons in this category teach children an appreciation of the Earth and its resources. Providing students with a hands-on understanding of nature helps with science comprehension and offers practical learning experiences. Research has also found that teaching outside, even for short stints, improves student attitudes, attendance and overall health. (Click here for more on local schools with outdoor classroom programs.)
Bucket-filling citizenship in the classroom encourages positive behavior and teaches kids how easy and rewarding it is to express kindness and appreciation. Developed more than four decades ago by Dr. Donald O. Clifton and popularized as a teaching method in 2005 by Carol McCloud, early childhood educator and author of the award-winning book Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, bucket-filling has become an effective tool for character development programs that a child as young as 2 can understand.
The focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is not new, but teachers are beginning to deliver STEM as early as pre-Kindergarten. Global competition is proving that American students need more skills in these subjects to lead the worldwide marketplace as adults, so the earlier these concepts are instilled, the better.
These trends are among the most prominent being used to better prepare our youngest students for the rest of their academic careers — and for lifelong success.
Harriet Dichter is the executive director of the Delaware Office of Early Learning and a nationally recognized expert on early childhood learning.