cover image The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups

The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups

Erika Christakis. Viking, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-42907-4

Christakis brings her experience working as a preschool teacher and with the Yale Child Study Center to this sophisticated, observation-based argument for viewing young children primarily as just that, and not as adults in training. Christakis wants to stem the loss of the “comprehensive childhood habitat” to narrow government standards, testing regimens, and behavioral diagnoses. She believes that by the time three- to six-year-old children first enter a daycare center or classroom, they are not “blank slates” but full-fledged individuals ready to learn “primarily from their relationships” rather than direct instruction. She urges parents and educators to let these natural learners thrive by paying attention to each child’s “zone of proximal development,” giving them power to express themselves, and valuing their inner lives while recognizing that they “lack an infrastructure upon which to express emotion.” Christakis also encourages caregivers and teachers to offer children stories worth hearing, conversations worth having, and rich contexts for play. Though these optimistic ideas for responsive learning environments are supported more through anecdotes and examples than hard data, Christakis’s rich experience and attentiveness to the details of child behavior and psychology give her approach the power of practical real-world experience. Agent: Bonnie Solow, Solow Literary. (Feb.)