Jean Piaget was the first psychologist to make a systematic study of cognitive development in infants and children. Before his work, the common assumption in psychology was that children are merely less competent thinkers than adults. Piaget’s work demonstrated that in fact children think in strikingly different ways compared to adults.
Children are constructivist learners, they gather experiences and note discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment.
As a result of Piaget’s studies, and those that have followed, we know that it is critical we, as teachers and parents, focus on the process of learning, rather than on the actual result.
The concept of process versus product complements our Jewish heritage as well. Jewish values emphasize that we inspire children to question their world and appreciate multiple perspectives. We need to give up teaching by rote. In fact, recent studies indicate that merely telling a child “this is how it works…” has the effect of dampening curiosity and initiative.
A focus on the process suggests we leave worksheets behind and surround our kids with opportunities to explore, encouraging questions, hypotheses, and analyses.
What does that mean in our day to day activities? It means that we should create time and space for children to reflect and build upon experiences. Keep tools available, like magnifying glasses, scales, sponges, all the time, not just during preschool.
Teach your children what about hypotheses and test those hypotheses. In the bathtub does soap float? What tracks do ice cubes leave when rubbed across different surfaces? What eventually happens to ice sculptures? Where do shadows come from? How do they change?
Encouraging curiosity and analytical thinking in everyday activities leverages innate learning abilities because every child is a natural learner. _
Lisa Monette has worked with children for over 15 years, she is the Director of the Sheila and Eric Samson Family Early Childhood Center at the Merage JCC. Contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.