Let's Get the "academics" Out of Preschool
Children deserve a childhood of wonder, rather than a childhood of stress, assessment, and boring activities.
We live in an ever changing and complex landscape for early education. There is significant research that tells us early academics does not support later school success (Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., Heid, C., Shapiro, G., Broene, P., & ... Westat, I, 2010), research that tells us early brain development needs to be developmentally appropriate hands-on explorations (Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. A. eds., 2000) and that we need to prepare children with 21st century skills (P12, 2014)) that include innovative thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Why then do we keep forcing this idea of academics (discreet skill development) at earlier and earlier ages. There is simply not an early educator out there that doesn’t believe this is bad practice, but administrators, politicians and more importantly publishing companies keep pushing it.
Preparing Children for the Future
When we talk about the future of children it is first important to understand and recognize that children are citizens of the present and as such have the right to live as full participant in the present. With that said, we need to look at the pressures we are putting on such young children. Children as young as three are now being forced to sit for hours a day working on academic tasks that their brains simply are not ready take on. Too often we hear stories of how young children can “learn to read, if they are just taught how to focus on the task”, but over and over this is proven wrong. Many parents bought in to this same scheme when they bought My Baby Can Read and Baby Einstein products, which were exposed as promoting false information about young children’s ability to retain academic information.
We need to truly think about the childhood we want for our children now. Do we want a childhood of stress, and pressure of doing things they are not ready for? Is this the childhood we would have wanted for ourselves?
What Will the Future Hold
All parents want their children to be successful, it’s why they buy into many of the products promising that their child can read at 6 months. However, we are as Mary Catherine Bateson (2012) and many others stated “preparing children for a future we can not imagine”. In fact this statement is true of most education in the 21st Century.
Technology has changed our world at such a fast pace that as adults we often struggle to keep up. Those that have thrived and succeeded in this technological age are individuals who are creative, imaginative thinkers, problem solvers, and are not afraid to make mistakes and persevere. Those that will be successful in the future will not be afraid of failure, they will see it as an opportunity to try again (Wagner, 2012). This is however, exactly what we are doing to many young children. We are teaching them that there is only one right answer and that you must find it. This is scary when you think of it. We are teaching them exactly the opposite of what they will need to know to succeed. In fact, research is already showing this effect. Kim (2010) discovered that children today are already demonstrating less creative thinking abilities than they have since the early 19th century.
One of the biggest problems with early childhood programming today is how do we evaluate whether it is working. This is why so many programs have gone to academically focused curriculum. It is easier to evaluate than things like innovative thinking and creativity. There are however, many ways to evaluate children that don’t involve checklists and ticked boxes. Observational tools are the best measures of success and today’s technologies such as iPads are an excellent tool for teachers to use in evaluating children’s progress (Puerling & Fowler, 2014). Teachers can use iPads as simple documentation tools or find many different apps that support observation and evaluation.
Some Innovative Ideas for Evaluating 21st Century Skills
-Measure creative thinking, give children specific scenarios asking them to resolve tasks, then what if statements to make them re-think the scenarios, how often are they able to re-think before getting frustrated or bored.
-Measure problem-solving skills, give children tasks with objects that pose a problem; measure if they are able to find a solution, how much time it takes them to find a solution, and then slightly change the task. How many times will they complete tasks before getting frustrated or bored.
-Measure imaginative visual skills, tell child to draw a picture of somewhere they would like to go, encourage them to include as much detail as possible, when they are done ask them if they can think of anymore details to add, how much more detail are they able to give before they become frustrated or bored.
These are only brief examples to demonstrate that there are many ways we can approach evaluating young children, but we are not suggesting only one way.
As we move forward preparing children for the future, we hope teachers, administrators, and politicians will stop for just a moment and think. What do we want for our children now and for the future? What does it take now to support the kind of success we want for them? Hopefully they will realize we start by getting the “academics” out of preschool.
Bateson, M.C. (2012). It’s not what we know, but what we are willing to learn.
Parents League of New York Review 2012.
Kim, K. (2010). The creativity crisis. Wiliam and Mary College. Retrieved from http://www.wm.edu/research/ideation/professions/smart-yes.-creative-not-so-much.5890.php
Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 21st Century Skills Framework. Retrieved on1112/2014 from http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework.
Puerling, B. & Fowler, A. (2014). Technology tools for teachers and teaching. In
Donahue, C. (Eds), Technology and Digital Media for the Early Years. London:
Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., Heid, C., Shapiro, G., Broene, P., & ... Westat, I. (2010).
Head Start Impact Study. Final Report. Administration For Children & Families.
Shonkoff, J. P., Phillips, D. A., National Academy of Sciences - National Research
Council, W. F., & Institute of Medicine (NAS), W. D. (NAS), Washington, DC.
(2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood
Wagner, T. (2011). Creating Innovators. Creating Innovators: The Making of Young
People Who Will Change the World. New York, NY: Simon