reading and reflecting on the book The Power of Play by David Elkind.
Chapter 6 - Playing for a Reason: Building the Units of Math, Reading, and Science
David Elkind packs a lot of information in this chapter. In fact, I'm still processing all of it. In some ways he helped me make connections with some of my observations of young children. And in other ways he expanded my thoughts about learning (and the timing of that learning).
As he stressed in the previous chapter, young children think differently than adults or even older children. Young children's thinking is concrete and syncretic; they equate everything as the same with no conceptualization in their thinking. Someone can turn off the sun like a light; eating spaghetti can make someone become Italian. They describe mama blocks and baby blocks (in relation to size).
As they get older, they develop more rational thought and reasoning skills. This age of reason develops roughly between ages 5-7 but is different for each child. As children develop these skills, they begin to have syllogistic reasoning, knowing that one thing can be two things at the same time. (For example, someone can have a brother and be a brother at the same time.) Until this age is reached, kids cannot understand rules effectively. Elkind says that formal instruction is the teaching of "rules" so no formal instruction should happen until children have developed reasoning skills. Literacy, math, and science all have "rules" and kids cannot effectively learn these things until they reach the age of reason.
The best way for children to move into the age of reason is to play. "Play becomes another way in which children further their understanding of rules and the concept that one thing can be two things at the same time." Literacy and math concepts should be introduced in fun ways with stories, rhythms, rhymes, and humor.
Elkind discusses math, literacy and science as building the concept of a "unit." Understanding grows through levels. At the nominal level, letters and numbers are seen as names of things. Three or bee are just names for the symbols 3 and b. The ordinal level refers to position. For numbers that is position in a series, where the number is in order. For literacy, children are developing understanding of the order of words as they listen to reading. The final level is the breakthrough for formal instruction: interval level. For numbers, children understand that numbers represent equal units, each unit is the same as others and different in its placement. For literacy, children can understand phonics only when they see letters as units; they must be able to understand that letters can be sounded in different ways and different letters may be sounded in the same way.
Okay, that's a lot of stuff (and only partially what's in this chapter). Bottom line - young children are not ready for formal instruction. Trying to introduce formal instruction to children before they are developmentally ready is fruitless and could even "run the risk of killing the child's motivation for learning, for schooling, and for respecting teachers." Wow.
For younger children we must keep literacy, numeracy, and science skills as exploration, investigation, and play. Children must explore and experiment. Adults must think about who children are and how they are developing. Many children are not ready for formal instruction until age 6 or 7. So kindergarten should be more about play and investigation and less about formal instruction.
We need to think about development when planning instruction. Hmm. Isn't that what Rae Pica said, too?