Editor’s note: Erika Christakis, MEd, MPH, is an early childhood teacher and former preschool director. Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, is a professor of medicine and sociology at Harvard University. Together, they serve as Masters of Pforzheimer House, one of the undergraduate residential houses at Harvard College.
(CNN) — Every day where we work, we see our young students struggling with the transition from home to school. They’re all wonderful kids, but some can’t share easily or listen in a group.
Some have impulse control problems and have trouble keeping their hands to themselves; others don’t always see that actions have consequences; a few suffer terribly from separation anxiety.
We’re not talking about preschool children. These are Harvard undergraduate students whom we teach and advise. They all know how to work, but some of them haven’t learned how to play.
Parents, educators, psychologists, neuroscientists, and politicians generally fall into one of two camps when it comes to preparing very young children for school: play-based or skills-based.
These two kinds of curricula are often pitted against one another as a zero-sum game: If you want to protect your daughter’s childhood, so the argument goes, choose a play-based program; but if you want her to get into Harvard, you’d better make sure you’re brushing up on the ABC flashcards every night before bed.
We think it is quite the reverse. Or, in any case, if you want your child to succeed in college, the play-based curriculum is the way to go.