Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there. — Miles Davis

I’ve been reading a lot of literature about alternative education. I came upon an article that was discussing the highly charged subject of standardized testing and it’s influence on an increase in the aggressive pedagogical model for younger and younger children.

The article asked the question “Does direct teaching make children less likely to draw new conclusions—or, put another way, does it make them less creative?” It references two studies by developmental scientists at MIT and Cal-Berkeley. In both studies, an adult introduced kids to a toy that was unfamiliar.  With one group of children, they showed how to operate it and demonstrated some of it’s features. With the second group, they gave the kids little or no information – merely inviting the kids to check it out. Both studies came to very similar conclusions, that the more direct instruction the children received about the toy, the less they independently sought more information or different outcomes.

The second group explored and found more varied features of the toy as well as playing with it longer than the children  in the first group who accepted the direct instruction and the authority of the teacher as the extent of the toy’s abilities. And that, folks, is the death of creativity.

It’s much harder to create a learning environment that allows for the curiosity, exploration, failure and triumph that are the foundation of rich and three dimensional competence. It’s harder to measure those attributes with a test that only requires filling in a bubble. But the spontaneous learning that children experience when they interact directly with something they don’t understand is more of a fundamental learning mode and allows us to then understand the more abstract process of learning in a structured and top-down setting.

This is all by way of saying that preschool is no place for directed lessons, expected outcomes or fact based lessons. It is the place where we learn about ourselves and our relationship to the world. It is also when we do or do not learn to trust our instinct to learn and the process of inquiry and discovery. Or, to paraphrase Miles, play with what’s not there….yet.

If you want to read the whole thing, it’s right here:

About Kris Taylor

I am the very fortunate director of two small, mixed-age preschools that are finding their unique paths by interpreting and incorporating the best of the progressive, constructivist early childhood philosophies. I never forget that the community of teachers, families and children are what makes it the amazing place that it is. Each day is another precious opportunity to practice and perfect valuing, respecting and loving one another; creating and exploring community; and having immeasurable fun in the process.
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