Fred Rogers talks about
A love of learning has a lot to do with learning that we are loved."
Children are born ready to learn. Right from the start, they begin learning about the world through touch, smell, sounds, sight. All through the early years, that's how they learn best -- through their primary senses. They put things together, move them around, experiment, explore, and discover.
Learning through Play
While children may look like they're "just playing," they are also working on some of the basic things they'll need in order to be able to read, write, and do math later on. What’s more, they're learning about those things in a way that's natural and interesting for them.
"More and less," "different and same," "top and bottom" -- these are some of the basic concepts children need to understand to be ready for learning about letters and numbers in school. When children play and pretend, they're learning those kinds of things in ways that are meaningful to them -- much more meaningful than if they're just given fragmented bits of information (like 1+1=2) to which they can't relate. When children make mud pies and need "more" water for the right consistency, or need "one more" spoon for the pretend party so each stuffed animal can have its own, "more" as a math concept has real meaning.
In those kinds of everyday ways, children develop one of the most essential tools for school readiness -- a sense that the world is an interesting place. They can be fascinated by the simplest things they see and hear, even taking a long time to look closely at a bug crawling up a tree trunk or a crack in the sidewalk.
The “Tools” for Learning
To be ready and eager learners, children don't need fancy, expensive "educational" toys. What they do need is to feel good about who they are and what they can do. They also need to be able to stick to a task, deal with their mistakes, use their imagination, accept rules and limits, be curious about the world around them, and get along with others. Those are the readiness "tools" that will help them be successful learners in the classroom and beyond.
When we give children opportunities to play, we’re giving them hands-on ways to develop those tools for learning. For instance, when they put their time and energies into building something from blocks and it accidentally knocks down, or they're drawing a picture that doesn't turn out the way they expected, they can learn about how to handle frustration and disappointment. If they decide to rebuild the structure or to make another drawing, they’re learning about persistence.
Young children aren't yet able to share or to work things out when they come up against differences of opinions. If we think of their conflicts as the teachable moments, we can help them grow in their ability to listen and to see things from another person's perspective. What happens in a classroom isn’t just between teacher and students, it’s also among the children.
In any classroom, there are bound to be disagreements, angry moments, and hurt feelings. If children come to school knowing how to get along with others and having healthy ways to express their feelings -- especially their frustration -- they'll be much better able to handle the day-to-day ups and downs in the classroom.
Of course children develop these “tools” from the examples their parents set for them. Children want to be like the people they love. It's important for them to see that we adults sometimes have problems, but we work on solving them constructively; that we have trouble learning certain things, but we keep on trying to learn; that now and then we have conflicts with other family members or friends, but we do our best to get along with them. Attitudes are contagious!
Parents want their children to be good learners and to do well in school, but the pressure for that kind of success seems to be starting earlier and earlier. It's hard to know how much to "push" learning in the early years and how much to trust children will learn on their own. When children's inner rhythm tells them they're ready, most children will learn reading and math -- just the way they naturally learned to crawl by following their own inner timetable.
If we pressure children to learn something before they're ready, they can become anxious, frustrated and angry, and that can affect their feelings about all kinds of learning. There's a world of difference between insisting on someone's doing something and establishing an atmosphere in which that person can grow into wanting to do it.
The first things children usually want to learn about are the things they care most about: writing their own name, the word “love,” and the names of the people they care most about – “mom” and “dad” – are often their first handwritten treasures. Learning and loving go hand in hand, in many, many ways.
Showing a genuine appreciation for the things our children make, talk about, and play about is by all means the best climate for learning. When we listen -- really listen -- to children's ideas, concerns, and feelings, we're showing them that their words and ideas matter. More importantly, we’re showing that they themselves matter to us. When children feel good about who they are, they're likely to be eager learners both inside and outside the classroom.
Helping Your Child Appreciate Books and Reading:
This article is excerpted from “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book” the last book Fred Rogers worked on before his death in 2003. In this book he wanted to support parents in their most important work of parenting and to help them better understand their young children. As he wrote in the introduction to the book:
“.. if we can bring our children understanding, comfort, and hopefulness when they need this kind of support, then they are more likely to grow into adults who can find these resources within themselves later on.”