My daughter was born in 1972, the heyday of the Women’s Movement. It somehow passed me by. When friends and family visited me to see the new baby, inevitably the question, “when are you going back to work” entered into the conversation. I was totally ecstatic about staying home to be with my baby as long as my artist husband Simon, my baby Simone and I could hold out. By some miracle, and with the help of a rent-controlled apartment, I was able to stretch out my home time for two and a half years. We were rather poor but I was happy as a lark. I didn’t care if, as many friends told me, I was being rather retro in my domesticity. Each day my baby surprised me with something new – a smile, a word, a gurgling along with a song.
My problem was that I knew almost nothing about how to care for an infant or a toddler. I was full of questions. Why was my friend’s baby crawling when my little sunshine was content to sit with her toys and play? Baby Jennifer was starting to walk at 11 months. My Simone took one flop at eleven months and decided to put off walking for another two months. Luckily for me, a wise friend gave me the gift of Berry Brazelton’s book Infants and Mothers: Differences in Development This book was a classic presentation of child development and a “must read” guide for new parents in the 1970’s. .In this book, Dr. Brazelton followed the development of three different babies. All three of the children fell under the umbrella of being “normal” but their development and personalities were greatly diverse. Reading this helped me to stop making comparisons. I just concentrated on and celebrated my daughter’s achievements. Now let’s jump ahead to the present and to the Common Core Learning Standards for children in Pre-k through grade 2. Can you imagine how devastated I would have been if there was a checklist of what standards Simone should have mastered at the end of each year? What if the “standard” for year one would say that by the end of the first year, the 12 month old child will be starting to walk? Perhaps I might have considered my beautiful, and bright baby to be a failure! Thank goodness that T. Berry Brazelton’s examples so clearly illustrated, that children don’t develop skills in a lockstep manner.
You might be asking yourself what my examples have do with the Common Core Learning Standards for Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Grade One and Grade Two?
As an early childhood teacher, I always had high standards for my children. That said, I also understood, that I needed to allow young children a wide berth for growth and success socially and academically. For some children, learning to read and write was as easy as ABC. Others needed more time to put the puzzle pieces of written language together.
The common core learning standards are in desperate need of revision! Whoever is creating and publishing these standards needs to remove the standards for Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade. Begin the standards with second grade and early childhood teachers will have the big picture of what their students eventually must be able to do in all of the academic areas. Wouldn’t it make so much more sense for the early childhood standard to say that “by the end of second grade, children will ask and answer questions about key details in a text and answer such questions as who, where, when why and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text” and leave it at that? It isn’t unrealistic to expect that” by the end of second grade children will compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.” Some children will be meeting this standard by the end of first grade, just as baby Jennifer could walk at 11 months. Others, however, may need a little more time to reach this particular standard, just as Simone needed a little more time to gain the confidence to start walking. I can tell you for a fact that the adult Jennifer and the adult Simone are doing just fine with their walking, talking, reading and writing.
Perhaps if there were early childhood educators and parents of young children on the committee that drew up these common core learning standards, there would have been more understanding of how young children develop. Perhaps each skill should not be broken down by grade but rather by what we would expect a child to know before going into third grade. This might take some of the stress out of the early childhood classes and allow for a return to classes where children have time and opportunities to explore, investigate, take risks without fear of failure and, (might I add this controversial word?) play! George Bernard Shaw wrote, “What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child,” Let’s not be lead by an unrealistic checklist of skills for young children. Instead, let’s heed the words of George Bernard Shaw and give young children many opportunities for pursuing knowledge in classrooms that respect the diversity of each child. We should be creating educational environments that acknowledge the wisdom and research of Dr. Brazelton and so many other educators such as Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn and Carlina Rinaldi, who tirelessly advocate for developmentally respectful education practices. Let’s not let a checklist of inappropriately constructed early childhood standards take away the child’s joy of learning and the teachers’ joy of teaching!
Humanism and an understanding of child development are, so far, attributes too difficult to “measure” for the people who are making decisions for educators and students. If you can’t measure it, it just doesn’t exist for them. Getting kids to do things at a younger and younger age seems their goal…but why? As you point out, it’s not productive or valuable to the learner. Hope more people listen to your voice.
Thank you David. I hope you can help by spreading this blog around to people who need to read it. Perhaps to parents who should be making a big fuss about what is happening to their children in school!
I completely agree! I hope those in charge will wake up. Nothing wrong with saying, “By the end of 2nd grade…”
I teach kindergarten, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve told parents that at the end of second grade you can rarely tell which child learned to read in Kindergarten, and which child didn’t break into fluency until that year. Your suggestion is spot on.
Amy, your statement brings back memories of parent-teacher meetings that I had. When a parent noted that some child in the class was already reading and his wasn’t reading yet, I asked the father to tell me the exact age, in years and months, when his wife began to read. When he said that he didn’t know, I asked him if his wife read now. That brought a lot home and allowed me to then have an intelligent parent-teacher meeting where I could discuss what really important activities their child was involved in.
The majority of teachers and a small number of parents ( Small because in my country it seems like the parents are stuck in a competitive rut, and don’t see beyond ) can understand that there is too much pressure brought on the children, whom by the end of certain years in primary school are already demotivated and loosing interest in education because their self-esteem is so low! I totally agree with your post and sincerely would love to see this change! Children are being robbed of play and fun!
Lovely to read your spot-on analysis, which you’ve presented so eloquently, Renee! (And wonderful photo of you as a new mom and Simone as a new person!) I wrote a tiny Comment in last week’s NYT article on Common Core in a similar vein, in regard to the wide range of normal development and the dangers of demanding abstraction before experience, etc. (The article addressed the problems of a fourth grade boy in regard to Common Core and testing standards, and never acknowledged that his late December birthdate placed him in the cohort of youngest fourth graders in the country.) I hope the right people hear your important voice!
Thank you Nancy. I also read your important article. Sometimes I would have a child in my class with, say, a February birthday. The child would seem to be less mature than expected. When I had a parent meeting I found out that the child was born three months premature. Bingo!
Thank you so much for writing this response to the intensity and ferocity of the common core’s early childhood standards. I’ve heard so many people say that the K standards “aren’t bad” or “don’t seem too hard” or “my kids can do what the standards call for.” Your post helps me respond to those comments. Just because some kids can do these things and jump through the hoops to meet the CCSS pacing, it doesn’t mean that all young children SHOULD HAVE TO meet these requirements by an arbitrary day on the calendar. The pressure to get their young children to meet these standards can force early childhood teachers to eliminate lots of inquiry opportunities, play time, and unscripted moments in their classrooms (often against their better judgment), all in the name of marching forward, ever forward, quickly forward in lock step. Pre-K/Kindergarten shouldn’t feel like a race, a victory march, or an obstacle course to be conquered. XO
As always, I love your posts. I do think that more than a reconsideration of the CCSS, we actually need to do away with them entirely. Many states have their own perfectly good standards. And, in my opinion, standards are not the cause for good teaching. I much preferred when my state had “benchmarks” by which we could at least see if a student needed some extra help. In fact, I would love for us to spend more time finding ways to engage students who don’t find school engaging. I guess that’s why I was an early childhood educator when I started. There are so many wonderful things about the early years. Let’s not destroy those.
Thank you for this!!
LOVE this! Not only do you capture the essence of what it means to be a mother, you take this into what it means to be a responsive teacher! We are all so quick to “forget” what we know intuitively and from what we research and to trust “others” to know more or better than we do! I would only take this argument further suggesting that all of education have this same look and feel and God forbid, playful element to it. Why do we need to become suddenly “serious” by 3rd grade? As a 3rd grade teacher for years I had non readers come to me and yet by the time they let they were reading along with the others and as someone else said before me, you could not have identified her as that “late” reader. While I agree that our kids are being robbed of an appropriate education I would only add that the same thing is happening all the way up through High School!! We need to play and be curious and think for all of our lives! Thanks SO much for posting!
Tomasan, you’re spot-on the mark. I only wrote about K- 2 because those are the grades that I taught and that I now work with. However, if you look back on my blogs, I spent a day at the Brooklyn New School in Steve Wilson’s invcredible third grade classroom. It’s a room full of exploration and inquiry, not to mention play. His children love school and do very well. I think that all classes should be like his, yes Tomasan, all the way through high school. Thank you for bringing up that very important point.
You’ve read my mind. I’ve been itching to write my own blog post about exactly this. I’m currently living this as my reality on two different fronts: as a teacher and a mother of a Pre-K child. As a teacher I’m shielding my first graders from ridiculous hoops that the CCSS is asking them to jump through. Yes, a few of them can do it, but at the expense of the majority who clearly aren’t ready? As a mother, I’ve been recently put in a tricky situation with my son’s preschool. A letter came home in March, listing kindergarten readiness skills, in which “kindergarten teachers expect your child to walk into kindergarten with.” First of all, which kindergarten teachers? The list consisted of some normal things, like sit and listen to a story, know colors, shapes, etc. The part that sent me into a frenzy was “Identify 26 upper/lower case letters, know all letter sounds from upper/lower case, read/identify 24 sight words.” The letter went on to state that “If you feel your child is not confident in any of these areas, you might want to consider not sending him/her to kindergarten in the fall.” Whaaaaat? Who came up with these benchmarks? Definitely NOT the kindergarten teachers I know! I stewed about this, worried that many parents were probably panicked that their children didn’t know letter sounds, (mine one of them) and would be (heaven forbid!) instigating a letter/sound bootcamp this summer! I carefully crafted a response to my son’s teacher, giving input as a former K teacher, etc. and hoping that I didn’t sound like a “know it all” because we’ve all had those types of parents who tell us how to do our jobs! His teacher’s response was “We’re aiming to the high end, because not all parents are sending their children to public school.” I was saddened that a fellow early childhood teacher was not recognizing that this type of “preparation” is panicking parents and robbing children of preschool years that should consist of block building and the dress up corner, regardless of where a parent sends a child to school. Instead they’re learning sight words. Well, a handful of them are learning sight words. You’re probably wondering why I’m not pulling my son from this school. Unfortunately, as a full-time working parent, there aren’t quality, developmentally appropriate, full-time options available where I live. Maybe I need to start my own. 😉
I am speechless. Have you spoken with other parents? Perhaps there needs to be a parent-revolution! I saw something like this at
a school were I was doing some consulting. The teachers were putting together the most inappropriate “summer packet” for the incoming kindergarten children. I flipped! I certainly gave my input and gave some other suggestions for a kindergarten packet. Unfortunately I never followed through to see what happened. I’m going to write to one of the k teachers now to see what they are doing.
So sad to have to deal with this – the children, the teachers and the parents. We do need some kind of revolution, don’t we?
Renee, I am so glad you wrote about this – you read my mind as well. I have tried to raise this issue at our daughters’ school for a few years, with not so much response. The crazy thing is that the parent-teacher conference you describe is now sometimes reversed, with me as the parent trying to respond (in a sensitive way and yes, without telling the teacher how to do her job) when my daughter’s kindergarten teacher raised concerns about wanting to stop my then 4-year old’s letter reversals from “becoming a pattern”. I think that our administrators know better, but wonder what is happening with some of the teachers. Is developmental psychology being emphasized less in ed schools, or is this a response to pressures brought on by the new standards? I wonder if perhaps like-minded parents and teachers can work together to highlight what’s being asked of kids today that’s not developmentally appropriate.
This facebook group is exploring the issues raised in this article and seeking to inform parents about developmentally inappropriate Common Core standards’ demands on their young chldren. Please join us!
Thank you. I will join and I hope other parents and teachers who are readers of my blog will join too!
Wow, Renee! Beautifully put! I have been thinking about this a lot as we wrapped our year in K- and after reading an article that shows no difference by age 11 if kids learned to read at 5 or 6- what are the standards really doing?! How can anyone defend five year olds being “below standard” when they are joyful, playful, inquiring, developing beings?! Thank you for always being an advocate of play and joy!
Thank you Kristi. There’s so much important “work” of childhood that young children miss out on when we push them into early, heavy-duty academics. The irony is that when they playfully explore a topic that really interests them, they do so much more “life-long learning” than when they do guided reading with a silly and uninspiring A,B,C, D and E level book.
Renee, your article on standards is a joy to read! As aways, you clarify the issues quite well, and I couldn’t agree more.
Ironically, I was able to put the pre-k standards to a bit of (mischievous) good use a year ago, during my final year teaching pre-k. A new principal had taken the helm, with experience limited to middle school. At one point she railed about my play-based curriculum, stating that the children would never measure up to the Common Core. I responded that the pre-k standards include quality, child-directed play, and luckily was able to hold the line. (The new pre-k teacher has unfortunately not fared as well under the pressure.)
I find it ironic that the pre-k standards, which do focus primarily on inappropriate one-size-fits-all expectations, promote some good early-childhood practice as well. It appears that knowledgeable people were tapped for at least part of the ignominious task.
Herb, your school lost a treasure when you retired! I’m curious to know which of the pre-k standards seem appropriate to you?
As always, with warm wishes,
Domain 1 (of the Pre-k Foundation for the Common Core):
1.) Actively and confidently engages in play as a means of exploration and learning.”
(followed by descriptors ‘a’ thru ‘f’ of mature aspects of play.)
Of course, the above is one-size-fits-all, just as the all-too-numerous content standards that follow. However, it did give me cover to tell the new principal that we are supposed to play in pre-k. Additional references to play appear in a few of the content standards, such as:
“Uses existing objects to represent desired or imagined objects in play or other purposeful way (e.g., plastic banana for a telephone).” Or, “Sustains interactions by cooperatively helping, and suggesting new ideas for play.”
Perhaps it’s the ultimate insult to try to standardize the development of play behaviors, but under the circumstances, I felt much better having them included.
in my chats with you on this topic and reading this engaging and beautifully written post and thoughtful comments, this has become my soundbite in discussions with my fellow k-2nd grade parents. thank you. the response is always, “that is so true, and right my child did not learn to walk until 2 but what does that matter now she is doing back flips.” and many well respected educational philososphies like Waldorf don’t introduce reading until age 7. I am choosing, despite the challenges, to change careers now to education after having two children and a thriving business career. my challenge as a graduate school student and then new teacher will be to have the grit and resilience to continually defend the play, inquiry and child led interest work with my professors and future principles. we learn through living and as a small example when my own children have used an incorrect pronunciation/use of a word or a phrase I won’t correct them with “no this is how you say this” I just simply engage in further conversation about it to continue the dialogue and then restate their statement correctly so they will hear it in the course of our conversation. I’ll bring it up again later so they continue to hear it and eventually, by owning the change themselves, the correct phrase or word happens. That is how we learn to speak through interaction and not instruction. every faculty is the same ……corrections get in the way of letting ideas, creativity and communication flow from all of us.