In school, at four: what's best for the children?

28th April 1995 at 01:00
There are no easy answers but there are some difficult questions worth thinking about if you are faced with the challenge of educating children in school, at four.

* Four-year-olds are experienced and enthusiastic learners - but they are new to school. What do you want them to learn about this strange place, where they'll be learning for the next 12 years?

* Will they learn that school is a place where they will be treated as ignorant, immature, illogical? Or that it's a place where the adults will respect their powers to think, to feel, to do, to know and understand?

* Four-year-olds are adventurous and imaginative explorers. Will school give them the time and space to see where their imaginations can take them? Or will they be confined to the domestic play corner?

* Four-year-olds are experimental scientists, with interesting ideas about how the world works. Will they have the chance, in school, to investigate problems and challenges for themselves?

* Four-year-olds have been living and learning in a world saturated with print and spoken language. Will the school add to this rich experience? Will there be enough books, enough kinds of books, enough time to handle and talk and think about books?

* Some four-year-olds are interested in everything; all four-year-olds are interested in something. Which parts of the living world can be brought into the classroom to engage their expanding interests? What kinds of intellectual food will you choose to satisfy their eager appetites?

* Four-year-olds are energetic thinkers, and sensitive and compassionate friends. How will you make sure they have the time and space to exercise their intellectual and emotional muscles?

* Four-year-olds are full of questions - will they have the opportunity in school to ask their own questions? Or will they be too busy answering yours?

* Never forget: the more you do for the children, the less they'll do for themselves - less thinking, less deciding, less puzzling, less imagining, less questioning.

Mary Jane Drummond

University of Cambridge, Institute of Education,and author of the evaluation report on Hampshire's earlier admissions programme.

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