12 Feb, 2016

The Power of Thinking Like a Preschooler

The Atlantic | EDUCATION | LAUREN CASSANI DAVIS | FEB 11, 2016 |

What is it like to be a 4-year-old human? Trying to remember this experience with any accuracy is difficult. Memories are hazy flashes of sensory experience and emotion that fail to coalesce into something coherent: the red piped icing on a birthday cake, the sticky static of plastic wrap on mom’s dry cleaning, overwhelming waves of sadness from a Disney-movie soundtrack.

It’s no wonder that at an individual level, trying to talk and relate to a small child can feel like grappling with a foreign species. It’s also, perhaps, no wonder that a society of adults has trouble figuring out how best to design a preschool environment.

Erika Christakis has spent many years on the ground (literally) with children in a school setting, studying them as both educator and scientist. Previously a preschool teacher and director, she is now a child-development specialist at Yale University.

Abstract | While Christakis earned media attention last year for an email she sent to college students at Yale that unintentionally ignited debates about free speech and “safe spaces” on campuses, she has been vocal about America’s youngest students for far longer. In a piece for The Atlantic last month that was distilled from her book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups, Christakis identified and analyzed what she sees as troubling trends in the American preschools today—where an increasing number of children now spend part of their time each day.