I like my house; I’d better like it, I have lived here over thirty years. But if I were to change just one thing I would have insulated it. My house has no insulation. It is built of brick, plywood and all the other necessary items but I have found through the years that not one scrap of the original building materials were specific to insulating the walls or the roof.
Now I know in Arizona we only have the four seasons: early summer, summer, late summer, and what we laughingly call winter. Still, some mornings it gets a bit chilly. Yesterday my daughter, the almost doctor came in and said, “It’s warmer outside than in here.” Well of course it is, that is where our heat is going, with no insulation, we’re warming the outdoors. She bought my wife a space heater for Xmas. When we turn it on, it knocks out all the lights. (Some day I will write about my house’s electrical system.)
By now you’re asking yourself, “Where is he going with this?” Thanks for asking.
My editor, Mark Evans, forwarded me an article this week. Normally I glance at these, say “Thanks” and go ahead and write about what I am interested in. Fortunately I took a good look at this one and saw that it mirrored much of what I have been screaming about lo these many years.
The article from First Things First, is – “National Expert: Raising Reading Test Scores Starts Where Language Begins – In the Crib”. 1 The expert, Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek said it includes six principles.
· Children learn what they hear most – frequency matters.
· Children learn words for things and events that interest them.
· Interactive and responsive environments build language learning.
· Children learn best in meaningful contexts.
· Children need to hear diverse examples of words and language structures.
· Vocabulary and grammar develop together. What those principles boil down to is that children need to be talked to often, in meaningful ways and by adults in their lives.” 2
I have no argument with any of these, in fact I laud the effort to focus on early childhood education. However, I must offer a caveat. Some parents might think that any voice speaking to children is acceptable. I heartily disagree. What children hear and from whom they hear it, is just as critical as the volume of discussion in formulating their appropriate development.
Allowing a child to hear adult conversations or be subjected to adult concerns is unnecessary and possibly damaging. We seem to think that more is better in terms of what our children know and again I demur that content is as important as frequency. There are things a child does not need to know; things that are confusing and too complicated for their still developing minds.
This does not mean that I am endorsing acceleration of reading or writing skills. I do not advocate escalation of skills that children show no aptitude for. As Hirsh-Pasek says in her second point above, they must have interest in what they learn. It does not say that their parents must be interested in them learning it. As an educator I sometimes hold curriculum demands in check in favor of encouraging success. This is simply good practice.
Her third principle is my favorite. Children learn what they do. Give them a chance to do what kids do, not what adults want them to do. Let them explore, learn, get dirty in child-centered activities. Hopefully you had the opportunity to be a child, now give your offspring that same opportunity. Talk to them, talk to them often but talk to them as an adult speaks to a child. Give them the benefit of your experience and script their lives. And finally, listen to what they say. Answer their questions, as a teacher answers a student.
We need to carefully insulate our children. They deserve to be nurtured. We need to ensure that they hear those things they need to know but also that they are not subjected to language and intent that is endemic to adult conversation and concerns alone. Let children be children. As a career educator and a parent I know that lessons are best learned by experience; repetitively, simply and by slowly increasing complexity.
Our children deserve the chance to develop as children before they are forced to consider the world as adults.
1 http://www.azftf.gov/Why/LearningLibrary/Documents/ Language_for_Reading_KathyHirshPasek.pdf