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One morning in March, early-childhood educator Erika Christakis was in a meeting with a woman in Windsor, Vermont, when she felt a pair of eyes on her. Wide, vacant eyes crafted from paper, to be more specific. They belonged to a construction paper groundhog made by the woman’s 2-year-old, and something about their bug-eyed stare caught Christakis’s attention. “It was a cartoonish, adult version of an animal,” she writes in her new book, The Importance of Being Little, “not something a toddler could have conceived or executed.” And, anyway, she wondered, what could the celebration of Groundhog Day even mean to a toddler?
It was nothing against this particular groundhog, which itself was a typical product of a typical preschool arts-and-crafts session. Christakis’s objections, to which she devotes an entire chapter of her book, are about these kinds of preschool crafts as a whole: the cotton-ball snowman, the paper-plate Easter bunny, even the perennial classic Thanksgiving hand-turkey. These activities, she argues, place too much emphasis on the product…
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