Two recent segments on NPR remind me of how important it is to qualify carefully what you're calling for--especially when your advice is directed at the education establishment, where phrases--whether it's "conceptual understanding," "higher-level thinking," or "project-based learning"-- are routinely distorted to serve pre-existing agendas.
The early education learning environment, whether in the home or in a school, should provide a rich variety of activities that will foster physical, mental, emotional, and social development.But there's a distinct difference in both the ingredients and the efficacy of America's Head Start vs. France's écoles maternelles. As E.D. Hirsch explains in The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them (p. 46):
Head Start has not been primarily an academic program. Though momentary academic benefits have sometimes been measured, they are not securely fixed and they quickly fade.
And this core includes, among other things, content-based civics instruction....Preschool programs elsewhere in the world do achieve long-term academic benefits for disadvantaged students. In France, early schooling permanently boosts educational achievements of low-paid workers and immigrants from North Africa. What, then, makes the academic benefits of early education endure in some countries but fade in our own? A few contrasts: Head Start lasts three hours, is staffed by nonprofessionls, and is nonacademic. The école maternelle (attended by over 90 percent of French three and four-year-olds) lasts all day and goes twelve months a year, is staffed by professionals, and has well-defined academic goals. Children then enter a grade-school system that also has a well-defined academic and cognitive core.