The youngest learners

Published by Lori Pickert on October 26, 2008 at 03:37 PM

I’ve read a rash of blog posts recently about homeschooling “the littles” — toddlers and preschool-age children.

Unfortunately, most of the suggestions are to gather interesting toys and/or simple activities to “distract” them from interrupting the important work of their elder brothers and sisters.

This reminds me of a teacher who asked me to remove two young three-year-olds from her preschool classroom because she felt they weren’t on task — they weren’t listening, they weren’t paying attention, and in her opinion they were too young to make a contribution to the project work the other children were doing.

First, teaching a group of multi-age children, whether at home or school, means there will be a range of abilities, interests, and maturity levels. If you have taught school, or if you have multiples, you know that teaching a group of *same-age* children means the exact same thing.

Second, there is no better place for a two- or three-year-old than being near focused work. (Of course, I don’t mean filling out worksheets at the kitchen table; I mean a group of enthusiastic, hands-on learners who are talking, asking questions, building, drawing, planning, arguing, helping, making mistakes, solving problems, making authentic art.)

Children who are too young to participate directly can still absorb how their brothers and sisters (or classmates) learn and make and converse and express — they can take in by osmosis the excitement of learning, the mastery of tools and skills, the pride of accomplishment, the management of emotions.

There is no better model or more powerful motivator than an older sibling or friend.

To shrug off “the littles” is to do a disservice not just to them — because two- and three-year-olds are just as capable of intense interests and engaged learning — but to ourselves, because there is no cure for the fever for learning. A very young child who has experienced the joy of learning grows into an older child who simply cannot be stopped — a relentless learner.


Comment by Susana on October 26, 2008 at 09:30 PM

Oh how I agree and understand this great post. One of the most amazing learning days of my life was last winter while teaching one of my cooking classes, the students were 1, 2, 3, and 4. They worked so harmoniously, helping one another, sharing, talking and asking one another amazing questions.

Comment by Jessica on October 26, 2008 at 10:11 PM

I am reminded by this post of the French documentary "To Be and To Have". Have you seen it? My husband and I were so inspired by the way the children helped each other. The older children helping the younger learn and learning that they are teachers and examples also.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 26, 2008 at 10:50 PM

susana, that sounds wonderful. i, too, am thinking of particular stories .. a little boy who barely spoke, didn't seem to be listening, yet produced work related to a project his friends were working on -- which captivated and engaged them .. of course this goes back to our image of the child. so many adults (even parents) don't really understand what young children are capable of.

jessica, i *love* that documentary. my school had multi-age classes, and we recognized so much of our own experiences. the beautiful of multi-age classrooms is that every child gets to play each role -- mentor and apprentice. they get so much from experiencing both! such a beautiful film, and so sad that they were closing the school!

Comment by skye on October 27, 2008 at 12:15 PM

I also loved that doc-I remember wanting all my friends to see it thinking they might understand me better.
This post was so what I needed to read--my heart so values each stage and age and yet during this intense season of tiredness I sometimes catch myself thinking - ' if Isabella would only be occupied over there then I could do this with the bigger kids'. Thankyou for this reminder.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 27, 2008 at 01:55 PM

skye, thank you for your lovely comment. it can be challenging! keep fighting the good fight.

Comment by JoVE on October 27, 2008 at 02:10 PM

I think there is also something that little ones get from interactions with children just a bit older that they don't get from either same-age peers or adults. Doing what slightly older kids are doing is a stretch for them but an achievable stretch. Adults are doing things way out of their league that they can't even imagine how to do. But being like a kid a year older (Or even a few months when they are very young) can be really inspiring.

I noticed this when my daughter was in day-care when she was small. But I'm sure it applies at older ages, too. I will have to think about how that works for her now that she is 11. I know that she has had some great interactions with teenagers at church for instance that I think have been good for her.

Comment by Thimbelina on October 28, 2008 at 07:02 AM

Great post. Thanks for visiting my blog, I shall be back to read more of yours

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2008 at 02:30 PM

JoVE, absolutely.

Thimbelina, thank you! :^)

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