After fourteen years of teaching child care professionals and teachers about preschool learners, one of my college students, with sweet, enthusiastic innocence, told me that her threes understood the word “hypothesis.” That in her center, they teach a “word a week” to the children. And their philosophy? Their motivation? “We have to get them ready for being four.” I suggested that the children are learning to be three. Why push them?
Her program is called an Academy. That says a lot. A Facebook friend, who owns a center, confessed that using the word “Academy” in her school’s title was a marketing decision. She is uncomfortable with it because her program is a process-oriented, creative program where children learn organically—through play experiences, with teachers as guides. But she bit the bullet and chose that word—Academy—to bring parents in.
“Academies” ask two-year-olds to glue noodles to a paper plate, then ask the teacher to glue on the letter “N. They display these almost identical pieces on a bulletin board in the classroom so parents will think their toddlers are learning something (they’re not). They call this academics. Many parents believe that an early academic start (mimicking public school) is good for their children. You can’t blame them. They so want to believe they are giving their children a jump start. All they know is from their own experience, and they don’t remember school any further back than early elementary school. These are the biases they base their choices on. These biases don’t come from developmental theorists, or from the hallowed history of child care and early education. They certainly don’t come from today’s leaders in the educational field. They come from the cultural memory of the industrial age. Ken Robinson calls this a mechanistic approach to education. This approach is outmoded.
We want to prepare young children by allowing them to grow organically, and learn through curiosity, imagination, and creativity. These three qualities are immensely important. They won’t perpetuate the mechanistic, industrial world view of the 19th and 20th century, but will prepare a generation to become the talented, productive, individual human beings that we will need in the future. How can we educate parents to demand the best for their children? By educating them about what the best is.
Some ways to educate the parents:
Tell them about NAEYC’s standards for Early Childhood Education. Don’t just give them the titles of these standards, because they are vague without the particulars. Have them read the particulars.
Show them what a good program does to let children learn without cookie cutter art projects and curricular topics invented only for whole group teaching.
Give them reading. Share some of the short videos and podcasts about developmentally appropriate, play-based learning that are on the web. Rae Pica's radio programs are short, focused, and informative. They can listen in their cars!
Teach parents that children learn by whole-hearted, focused play. Play, at its best, is an investigatory process among small groups or individuals using a variety of materials that are not necessarily manufactured! Either indoors or outdoors, materials can be anything that children can use and manipulate to discover lessons in physics, math, science, and the arts. Many of my director colleagues are doing this every single day. You can, too.
Teachers, keep providing learning experiences, environments and encouragement. Celebrate children’s learning through exploration and deep, immersive play. Be there for them, and encourage their parents. Teachers in academic programs: Doubt the wisdom of the corporate culture. Come over to the other side. Let children learn to be the best human beings they can be. Stand up for your students. Let’s deal a death blow to the mechanistic, corporate, obsolete approach to education.