19th Century Education in a 21st Century World

Critical Thinking Teacher-Child Interactions

We do not know the world we are educating our children for. When most of us were in Kindergarten, our teachers could not imagine that we would all walk around with machines in our pockets that contain more computing power than the machine that guided humanity to the moon and back. It has been said that up to 65% of students entering elementary school this year will work in careers that don’t even exist yet. Despite this, we continue to educate children using the same “drill and kill” methods that were created to prepare a workforce for careers on farms or in factories.
This uncertainty means that many of the pieces of knowledge or skills we press into children (at earlier and earlier ages) may be obsolete by the time they are called upon to make their way in the world. However, what we do know is that if children are problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and approach obstacles with creativity and a sense of self-efficacy, they will probably be ok. We have the unique position as early childhood professionals to build a foundation for these dispositions today so they will be successful in whatever they face tomorrow.
Developing these proclivities starts in the early years; in the environments we set up for children and how we interact with them. Instead of stopping children from trying something new (because we know it won’t work) or stepping in and solving a problem for them, we need to be supportive partners as they approach and ponder problems on their own. This will look different as children grow and develop;
• With infants this can mean encouraging them as they reach for a toy slightly out of their reach. Or, (as long as a baby is not getting overly frustrated) encouraging them to get back out of a space they got themselves into (for example, under a high chair).
• For toddlers, this means building time into the schedule for them to do things on their own (eating, dressing, etc.). It also means giving them interesting materials and planning open-ended experiences that compel them to think and explore as opposed to simple, close-ended activities that solely focus on copying or spouting back information.
• For older children, this means asking them interesting open-ended questions like, “how many pieces of hair do you think on your head?”, or “how do you think a blender works?”. The answer to these questions is not important, what is essential is encouraging children to dive in and find ways they might find the answer. It also includes providing them with interesting materials and saying, “I wonder what you can do with these” instead of “here, do this”.
In all of these instances we are encouraging thought as opposed to memorization or parroting information. Who knows what the future holds? It may be that finally we travel from place to place in those awesome flying cars we have all been promised, or maybe we are all eating Tide pods. Either way, in how we educate children today, we are taking an active role in how we shape our collective tomorrow.
What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:
Facebook: Teacher as Gardener
LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo
Twitter: @authorsalcedo
The book can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing

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