Well, here's a piece of research you might not have expected.
The sexy headline reductive title is the Batman Effect (published almost a year ago but recently re-circulating), but the idea being tested here was a little broader than "Always Be Batman." From the abstract:
This study investigated the benefits of self-distancing (i.e., taking an outsider's view of one's own situation) on young children's perseverance. Four- and 6-year-old children (N = 180) were asked to complete a repetitive task for 10 min while having the option to take breaks by playing an extremely attractive video game. Six-year-olds persevered longer than 4-year-olds. Nonetheless, across both ages, children who impersonated an exemplar other—in this case a character, such as Batman—spent the most time working, followed by children who took a third-person perspective on the self, or finally, a first-person perspective.
While I generally support the idea of Being Batman, there are some hugely troubling implications of this study (and I'm not even counting that Queen of Grit Angela Duckworth is one of the co-authors). One problem is captured by this review of the study at Big Think:
With the onset of early childhood and attending preschool, increased demands are placed on the self-regulatory skills of kids.
This underlines the problem we see with more and more or what passes for early childhood education these days -- we're not worried about whether the school is ready to appropriately handle the students, but instead are busy trying to beat three-, four- and five-year-olds into developmentally inappropriate states to get them "ready" for their early years of education. It is precisely and absolutely backwards. I can't say this hard enough-- if early childhood programs are requiring "increased demands" on the self-regulatory skills of kids, it is the programs that are wrong, not the kids. Full stop.
What this study offers is a solution that is more damning than the "problem" that it addresses. If a four-year-old child has to disassociate, to pretend that she is someone else, in order to cope with the demands of your program, your program needs to stop, today.
Because you know where else you hear this kind of behavior described? In accounts of victims of intense, repeated trauma. In victims of torture who talk about dealing by just pretending they aren't even there, that someone else is occupying their body while they float away from the horror.
That should not be a description of How To Cope With Preschool.
Nor should the primary lesson of early childhood education be, "You can't really cut it as yourself. You'll need to be somebody else to get ahead in life." I cannot even begin to wrap my head around what a destructive message that is for a small child.
The researchers minimize this effect as just role play. The kids, they say, simply imitated someone they thought had the qualities needed to deal with the task. And hey-- role play is fun. But it's appropriate that Duckworth is in this pack, because we are just talking about other ways to grow grit:
Perseverance can pave the pathway to success. The current research suggests that perseverance can be taught through role play, a skill that is accessible to even very young children.
No. I mean, I'm not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I have to believe that the root of grit or perseverance is the certainty that whatever happens, you'll deal with it. When my high school students are anxious or afraid, it's because when they imagine what's coming, they don't imagine themselves being enough to deal with it. I can't imagine ever telling them, "Well, you probably aren't, but maybe you can pretend to be somebody else." Because the "you probably aren't" part drowns out everything else. The most useful message for them is "You can handle this. You will be okay."
With my high schoolers, we're talking about challenging schoolwork, but we're also talking about real-life challenges that the world has put in their way. In Preschool, it's different.
Let's be clear what the study is suggesting as a process for four year old tiny humans:
1) Set standards and goals that the students are not equipped to meet.
2) Tell the students that they arn't able to handle the challenge, so they'd better pretend to be someone else.
I am thinking the solution to all the problems here lies in Step 1. Encourage play? Absolutely. Require it? No. Let's give small children tasks to perform that are developmentally appropriate. Let's set them up for success, and not for failure. Then when they someday discover on their own that you should, in fact, always be Batman, it will be so that they can have some fun with their friends, and not so that they can survive in school.
Well, here's a piece of research you might not have expected.
A young boy, whose teacher has assigned the class to draw horses, beams with pride at the blue horse he’s created. But his teacher returns his drawing with a grade of F, telling him that horses are either white, black, or brown. The young boy is confused, however, because in his living room is a painting by Franz Marc, in which blue horses roam a brightly colored field.
A first-grade class is asked to draw butterflies like the one the teacher has drawn on the board. One girl happily decorates her butterfly with purple polka dots. But she is scolded because the teacher’s butterfly does not have any polka dots.
These are two of many stories I’ve come across over the years. Another, more general, story came during a recent conversation with early childhood educator Amanda Morgan, when she mentioned the number of teachers she’s witnessed who “fix” the children’s works so they’re acceptable for posting, or for parents’ approval.
Naturally, all of these teachers believe they’re helping the children. Still, it’s easy to see how their insistence upon perfection and “reality” can put a damper on the children’s creativity and their future enthusiasm for creating. But even less obvious, more “innocent,” comments we make when children present us with their imaginative offerings can be detrimental to creative development. Asking “What is that?” is one of them....
Last winter and Spring, I had the privilege of piloting my EQ program in a North Jersey preschool. The pilot is a great success and we have begun our 2nd year. Teachers love it, the children love being Creators of Joy (CJs). They could recite CJs 7 voices and how they made them feel, for ex. happy, good, kind. I love visiting every two weeks and the picture you see is our Rainbow Rootie day when we all looked silly! When I visit, I demonstrate the different aspects of the theme they are teaching for that week. I learn as much as they do. The children love all of CJs buddies and continuously talk about them.
Research tells us that the emotional brain is growing the fastest from birth to six. This certainly was evident for the younger children ( 3 year olds) were able to focus on CJ and how the voices felt more easily than the older children. What a surprise! They had less academics (left brain stimulation) and were more open to the messages and feelings and using CJ in their play. So the earlier we start, the better!
The teachers asked for more time in their curriculum for CJ. This Fall they began this and are including more of the fun activities in the curriculum. The activities all included history, science and inter-relational opportunities. However, the trend in preschool is academics and yet the staff felt that they needed more time for these important skills.
Research is showing us that children who have more play and social and emotional learning instead of the current trend in academics actually pull ahead by the time they reach 4th grade. Play teaches those important skills of sharing, compromise, critical thinking to name a few....
I had a couple encounters recently that really got me thinking about how we are teaching social skills to young children- or not. I was visiting a couple of my students at their child care programs, which I sometimes do, prior to their formal CDA observations.
The first visit was in a 2’s room, with eight children and two teachers. I arrived just before lunch and watched as hands and tables were washed and children were placed into those built-in bucket seats. The kitchen had delivered portion compartment trays with some kind of meat casserole, fruit, and vegetables. What happened next literally took my breath away.
Both teachers began bringing the trays over to the two tables. No eating utensils were evident. As each tray was set in front of a child, the teacher flipped it over, banged the contents onto the table, and placed the empty tray back on the cart. Huh? Gasp!
Open to Possibilities Featured
I take a lot of photos. Often I will look back through the photos...and I'm reminded of things. I see things that I forgot happened. Recently, I came across the photo above. As I look at it, several things come to mind.
- Many things happen in a classroom each week. I forget most of them. A remark or a shared activity will often come to my mind. But often I forget about moments - big and small - without reminders. I need to take photos and/or write down things to remember the great things that happen.
- Lots of learning happens in the classroom each week that isn't planned, at least planned by me. These will also probably not be remembered individually but become part of the foundational knowledge in the child's learning.
- Children are creative. They see everything as a possible resource for what they are doing.
This last one is something that I've thought about before. Kids are open to all kinds of possibilities; anything is possible.
And this photo reminds me again that I put limits on my thinking so often. A basket is for holding things. I don't consider it as a possible building item. If I were working in a blocks center and needed something for the top of my building, I would have overlooked this basket. It doesn't fit my definition of building item. But my friend saw it, decided to try it, and figured out how to use it in his structure.
We do the same for children. We see them in a particular light or through a particular lens. We try to figure out how they tick and interpret everything by our conclusions. "She's quiet. She won't be interested in doing this." "He is active. He will not sit down to do that." And so forth.