I used to have a fear that I would die before I had read all the books I wanted to read. Now, at an average of 20 some books per year, I know I will, even if I live to the ripe old average age of 82 for women. Our brains crave information, reading, schooling, interaction, new ability. They are satisfied and satiated only when there is a steady input of meaty information.
My work places me now in a preschool, where we adults help form experiences for the young learner. One of my elementary-school colleagues told me when I was moving to teach preschool that, “You’ll like it, it’s intuitive.” And so it is.
I plan and prepare, and then I really follow and move to address the problems, crises and interests preschoolers create in the moment. If elementary school is a Bach cantata, preschool is a jazz riff. I could also describe it as conceptual. We deal with the big undergirding ideas of learning and life. Sharing, taking turns, crying, naming emotions, seeing the emotions of others. Numbers, letters, books, fall, winter, cold, snow, pencils and how to grip them. It is the beginning of making categories in a brain. Then we make connections, then we make ideas, then we change the world.
Elementary school is too late
I once met a child who had never held a marker or a watercolor brush, and did not know the ABC song. This was truly a starved brain, and a stunted one. Grabbing for knowledge, he didn’t quite know where to put it. Learning was painfully slow, relationships were blunted, emotions ran amok wildly and responses were random. It was a crisis of learning and all around him moved as quickly as possible to remediate the situation. But elementary school is too late to begin these experiences and interventions. If we really mean to close the achievement gap, and support and create great schools, intervention needs to happen far before kindergarten.
Learning is natural. We want it, our brains demand and devour it, our emotional and social life depends on it. It is juicy and exciting and thrilling to learn. Even now, at midlife, my curiosity is ever present, ready for the next innovation. This doesn’t happen totally by chance; creating a curious learner takes parenting, nutrition, care, classrooms, discoveries, a community that places children first, not its own needs for ever more things or money.
We can stop placing blame on teachers, schools and deficient curriculums. We have only to look at ourselves to find the culprits for the achievement gap. We know what it takes to create a great learner with a curious mind; we just aren’t doing it.
What curious learners do
As we leaped from activity to activity over the holidays with our visiting adult children, through my exhaustion I could see what curious adult learners look like. They seek out movies, friends, yet more education, museums, the “Arrow Awards,” newspapers, musicals … and then they talk about it. Our learning selves keep us in the swirl of world ideas.
Most of us have been lucky and blessed by good jobs, enough food, great teachers and schools, and caring friends and family around us. When we have needed help it was there. We know how to satisfy our brains’ demands to learn. We know how to act on that learning.
I think back to the song lyrics, ‘… a satisfied mind.’ Let’s think about that, and then let’s create satisfied and curious minds for all children around us.
Kris Potter lives in South Minneapolis, where she teaches at a play-based preschool.
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