In the first Inspiration Speaks event of the 2017 – 2018 school year, New York Times best-selling author and early childhood educator Erika Christakis called for more play time, more authentic relationships, and less 'adultification' of young children for optimal learning and development.
During her Nov. 14 visit, Christakis presented a number of ideas from her book The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need from Grownups. Learning habitats, the relationship between play and learning, the impact of technology on young children, the role of grown ups in children's lives, and the school-home partnership were all topics explored while she was on campus.
Throughout her visit, which included a small gathering with Pre-School through Grade 2 parents, an afternoon tea with faculty members, and a public evening event, Christakis assured all audiences that she spoke as both an educator and a parent - one who has shared the same aspirations and anxieties as all in attendance.
"We have a societal anxiety regarding kids and play," Christakis said about giving children the time and space to explore, converse, and build relationships.
"Somehow we think we'll do them a disservice if we don't impart facts in a structured and pedantic way."
Christakis went on to discuss relationships as the fuel for early childhood learning, noting that what many consider "soft skills" are actually highly correlated with with academic achievement, life happiness, and well-being.
"We want children to build lives, not resumes," she said, encouraging attendees to adjust their attitudes about their aspirations for children.
One of the ways in which this adjustment could be immediately implemented, she mentioned, is to stop the "adultification" of young children. Imposing adult scheduling and pacing on kids, using adult vocabulary to describe children's behavior, and even dressing young children in adult-favored fashions were all presented as symptoms of this process.
Adults being physically presented with children but emotionally and mentally distracted by technology was another hallmark of modern parenting, she said, before noting that parents now spend more time with their children than ever before but the heavy use of mobile devices in a home is linked to poorer outcomes in child development.
"Don't beat yourself up about not spending enough time with your child; you probably are spending plenty of time with them," she said. "But when you are with your child, it's very important that you are tuned in."
A former faculty member of the Yale Child Study Center, Christakis has written widely about child development from preschool through college years and routinely quoted research studies during her discussions. She has consulted on early childhood education environments and programs throughout the country, and is a Massachusetts and Vermont-certified teacher and licensed preschool director. In addition to her book, Christakis has written a column for Time.com and pieces for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and NPR, among other outlets.