These words were spoken many years ago by Albert Einstein. In a culture that currently places a great deal of emphasis on a child's learning of academic skills at a very early age, Einstein's message seems to be lost. For the youngest children, we choose another path. When designing play opportunities, choosing materials and creating rhythm in group environments for infants and toddlers, we are so very intentional to keep our focus on child-directed learning. Our job as caregivers is to set the stage by offering interesting, unique opportunities for curiosity to unfold. We are then to step out of the way and carefully observe as the child learns how to explore and problem solve, offering support only when the child needs it and even then, in the smallest way possible for the child to maintain his independence.
When play is respected and supported in this way, opportunities for teaching begin to emerge in the most natural way. A child begins to sort like-items during open-ended play without prompting. A child begins to identify colors while exploring paint. A child begins to recognize and duplicate the letters in his name by finding his coat hook or his seat at the snack table. Learning unfolds best in the context of play and respectful, caring relationships. During early childhood, this is where our attention should be and skill-learning will unfold natural in a beautiful time.