Young children learn through interaction and imaginative play right from the word go. In a very short space of time their brains absorb huge amounts of information, and their brains develop so that they can recognise words, body language and then more abstract things like autobiographical memory, feelings, they develop empathy and compassion. So their early years experiences can be so important in helping them with their social and emotional development, not just their intellect. And play and interaction with peers and adult nurturing allows this.
So I was really pleased to see Ben Fogle’s rant in The Telegraph recently about the development of modern Lego. Here is the link to his comments: Modern Lego.
Basically he is saying that when he grew up, lego came in a box or bucket of bricks or all shapes, sizes and colours. Children could then let their imaginations create anything from a small boat to a huge town. Whereas modern lego mainly comes in boxes with the bricks and instructions to build a particular object, e.g. a spaceship. The outcome is prescribed and therefore the onus is on getting the instructions right to achieve the stated outcome, rather than encouraging unlimited imagination.
And this prescriptive formula seems to me to illustrate what we are doing to our current generation of children. They are told what they should be doing, how they should be achieving every step of the way. The emphasis of learning is still on academia and a playing down of the more creative elements of the curriculum. They are tested every step of the way and from a very young age a child will know if they are ‘failing’. How damaging is this? Where is the spontaneity, the inventiveness, the desire to find out, the space and opportunity to learn vital social and emotional skills? The time to just be children? We should not assume that because a child is not engaged in, what is to an adult, structured learning, that our children are not learning. They learn all the time.
In social situations they are learning the skills of negotiation, regulating their emotions, self-soothing, self awareness, boundaries, empathy, compassion, sharing, self-confidence – all skills that will enhance their wellbeing, and will help them in their academic life.
I feel there has to be a link between this prescriptiveness, over testing and the increasing incidence of mental health issues amongst young children.