When I was a girl struggling through my first encounter with Algebra II, I groaned to my father, “Why do I have to learn this? I will never use it.”
My father replied, “It teaches you to think a certain way. You have to think critically and analyze. Those are important skills.”
At the beginning of this school year, I attended my son’s High School Back to School Night. Teacher after teacher explained the importance of their class based upon test results required for the HSPA, the SAT and a variety of other standardized test acronyms. I felt that every presentation and every conversation was about that product. School has become about the grades and test scores. Sports have become about the winning travel teams. Dance has become about the competitions. When did everything become more about producing a tangible product and less about the process of thinking and learning? Why do even parents of 2 and 3 year olds want their children to produce workbook pages? What are we so afraid of that we need all of this proof of performance that actually has nothing to do with the process of thinking and learning?
I cannot speak for everyone but I know what makes me afraid. I am afraid that this mindset is permeating early childhood education. I recently taught a workshop about positive discipline. One preschool director shared many behavioral challenges they face on a daily basis in her preschool. She named her preschool so when we were done listening to tales of children so obviously fighting for control, I looked online for their philosophy. Their website proclaims that they can get every preschooler to work at least one year ahead of their chronological age. They are proud to have kindergarten and 1st grade level workbooks in their 3 and 4 year old classrooms. It is no wonder that there are behavioral issues. This is not how children learn. This is not how children develop the skills that enable them to successfully make decisions and think critically. Young children learn best by exploring their curiosity and extending their knowledge in an environment that encourages self-discovery.
I am often asked why I spend so much of my professional life in the early childhood arena. My credentials enable me to teach any age group and, as Director of Schools in my current job, I do direct education for preschool through 12th grade. I thoroughly enjoy being able to work with students at all ages and stages. The rest of my professional life – teaching adults, providing staff development for educators, speaking with parents groups – is focused on early childhood. Our youngest learners are amazing. They produce the most amazing pieces of art that give us a glimpse into how they see their world. They tell fanciful stories and create lands of their own. They build incredibly balanced structures. Their emotions are honest and on the surface. We clearly can see when they are angry, sad, frustrated or elated. They can build their own knowledge faster and with more enthusiasm than most adults can muster. They need to be provided with environments that do not beat the wonder out of them. Their products are the new words they say, the blobs of art that are meaningful to them and the facts they compile by interacting freely in a safe environment.
It is fine for a young child to enjoy dance class and not be the best dancer. It is within the norm for 4 year olds to be beginners at tracing lines to form letters. It is acceptable for them to be more interested in pretending and building than writing and reading. No matter what they are doing, they are learning. If they are lucky, they are socializing, finger painting, playing in mud and wearing costumes. Those children will be the great thinkers of the future.
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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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