Bredekamp (1990) describes how young children learn and indicates effective ways of teaching them:
"How Young Children Learn
Young children learn by doing. The work of Piaget (1950, 1972), Montessori (1964), Erikson (1950), and other child development theorists and researchers (Elkind, 1986; Kamii, 1985) has demonstrated that learning is a complex process that results from the interaction of children's own thinking and their experiences in the external world. Maturation is an important contributor to learning because it provides a framework from which children's learning proceeds. As children get older, they acquire new skills and experiences that facilitate the learning process. For example, as children grow physically, they are more able to manipulate and explore their own environment. Also, as children mature, they are more able to understand the point of view of other people.
Knowledge is not something that is given to children as though they were empty vessels to be filled. Children acquire knowledge about the physical and social worlds in which they live through playful interaction with objects and people. Children do not need to be forced to learn; they are motivated by their own desire to make sense of their world.
How to Teach Young Children
How young children learn should determine how teachers of young children teach. The word teach tends to imply telling or giving information. But the correct way to teach young children is not to lecture or verbally instruct them. Teachers of young children are more like guides or facilitators (Forman & Kuschner, 1983; Lay-Dropyera & Dropyera, 1986; Piaget, 1972). They prepare the environment so that it provides stimulating, challenging materials and activities for children. Then, teachers closely observe to see what children understand and pose additional challenges to push their thinking further.
It is possible to drill children until they can correctly recite pieces of information, such as the alphabet or the numerals from 1 to 20. However, children's reposes to rote tasks do not reflect real understanding of the information. For children to understand fully and remember what they have learned--whether it is related to reading, mathematics, or other subject matter areas--the information must be meaningful to the child in context of the child's experience and development. Learning information in meaningful context is not only essential for children's understanding and development of concepts, but is also important for stimulating motivation in children. If learning is relevant for children, they are more likely to persist with a task and to be motivated to learn more." (pp. 51-53)