Throughout my studies and career in early childhood education I have found that there are many theories on the best ways that children learn. Frobel believed that children learned through play, Maria Montessori believed that children were natural learners and that they learned best when placed in an environment that offered materials they could explore with teachers that guided them through the learning process indirectly. Howard Gardner gave us the theory of multiple intelligences, showing us that children learn in different ways. Piaget taught us that children learn in stages and Vygotsky theorized that children learn from social experiences. All of these education pioneers had theories that affect how educators “teach” children today.
What I have found in my own experiences is that all of these ideas and techniques can be combined to create an ideal learning environment for children. In my experiences with young children I have found that children need the opportunity to explore the world around them to see how things work and how their actions can directly influence their immediate environment. They also need the opportunity to interact with other children to learn social skills like sharing and working together. Adults model language, offer guidance on how to act in a variety of situation and can influence social norms and gender stereotypes, whether we like it or not.
Like Maria Montessori, I believe that children are natural learners. Even so, children need to be exposed to an environment that nurtures their learning experiences. Children need to be provided with learning activities that are fun and engaging. The learning environment needs to include a variety of learning experiences that incorporate a variety of learning styles. And most importantly children should have an active role in the planning and execution of the learning experiences.
“We learn to do by doing.” This is what my dad used to tell me anytime I asked him for help with something. As I advance in my career in early childhood education this saying becomes more and more meaningful to me and perfectly summarizes my feelings in how young children learn best.