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Posted by on in Early Childhood

kandinsky painting

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.

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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 What If?

Happy Kids

I got quite the shock recently – and, for a change, it wasn’t an unpleasant one. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Let me explain…

In preparation for an interview with Tim Walker, an American teacher now working in Finland, I was reading his book, Teach Like Finland. There, in the last section of the last chapter, was the heading, “Don’t forget joy.” Turns out that in 2016, Finnish comprehensive schools implemented Finland’s newest core curriculum – in which joy is prioritized as a learning concept!

Imagine that! I suspect you may be as stunned as I was. I mean, what the heck? Someone actually understands that joy and learning are synonymous in childhood – and that if learning is to continue to be meaningful, it must continue to be joyful!

As I wrote in What If Everybody Understood Child Development?, we don’t have a lot of research proving that joy and learning go hand in hand. We do have the results of a recent study by two Finnish educators (yes, them again!) that points to several sources of joy in the classroom. They include

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Posted by on in What If?

1950s schoolchildren sitting at desks 777x388

One of my least favorite sentences in the entire universe is some version of “It’s always been done this way.” Just by typing it I can feel my blood pressure rise!

Why, I wonder, would anyone find that to be a suitable response to any question? In my opinion, it’s not a reasonable explanation for the continuation of any practice. And I find it particularly maddening when it’s used as an excuse – whether spoken aloud or not – for continuing to make children sit still to learn!

I imagine that when school was first conceived, the easiest thing to do was simply to have the children seated in rows, with the teacher at the head of the classroom. Mind you, I don’t consider “easy” to be a good-enough reason for much, either. But back then they didn’t have any research upon which to base their decisions. The same cannot be said for today’s decision makers.

Today, we know that sitting for more than 10 minutes at a time makes us tired and reduces concentration. We also know – thanks to the work of impassioned educators like Eric Jensen – that honest-to-goodness attention can only be maintained for about 10 minutes or less. So, how could anybody consider sitting for long stretches at a time to be ideal for learning?

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Posted by on in What If?

child and computer 1450x725

I’m not a fan of fear tactics. In fact, I often can be heard railing against them, as I believe the media’s obsession with them has made parents paranoid and forced children into a childhood that doesn’t look remotely like childhood should.

Take, for example, the belief that earlier is better. Whether we’re discussing athletics or academics, parents have come to accept as true that if they don’t get their children involved in as much as possible, as early as possible, their little ones will fall behind and never live up to their full potential. Because of this belief, far too many children are being asked to do that for which they’re not developmentally ready. The result, far too often, is frustration and failure for kids, and even an intense dislike for whatever it is they’ve been asked to master – like reading and physical activity!

Another myth under which today’s parents are laboring is that it is a dangerous, dangerous world and they must be ever-vigilant to prevent their children from being snatched, or worse. And why wouldn’t they believe such a thing, when the evidence seems to be irrefutable? Whether it’s via traditional or social media, we’re receiving constant messages about child abduction and stranger danger. But the fact remains that stranger danger is yet another falsehood and children today are no less safe than they were when I was a kid (which was a very long time ago). But how are parents to know that? How are they to believe statistics when our society has become so adept at instilling fear?

One of the consequences of this particular myth is that children aren’t being allowed to take the risks that were once a natural part of childhood – and growth. Autonomy and the ability to problem solve are among the characteristics being sacrificed at the altar of overprotection.

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