Anyone who has spent time with 3- or 4-year-olds knows it can be exhausting. They’re talkative, mobile, and independent, with a penchant for asking questions about everything. But well-structured pre-kindergarten classrooms are designed to harness that unbridled energy into enthusiasm learning. Colorful posters on the walls and stations set up for small group work ensure that kids are engaged in the new concepts and skills they learn.
By the time they set foot in a pre-K classroom, kids have been learning math and science for years. But for many students, this is the first time this learning is structured, where they start attaching names to these concepts in order to better articulate them. Research has shown that this is a critical age for children’s cognitive development; their education at this point lays the foundation for their future academic performance and beyond. Adults can foster this growth by helping to link the more intuitive elements with the way we communicate them, and conveying positive attitudes about math and science.
“Children’s cognitive abilities at the beginning of kindergarten are pretty strong predictors of their academic growth all the way through high school,” said Michele Mazzocco, a professor of child development at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Research over the past few decades has connected early childhood education with later academic and even professional success. Part of the reason this stage is so important, according to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, is that children ages 2 through 7 are in the symbolic function stage of their development. Although not all of his theories were correct, his assessment of period has persisted for almost a century: Children in the symbolic function stage start to connect physical objects to abstract concepts, shaped by instruction in how to communicate these connections as well as the children’s own experience.
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