Preschool Is Prime Time For Learning


Scripps Howard News Service

"How a Child's Brain Develops," an article that appeared in this month's "Time" magazine, offers some wonderful insights into the growing child. Yet, at the same time, it is a shocking reality check for early childhood educators. The article focuses on genetics as well as "experiences" as the major contributors to human intellect.

It says "windows of opportunity," or special times when children most easily learn things, open in early childhood, birth to age 6, when emotions and memory, language and motor skills are stabilized.

Some of these "windows," like the language window, are believed to close by age 5 or 6.

That means things like foreign languages should be begun in preschool.

Drama, too, and music and poetry and literature should all begin in preschool - in earnest, with a focus on rhythm, mood, tone, syntax, grammar and vocabulary.

Getting children to really use language means providing experiences that accommodate this learning.

That multi-dimensional "set of experiences" separates good programs from the rest.

If most adults think preschool should be a matter of socialization, then the intellectual part of child care will be neglected. The reality is, kids socialize just fine and without much adult prompting. Put two children together for five minutes, it's as if they've known each other 10 years. Socialization is an adult's problem, not a child's.

The role of a good preschool for ages 3 through 5 is combining the windows of opportunity and experiences in offering a smorgasbord of learning.

All preschool activities should be play - all day, every day - because play is the avenue by which the young child learns.

But that does not mean unfocused play or undirected play. Play, by its very nature, is constructive, productive and rewarding because play is fun. Destructive, mindless, chaotic activities are not fun.

Play, in the hands of knowing adults, extends far beyond play centers. Play can be moved steadily into the intellectual world: through the arts and across the sciences before settling into language skills. As a result, you might say, the child makes a permanent home in the liberal arts by virtue of "squatter's rights."

Once he feels the territory is his, these experiences in the land of liberal arts become his to play with. These are the building blocks of the human intellect, of education, of understanding and wisdom. It all starts - or it should - at age 3.

Experiences parents should expect in preschool are exposure to the liberal arts as integrated parts of a whole.

The sciences should include animal studies, plant and earth science and chemistry to illustrate the stories and biographies of history.

History gives literature, drama, and singing a new dimension. Geography is a spectacular way to use art because children love to make murals - a collective project of discovering the way the earth looks: deserts, mountains, seas, rivers, plains. How does weather influence an area?

The study of geography for very young children can include the placement of animals in their natural habitats, human life and its development, and colorful comparisons between regions.

As the child's mind begins to make connections among these experiences, his language skills increase and his desire to know and understand increases.

More importantly, his experiences broaden his mind and reduce prejudice and narrow mindedness.

Is this what you're buying with your day care dollars? You should be. These are among the most important years in your child's life. Don't wait for tomorrow to open the windows. They may be closed forever.

- If you need help picking good child care, you can order Judy Lyden's booklet, "Looking for Day Care," by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Day Care, Features Department, The Evansville courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702.

(Judy Lyden is a licensed day-care provider. Write to her:
c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN
47702, or e-mail to

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