Parents, teachers, school districts, day care providers, librarians, pediatricians, speech and language therapists, policy makers, and others who work with children are all concerned about the current trends in our society that work against children’s better interests. Rather than considering the “whole child” and the complex interplay between intellectual, emotional, social, and physical development, our society is more concerned with memorization than true achievement, and with children knowing “facts” rather than becoming lifelong learners. Yet what has made America great is our ability to rapidly adapt to changes in the marketplace as well as to create novel solutions to old problems. Unfortunately, we fear we may lose our competitive edge by our overwhelming emphasis on memorization rather than problem solving and creativity.
In addition to talks we give around the world about the development of language, emergent literacy, and the benefits of play, we have been asked to speak to audiences about how children learn best and why our present trend is a cause for alarm. Thankfully, children’s museums in the United States still carry the message that Play = Learning and we have been collaborating with a number of them (especially the Port Discovery Museum in Baltimore, the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and the Chicago Children’s Museum) on research to convey this message to parents. Whenever we speak, we reassure parents that they can have zero-budget, smart, and well-adjusted children. There is no need to focus on “brain development” but rather on promoting child development in the ordinary ways – through nurturing and loving care, and through the stimulation children receive when we talk with, read to them, and take them to the everyday places we visit. When we take the child’s perspective, there is wonder in the mundane! A trip to the supermarket can be a wonderful learning experience.
As we are committed to sharing the findings from developmental science, we have written “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less” (Rodale Press) to let parents “off the hook” and liberate them from the cult of achievement. Parents need not feel pressured to manage their children’s lives in order to “sculpt” their intelligence. Our recent edited book “Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth” (Oxford University Press) contains the results of research in many domains that show how important play is to children’s lives. In “How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life” (Dutton/Penguin) we share secrets about the process of language development from research laboratories around the world.
The value of writing popular press books and speaking to professional and lay audiences. As researchers, we are enriched by writing popular press books as they mandate that we explain the value and meaning of the collective work of our field. It is a great pleasure to share what we have learned from research (often funded by your tax dollars) about the amazing changes children undergo in the course of their development. It is also important for us to spin out the implications of our work for application. After all, we have learned much from research about the factors that promote child development.
By the same token, we find that giving talks around the country allows us the opportunity to keep in touch with national trends, such as the unnecessary pressures parents and teachers feel. We learn remarkable things from our audiences that enrich our research, writing, and presentations. For example, in one state we learned of a daily pledge that children are required to recite in class to promise that they will do their best on the standardized tests. In NY, we learned about the “college admissions” essays that parents are required to write to get their children into the “Baby Ivies,” private schools that are reputedly feeders to Ivy League colleges. And in a conference we spoke at in Boston, we learned from a survey that we gave on site about how unhappy many teachers and administrators are with changes in the schools. By picking up on our audiences’ concerns and hearing their stories, we are inspired to continue our work on behalf of children and families.