Observing how children learn can help the teacher-parent tailor the method and resources for home learning so that it most effectively matches the needs of the child. Children develop and grow consistently through stages or steps of cognitive development. Every preschool child is pre-operational in their ability to understand things around them. Simply said, it is not possible for children below seven years of age to comprehend logic. They can, though, start to think in symbols and images. As they near four years old, they are able to start thinking intuitively and ask lots of “why” questions as they discover the world around them. At about seven years old and on until they are eleven, children enter the concrete operational stage and begin to develop new ways of thinking and reasoning, but these thinking skills are only those associated with concrete skills, as they are not able to yet think in an abstract manner until about eleven years old. From eleven years and on through adulthood individuals are able to think logically and to solve problems. They are able to use hypothetical-deductive reasoning at this stage. This is called the formal operational stage. Children are quite predictable as they pass through each stage of development.
For the teaching-parent, instructional methods should take into consideration which stage of development the child is in. Learning is a process that begins at birth, and for successful education of the child, the way a child is taught and the interaction that takes place between parent and child is important. Trying to rush a child from one stage to the next will only cause frustration and despair! Although a child might express excitement for school as young as three or four, studies have shown that those started with formal instruction at such a young age are generally burned out and pressured by school by about 4th grade. Educational psychologists frequently recommend that if possible, children be allowed to wait until eight or nine years of age before starting formal instruction, both at home or in a traditional school setting. Too much close work before this time can result in permanent damage of the central nervous system and cause problems with vision and hearing.
So what types of things can a teacher-parent do to help a child grow and learn without causing burn-out? The most important factor is a close attachment between parent and child. Time spent exploring the world together instructs the child and helps them to have a broad base in which to build academics at an age-appropriate time. Nurturing a child through life experiences, reading to them, playing games, kitchen activities, and nature exploration all give the child an opportunity to learn and develop naturally. Providing opportunities for tactile experiences (finger painting, sand boxes, playing in the dirt) gives them opportunity to experience differences in the world around them. Listening to sounds as mother or father read stories or sing a phonics song help them differentiate. Tasting foods that are salty, sweet, sour, or bitter expand their horizons! Seeing colorful objects stimulate the brain. And interacting with them verbally in an intelligent way (without baby-talk) helps them develop vocabulary skills and assists them in building a base for future reference. Brain cells grew and multiply at a fantastic rate during early childhood years, but young children do not need workbooks or structured lessons to achieve brain growth. Quality time, purposefully instructing about life around them, and interacting with them thoughtfully each day will benefit them in ways that a workbook or formal preschool curriculum ever could!