My daughter was born in 1972, the heyday of the Women’s Movement. When it came to being a new parent, the movement seemed to pass me by. Friends and family visited me to see the new baby and inevitably the question, “when are you going back to work” entered the conversation. My women friends were appalled when I told them that I was totally ecstatic about staying home to be with my baby for as long as my artist husband, 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 financially poor but I was happy as a lark. I didn’t care if, as many friends told me, I was being too retro in my domesticity. Every 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. Dr. Brazelton followed the growth and 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.
Now let’s jump ahead to the present and to the Common Core Learning Standards for children in Pre-k through grade 2. 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? Can you imagine how devastated I would have been if there was a checklist of the standards Simone should have mastered by 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 made it so clear that children don’t develop skills in a lockstep manner.
As an early childhood teacher, I always had high standards for my students. 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 for early childhood are in desperate need of revision! 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 would not have been 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 Mr. Shaw and provide young children many opportunities to pursue knowledge in classrooms that respect the uniqueness 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!
The block area in your classroom presents a perfect opportunity to encourage collaboration, creativity and curriculum connections. I’m going to share a little bit of what has been happening in two New York City public school classrooms.
The teachers noticed that the children who played in the block center seemed unfocused and were mainly involved in parallel play. We talked about some strategies to address this.
The first step was a class block lesson. The children sat in a circle and each child was invited to pick one block from the block center, any size or shape, return to the circle and put the block on the floor behind them. Then, one by one, each child had a turn to add his or her block to a growing construction. The only rule was that their block had to touch another block. As blocks were added, the children made observations about what the structure looked like. “It’s a letter y” “Oh, now it looks like a house.” “The house is getting taller.” “It’s a skyscraper”.
This activity was done a few times during the next two weeks. Then the teacher, at meeting, asked the children for ideas of what could be built in the block center. They had many suggestions that she charted. A zoo. Central Park Zoo. A Car Wash. A City. A Space City.
After children had time to come up with ideas, the teacher excitedly told them of her idea. She told them that the next morning, when they came into the classroom, there would be sign up sheets for working with a team at the block center. Each team could have four builders. Each team would have a full week to work together in the block center. The children were psyched!
When they came into the room the next day, the sign up sheets were spread out on the different tables and children excitedly signed up on one of the sheets. To our amazement there was no conflict about which sheet to sign up on. We anticipated that there might be a problem but we were pleasantly surprised.
After the sheets were signed, each group had time to meet and decide what they would be building together.
Then each group was given a week to work together. At class meetings, there were discussions about materials and blueprints. What was interesting was that some groups came up with their own ideas for creating blueprints. They cut strips and shapes from construction paper that they could move around until it pleased everyone.
Some groups had changed the focus of their project by the time their week came up. That was fine!
One group thought of their work in terms of the construction that they saw happening in the neighborhood. They wore hard hats and goggles and added plastic tools to the center. Always, though, there was so much collaboration and pride.
One group worked on building a carwash.
One week the builders were constructing the Central Park Zoo but they felt like they needed more animals.
The teacher suggested that the children in the art center might consider constructing some animals for the zoo. Here’s how one girl planned out and executed the construction of a tiger.
Here is her Choice Time Reflection Journal entry:
Every once in a while, the teacher sat at the side of the center and jotted down some observations. Later in the day she used these notes to reflect on what was happening and to plan next steps to help scaffold the play.
I might consider opening a real woodwork center, but that’s another blog post in the future!
This wonderful work didn’t happen overnight. The teachers first worked really hard to rearrange their classroom environment so that there was plenty of space in the center for building and that the center was protected from the active movement in the classroom. They were also careful to arrange the blocks so that children could see the mathematical relationships between the different sizes and so they could be easily accessed and returned during the clean-up period.
It has been so exciting for me, the staff developer, to observe the growing excitement of the children and the satisfaction and joy of the teachers. Bravo to them!
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct. Carl Jung