How Do You Believe Children Learn?

Super bowl Sunday always reminds me of those cold January nights when prospective enrolling families would line up at midnight to make sure their child got a spot in my preschool program. In one sense I was flattered that they would desperately stand vigil until 9 a.m. registration to get a spot in our program. On the other hand, I was concerned that they might have no idea what our program philosophically stood for and if this would be the best fit for their child. 

January and February are typically the times of year that many preschool programs enroll for the fall.  Preschools have phone messages that indicate the number of openings they have left for September and how to access the registration forms. Hopeful parents who want the best start for their child often want to know first how many spaces are left in a program, though a better question to ask would be, “How do the teachers in your center believe children learn?” The way this question is answered would help parents decide if the program is indeed worth waiting for on a cold winter night! If a parent asked you this question, how would you answer?

If you were a Montessori teacher you may respond by saying that you believe children learn at their own pace and teachers are “guides” that follow the child’s lead. If your child needs a hands-on learning environment, suited to their individual needs, then a Montessori education would be a good fit.

If you were a teacher in a Waldorf school you might say that you believe children learn by engaging in free play that stimulates their spirit, soul and body while immersing them in nurturing surroundings. A child that thrives on order and rhythmic repetition would have the freedom to imitate what they see in this homelike environment.

Children that need endless opportunities to express themselves and teachers who understand that children must have control over the direction of their learning through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing would fit in well in a Reggio Emilia inspired program.

Constructivist preschool programs believe that children generate knowledge and meaning from interaction between their experiences and their ideas. Constructivist teachers look at play as a child’s work, and observe children as they practice skills and make discoveries for themselves. Children that “learn by doing” and learn from the knowledgeable people around them (including peers) thrive in this environment.

The most important factor in a parent’s choice of preschool should be the happiness of their child. All four examples above (and there are countless more examples not listed) focus on the child as opposed to a belief that the adult in the room is the one with the knowledge that has to be poured into the child. Whenever possible, observe the interaction between the teachers and the children. While you may not readily identify the teacher’s philosophy, you can quickly discern how they believe children learn by the way they interact with them. Observe who is doing the majority of the talking in the classroom, and if the adult dominates the sounds you hear, they probably believe that they are the “knowledge givers.” A classroom that predominately resonates with the voices of the children most likely believes that children can contribute to their own development, and these programs often help a child develop a lifelong love of learning.