I read an article recently titled “Why Preschool Shouldn’t be like School“. The article highlighted a concern about the pressure on kindergartens and nurseries to become more like schools with increased direct instruction. They felt that very young children should be “allowed to explore, inquire, play, and discover” because although “direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills”, it made them “less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution”.
One study examining how 4-year-olds learned about a new toy confirms the concern that direct instruction made children less curious and less likely to discover new information on their own. The toy had 4 tubes and each tube could do something interesting – “if you pulled on one tube it squeaked, if you looked inside another tube you found a hidden mirror, and so on. For one group of children, the experimenter said: “I just found this toy!” As she brought out the toy, she pulled the first tube, as if by accident, and it squeaked. She acted surprised (“Huh! Did you see that? Let me try to do that!”) and pulled the tube again to make it squeak a second time. With the other children, the experimenter acted more like a teacher. She said, “I’m going to show you how my toy works. Watch this!” and deliberately made the tube squeak. Then she left both groups of children alone to play with the toy. All of the children pulled the first tube to make it squeak. The question was whether they would also learn about the other things the toy could do. The children from the first group played with the toy longer and discovered more of its “hidden” features than those in the second group.”
Another study, also involving 4-year-olds and a new toy, confirmed that direct teaching made children less creative. In this study, the children were given a toy and the experimenters “demonstrated sequences of three actions on the toy, some of which caused the toy to play music, some of which did not. For example, [the experimenter] might start by squishing the toy, then pressing a pad on its top, then pulling a ring on its side, at which point the toy would play music. Then she might try a different series of three actions, and it would play music again. Not every sequence she demonstrated worked, however: Only the ones that ended with the same two actions made the music play. After showing the children five successful sequences interspersed with four unsuccessful ones, she gave them the toy and told them to “make it go.”
[The experimenter] ran through the same nine sequences with all the children, but with one group, she acted as if she were clueless about the toy. (“Wow, look at this toy. I wonder how it works? Let’s try this,” she said.) With the other group, she acted like a teacher. (“Here’s how my toy works.”) When she acted clueless, many of the children figured out the most intelligent way of getting the toy to play music (performing just the two key actions, something she had not demonstrated). But when she acted like a teacher, the children imitated her exactly, rather than discovering the more intelligent and more novel two-action solution.”
It was agreed that there was a benefit to be derived from direct instruction – children learned a lot more quickly through direct instruction. The downside was that it taught them to be less curious and it robbed them of their creativity. The conclusion was that “it’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free rein. That means a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play. Not school for babies.”
Okay, all that made sense. But my question now is: why is this limited only to young children? If young children benefitted from opportunities that gave them a free reign to explore and discover new things on their own, then why would it be different for older children? In other words, if school is bad for young children, then why would it be any different for older children? Why is it okay for older children to be taught with direct instruction? If it is killing the creativity of our young children, surely it is doing the same with our older children and we should be looking to reform the education model not just for young children but for all children.