In 1976 my husband and I, along with our 4-year-old daughter and 12-year-old dog, moved to Rome, Italy. Our stay, courtesy of the American Academy in Rome, was originally to be for one year but, happily, it lasted almost three years.
We enrolled Simone, my daughter, in a wonderful Montessori School. Lemon and olive trees were sprinkled about the garden, sunlight poured into classrooms, and an abundance of play, investigations and singing filled each day.
Alas, then the year was over and we had to look for a kindergarten. The school only went through pre-k. Simone started reading quite fluently when she was four years old but she mainly got her joy from running, climbing in the schoolyard, taking part in class impromptu dramas such as a wonderful free-spirited production of the Bremen Town Musicians, and singing, singing, singing. This was a tough act to follow and we came up with no new possibilities. The various schools that we visited (and we went to many including the local state school) had rigid, unimaginative, workbook-filled days for five-year olds. We didn’t know what to do.
Out of desperation, we reached out to the director of the Montessori School and entreated her to allow Simone another year in the school. After much discussion, she agreed. When other parents of kindergarten-age children, heard about our decision, they too decided to keep their children in the school. It all worked out perfectly. Or so we thought.
After the first week of the next school year Simone, with tears trickling down her face, sadly told us that she didn’t like school anymore. We wondered if we made the wrong decision but we asked her to explain why she no longer liked going to school. “It’s boring. Too much work.” Hmm, what was going on?
I went back to the school to speak with her teachers and discovered that they were giving her “schoolwork” to do each day. While the other children were happily splashing about at the water table or painting murals in the art studio, she was sitting alone with paper and pencil, filling in worksheets. The teachers, to their defense, thought that they needed to challenge Simone with academic work because she was already reading and writing, We told them that we were not interested in her doing “school work” and that we would like her to spend her days with all of the other children.
The problem was solved. Simone was once more a happy, bubbly, curious and creative five year old.
Now I sadly think about all of the many kindergarten children who are having the joy of learning through play and exploration drained from their school experiences.
Today the Defending the Early Years Project is launching its 2-minute documentary series #TeachersSpeakOut. You can share this blog post and also share on social media and with friends the video of Bianca Tanis discussing the corporate hijacking of early education at https://www.deyproject.org/dey-2-minute-documentary-series.html
From the #EarlyEd front lines: Now is the time to share our stories. Now is the time to reclaim our voices as experts.