In the past year SEEC began a book club to enhance our practice through discussions about books relevant to our field. As educators (and parents for some of us), it can be hard to find time to read books of interest, but having a dedicated time and place to discuss amongst colleagues has proved to be a valuable incentive. Our most recent meeting was about Einstein Never Used Flash Cards and our conversation centered around the pressure parents often feel related to parenting and how educators can help to alleviate that pressure.
For October’s book club, we chose Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golikoff and Diane Eyer. The book focuses on the pressures that caretakers and educators increasingly feel in regards to young children and achievement. In the first chapter the authors state, “as parenting itself becomes more competitive, many moms and dads worry that their children could be left behind if they don’t take advantage of every available opportunity” (p. 7). The book points out that many toy and media companies have capitalized on this fear by producing numerous educational toys that will “give your kids an edge.” In this day and age, many parents feel anxious to “make the most of these early, finite years.” During our book club we talked about some of these pressures, and how we can share SEEC’s philosophy and educational experience with caregivers and other educators to help ease these anxieties.
Academics vs. Context Learning
Our book club participants ranged from infant to kindergarten educators and each of them shared that they had observed this parenting pressure. They noted that parents’ concerns ranged from academic skills to overall school readiness. One educator noted,
“It makes sense they’re concerned with academics. It’s human nature to want what’s best for your child, and it’s ingrained in society that you need good test scores and to participate in numerous activities, or you’ll get left behind.”
Thinking about the book and the group’s personal experiences, we began to realize that both caretakers and educators ultimately want what is best for the child. The difference seems to stem from HOW we achieve those results. The authors of the book observed that many caretakers view worksheets, flashcards, and drills as the means through which children will achieve academically. Many times, caregivers don’t recognize that learning occurs naturally via play. Adults often don’t understand that when learning is coupled with play (at SEEC, we recognize that there are many types of play), the results are more powerful and long lasting. The group concurred with the book’s notion that learning should be fun and “…unleash the child’s natural curiosity and creativity” (p. 257).
We’ve witnessed this combination of play, creativity and curiosity in our own classrooms. We view play as a vehicle to teach content and build developmental skills. For example, a few years ago one of our four-year-old classes was interested in digging. The educators noticed this and they embarked on a three month exploration of the underground world. The class experimented with pipes, understood mining through play, gardened, learned about animals that dig, and even spent some time talking about ancient civilizations and the clues about them that are hidden underground. Academic learning was integrated throughout the unit as they learned new vocabulary, drew or wrote about their experiences, counted pipes, read literature, and more. Instead of learning academic skills in a vacuum, we make learning meaningful and memorable by focusing on what is important and immediate in their lives.
Some parents, understandably, feel that they are solely responsible for their child’s learning and development, but where does that leave the child? We believe that children are active learners and while adults do have a a role in a child’s learning, the onus isn’t all on them. The role of an adult, “is to see our children as active learners, to see the world as a virtual school year of interesting lessons, and to find a happy medium that allows us both to teach children and to retain the unprogrammed benefits of childhood” (p. 251). During our meeting we discussed how we, at SEEC, strive to strike a balance between structured learning opportunities, and unstructured play time. We want children to leave our doors with a sense of wonder and a love of learning that will motivate them to work hard even when learning becomes difficult.
The authors also provide some perspective stating, “millions of years of evolution have created children who love to learn on their own-it’s how nature has ensured our survival” (p. 21).
The book also explored specific ways in which this pressure impacted caregiver/child interactions. One of the participants echoed the book’s sentiment that parents are often not “in the moment.” She shared that she’s witnessed parents focus solely on the intended outcome of an activity so that the child gets it “right.” It felt, to her, like parents aren’t always able to enjoy the experience. This was echoed in the book as well, “families are apparently so busy stimulating their children, they increasingly have little time just to enjoy one another” (p. 5). We would also suggest that there is value in the process and that by slowing down and allowing a child to direct the course of their play, they learn valuable skills like problem-solving and perseverance.
The group also discussed how important it is to be present so that adults can learn ABOUT their children. The book remarks that it is worthwhile to take the time to be “be good observers to find out what our children are interested in and … build from there” (p. 130). Learning experiences are more meaningful and memorable for both the adult and child when it stems from the child and not the adult.
General Thoughts on the Book
During our discussion, we acknowledged that early childhood is a critical time in a child’s life, but we agreed with the book that it is not the time to fit EVERYTHING in. Instead, it’s a time to foster a love of learning and a sense of wonder that will benefit them throughout their entire lives.
Our only complaint was that tone of the book was heavy handed at times. Ironically, we felt that it might leave parents feeling more pressure, rather than less. At SEEC, we believe that parenting is hard work and we do our best not to be judgmental. While we feel that it is important to educate our parent community, we want to do so in a way that makes them feel comfortable and supported. Overall though, we agreed that the research presented was helpful and understandable. The suggestions for parents at the end of each chapter brought these concepts into real life, and provided accessible ideas for all families. We’ll definitely keep this book handy as a reference down the road.
Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M, & Eyer, D. (2003). Einstein never used flash cards: How our children really learn- and why they need to play more and memorize less. New York, NY: Rodale Books.