Rethinking Early Childhood Education

Stephen H. Stearn, Ph.D. and Susan Sirigatti

 October 5, 2020

“Too many schools place a double burden on young children. First, they heighten their stress by demanding that they master material beyond their developmental level. Then they deprive children of their chief means of dealing with that stress—creative play.”  This situation has worsened since “Crisis in the Kindergarten” was written in 2009. (Miller, Edward, and Joan Almon. “Crisis in the Kindergarten.” Alliance for Childhood, 2009, p. 49, It now reaches down into the preschools as well, where there are escalated curricula and inappropriate developmental practices that impact negatively on children’s health, happiness, love of learning, and future success in school. 


This paper begins by reviewing the research done by psychologists and neuroscientists on the human brain and on early childhood learning and development over the past thirty years. Although many of these findings have been acknowledged as important by educators and educational organizations, it is now clear that the findings are not being put into practice by parents or by many if not most schools. On the contrary, what has been implemented in the preschools, the kindergartens, and the homes in the United States reflects a movement in the wrong direction.


This paper goes on to discuss the important implications of the research for parenting, for early childhood learning, and for children’s healthy development as well as the actions and practices that should be implemented to support children and their parents. We include such topics as the role in learning of children’s innate curiosity and intrinsic motivation, nature’s template for learning, how approach and avoidance influence learning, children’s need to explore and discover, the importance of encouraging children to question and be creative, the role of praise and rewards, play, guided play and play-based learning, the role of the parent/teacher, the importance of adult-child bonding, play learning tools, early childhood settings and preschools, and parents’ concerns about an uncertain future. 


We are hoping that by reviewing and discussing the importance of what should be done, the greater the chances of producing healthier, happier, self-confident children able to live full lives and make positive contributions to the society in which they live.


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