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Posted by on in Early Childhood

You know, it’s really hard nowadays for a child to simply be a child. There’s so much pressure to perform academically, that Kindergarten has become the new first grade and preschool has become the new Kindergarten.

Parents get caught up in the frenzy, worried that their children will be “behind” by the time they get to Kindergarten. They don’t realize there is a simple solution to it all… PLAY.

To those of us who are early childhood educators, this is no surprise. But for others, and even some well-intentioned teachers, there is a flawed mindset that play and academics are unrelated and that one must take a backseat to the other.

It is this kind of thinking that is not only taking the fun out of childhood, but also interfering with learning.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

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.

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Posted by on in What If?

girl on monkey bars 500x250

How many times do you imagine a child hears an adult say, “Be careful!”? I suspect it’s a close second to them hearing, “No!” And, if it’s a female child, it may be the number-one phrase coming at them, as studies have shown that girls are cautioned far more often than boys.

This, of course, is a clear and persistent message that one shouldn’t take too many risks. That there are far too many hazards in the world. So, children learn to “stay safe.” They learn to fear.

But outright cautions aren’t the only way in which children are receiving those messages. When a school takes away all traditional playground equipment and replaces it with safe, sanitized (read: boring) plastic, they don’t need to hear the concern spoken aloud to get the message. When a school bans tag or cartwheels, children learn that it’s safer to be sedentary than physically active. When children aren’t allowed to walk – or do much of anything, really – alone, the not-so-subliminal message is that they need to be protected…from everything.

Our society – and its 24-hour news cycles – have generated so much fear that if parents and educators could literally bubble-wrap kids, I believe they would. But, as Lenore Skenazy repeatedly points out, we’re prioritizing fear over facts! She reported just last week that another school has banned cartwheels on the playground – not because there have been any injuries from cartwheels, but because the potential for injuries exists! (Does that mean we should no longer let children ride in cars?)

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

This is my first summer without home-based childcare. Although I work from home, keeping my seven-year-old, only child daughter home with me is not a good option because she is (as previously described on my blog) not very good at entertaining herself. I have work that I need to do, and I certainly don't want her on her device all day long.

Most of the time, she goes to a small nearby childcare center that is play-based. During the summer they have weekly themes, and they offer supplies for different craft projects according to those themes. But they are very low-key, and it's typical for me to go by to pick my daughter up and find the kids doing something like making a cooperative book or practicing a show. [And sometimes they are watching a movie - you can't have everything.] But in general, it's a pretty relaxed environment, and ranges from 2 to maybe 6-7 kids there at one time. She's there during the school year after school, too, but there are more kids then.

Wanting to mix things up a bit, I had also signed her up for two weeks at a bigger, more structured day camp, held at a local elementary school. There were lots of STEAM activities - science and art projects (which are now taking up considerable space around our house). There was plenty of time outside running around, themes for the different days, music, and tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the young counselors. We know a bunch of other families who also attended this camp the first week, and most of the kids loved it.

My daughter? Not so much. After the first day, I basically had to force her to go every day. She kept whining and asking why she couldn't just go to the regular place. (Because I had pre-paid, and was not about to pay for 2 different things at the same time.) The best she could tell me about WHY she didn't like it was that it was too much like school. Reading between the lines a bit, it was like school but without the free play at lunch and recess, without any reading, and without seeing as many of her friends (especially the second week - the second week was very painful). She didn't like having to go from activity to activity on someone else's schedule. She didn't like having to run around outside in the heat. She didn't like being with 150 kids instead of the usual handful.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

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.

apprentice

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.

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