Quality education is about relationships.

In a recent article, Erika Christakis author of the best-selling book The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need From Grownups, shares her perspective on traditional educational systems and how society is failing to see the world through the eyes of children.

We compiled some excerpts from the interview which are in full alignment with Walden’s vision.

Quality education is about relationships. Caring teachers who understand child development and who know and are attuned to the children in their care are far more important than many of the measures of quality we use today, such as class size, physical environments, or a specific curriculum.

Rich, open-ended conversation is critical, and children need time in the day to experience warm, empathic oral language—to converse with each other playfully, to tell a rambling story to an adult, to listen to high-quality literature and ask meaningful questions.

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Anyone who has seen the wonder on a child’s face when they see a butterfly landing on a flower understands that learning goes far beyond a classroom.

The good news is that children are wired with the capacity for learning in almost any setting. With the loving support of responsive adults, they can learn without the bells and whistles of what we call preschool.

So much learning comes about naturally from what scientists call the serve-and-return style of communication between an adult and young child, which others have referred to as a conversational “duet.” There’s a lot of evidence that we can close some of the gaps between lower-income children’s academic trajectories and those of higher-income families by coaching parents and educators to use this approach in their everyday interactions with children. I often coach teachers to ask open-ended questions such as “Tell me about your drawing,” rather than “checking” questions like “What color is the apple?” or “What are you drawing?” The open-ended response really opens up a huge space for spontaneous and deep learning.