by Erika Christakis
Maybe you’ve already seen this hardcover book, released earlier this month, at Barnes & Noble. I saw it there, both on the “New Releases” table at the front of the store, and in the Parenting/Childcare section. I’ll take this as an indication that the book is enjoying some decent publicity, and that the publisher hopes to make this a staple in the literary niche pertaining to child rearing and education. Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from a publicist at Viking/Penguin asking me to read and review it, which I agreed to do. I am not being compensated for this review; these are my genuine thoughts.
Adding to the growing body of research and literature that decries the current state of public/conventional education in the U.S., The Importance of Being Little homes in on preschool and kindergarten. Drawing on anecdotes from various sources, her own personal experiences as a preschool teacher (and parent), as well as plenty of research, Christakis, who is backed by impressive credentials in the field of child development, methodically explains how modern preschools and kindergarten programs and classrooms are largely counterproductive to how young children actually learn and thrive. We focus far too much on academics in younger and younger children, overwhelm them with far too much external stimuli, “adultify” them, and fail to trust that children are not only wired, but eager to learn – it need not be directed and forced at such tender ages (I am witnessing this in my own three-year old right now). What little kids need most in order to cultivate a love of learning is warm, responsive relationships with the adults in their lives (the author is specifically referring to their caregivers and teachers), freedom to be curious and explore, and, really, for grown-ups to get out of the way of their natural inclination to learn joyfully.
This book reminds me very much of Vicki Abeles’s Beyond Measure in its deconstruction of current methods and mindsets, and ideas about innovations and changes that could and should be made to contemporary educational models in order to nurture children’s minds, bodies, and hearts, except that The Importance of Being Little focuses on preschool and kindergarten, while Beyond Measure focuses on older elementary, middle, and high school. The fact is, though, that there needs to be a major shift in how we do all school. If an educational revolution doesn’t happen across all grades, we will continue to fail our children. We can, and should, do better.
This is an excellent book. Whether enough people will read it, and others like it, and begin to take our educational crisis seriously – and I don’t mean low academic rankings, I mean the education system’s place in the development of the whole child – remains to be seen.