I believe that young children learn through practical experience, through social interaction with others, through play, and through self-directed investigation of their environment. Young children build theories the same way that adult scientists do, by observing and exploring the world around them, making predictions about what is going to happen next, and making and testing hypotheses. Each child brings previous knowledge from his or her own experience to their learning. This learning is facilitated by collaboration with others, including peers and the teacher, rather than a model where the teacher is the expert giving knowledge to the child. Children can be astonishingly intelligent, competent, and powerful learners, especially if they are in an environment where the adults around them hold this image of children. Children learn best if adults around them are committed to collaborative learning with children, model a joy in learning themselves, and show children that their ideas and investigations are valued. Early learning educators may be required to document curriculum planning across different subject areas or learning domains, but it is important to recognize the essential nature of this learning as holistic, not compartmentalized (Chaillé, 2008, 4).
I believe that the learning environment is important. There are many ways to design a quality learning environment, but however it is done, the environment should with the needs of children in mind. It should allow for inclusion and respect for diversity. Such an environment should offer plenty of outdoor play and natural materials, minimal if any screen time. It should be print-rich, and there should be many opportunities to explore what Reggio Emilia philosophy calls the hundred languages of children, including art, music and literature.
However - and this is the most important thing I have learned in my work with children and my Early Learning and Child Care studies - without responsive, nurturing caregivers and an environment that creates secure attachments over time and supports young children¿s relationships to their families, high-quality learning is just not possible. Alfie Kohn defines attention to the emotional well-being of children as an absolute prerequisite to ¿positive development¿:
If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow. If they are taken seriously, they can respect others. If their emotional needs are
met, they have the luxury of being able to meet other people's needs. (Kohn, 1999, 229).
Young children need to be understood and accepted in the context of their families, their communities and their cultures. They need to be supported as they develop social skills and lasting relationships with others. They need the consistent presence of caring teachers and adults in their lives over time, and they need opportunities to form lasting relationships with their peers. I admittedly have a bias towards family child care, because most of my professional experience thus far has been in a family day home environment. Nevertheless, I do truly believe that quality small-group care in a good play-based family day home program, where a committed and educated provider and her family form relationships with the child and the child¿s family over the years from infancy through to school age, is the optimal childcare situation for most children and families.
Chaillé, C. (2008). Constructivism across the curriculum in early childhood classrooms: Big
ideas as inspiration. Boston: Pearson Education Inc.
Kohn, A.(1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise
and other bribes. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.