If we look back in history, children were once taught by sitting alongside those who were skilled at something, participating in active learning. This type of pedagogy was aligned more closely with the nature of young children.
They are, after all, born learners. They may be easily distracted and unpredictable and diverse, but they all have a natural drive to investigate, unravel mysteries, process information, and try out new ideas… the very things that move our human species ahead.
As time went on, however, an education system was created to feed the needs of the industrial age and children were taught a narrow set of skills. They were moved through the system like raw materials in a manufacturing process… pushing them towards an expected end product.
Unfortunately, much of public education still operates in the same way today. To make sure every child meets the prescribed standards, diversity in learning style, attention, or energy is separated and often medicated.
There is the continued assumption that certain things must be done by parents and teachers to cultivate children’s learning. Parents are focused on getting their kids into a good college and policy-makers who voted to fund preschool programs need proof that it’s worth what it costs. This has led to the early grades and even preschools becoming increasingly academic.
And, what about play?
Well, it gets lost. When a teacher is planning out her day and has to include all sorts of school readiness activities, there just might not be any time for play. Or, maybe the child will participate in more organized sports or take a few more lessons.
What ends up unpracticed are sharing, negotiating, flexibility, creativity, and resilience. Unfortunately, these are skills that are difficult to measure on a standardized test. But, aren’t these the very skills that are more important now than ever before?
The good news is, this is nothing surprising for Early Childhood educators. We know that providing a rich, interesting, loving, safe environment for children unleashes and enables them to learn the way they learn best. We let them play and discover and interact with each other. We embrace their diversity and sometimes step in to guide and scaffold and play along. But mostly, we stand back and respect their in-born drive to understand the world.
We aren’t intimidated by so-called experts who insist that unless you do things a certain way and at a certain time, you’ll fail as a parent or a teacher. On the contrary. We know that going about things in any other way is failing children. I think there is truth to the saying that if we spend so much time getting children ready for what’s next, we aren’t paying attention to what is important today. And I don’t want to be the one who interferes with the potential of a child’s today, do you?