Early Childhood Education Insanity (my rant)

two multicolored slinky toys

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Our first grandchild arrived in August, and as many grandparents come to understand, things have changed since we raised our own children. Babies don’t sleep with crib bumpers, or on their tummies. Children don’t wear winter coats in car seats. I most definitely have zero applicable knowledge when it comes to infants. Times have changed, research has changed, thinking has changed.

My wheelhouse, though, is education. I wonder – often as it turns out – if my own thinking as a teacher is outdated. I was reminded of this when a colleague shared the school district’s current Early Childhood (PreK) progress report with me – which was over 10 pages long. These 3- and 4-year-olds have been “in school” barely 5 weeks and already their teachers are tasked with assessing their progress.

Progress in what, exactly? When one is 3- or 4-years old, shouldn’t the ultimate goal be to learn to love learning? To get along with others and take turns? Socialize?  A 10-page checklist of skills – by category – seems ridiculous for a little one who has only been on this planet for less than 5 trips around the sun.

It did make me curious: what exactly is being asked of young children, so I did some browsing through Boston Public School’s Early Childhood page. Check out the “robust questions” intended to spark conversation with 3- or 4-year olds in Centers found in the vocabulary section of this document,  “What is the inspiration for your work?” “What is your plan for structure?”

Looking at the assessments recommended for this age group, there are a number of screening and assessment tools recommended and required.  Some would be useful as a child’s language development progresses; one that seems “optional” but noted in use in some school PreK programs is Fountas & Pinnell benchmark testing. That’s right, some schools endeavor to find a 3-year-olds “independent” reading level. No, they are not kidding. Shouldn’t we be reading to children this young and not expecting them to read to us?

Here’s my question as a new grandparent and a retired educator:

When do young children get to just be young children?

Is there such a driving need to prove children are “learning” at such young ages that reasonable expectations, developmental appropriateness and an emphasis on developing social skills and love of learning been replaced by assessment, evaluation, and checklists?

My hope is that the pendulum swings back to more child-friendly early childhood education before my granddaughter reaches school-age.


Power of verbal language

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of head bobbing in place of actual vocabulary with my students – and not just with second language learners.  It’s got me second guessing whether or not I’ve been as focused on oral language as I should be.

My current crop of students are really quite chatty. I don’t think they’ve ever encountered a moment topic, social or academic, that did not trigger commentary 🙂 — quite a bit of it off topic.  At least it seems that way to me – maybe I’m getting tired and ready to cut the apron strings.

I find myself saying “use your words” more often lately and I’m wondering why.

The way I look at it, the use of oral language has a huge impact on students’ written communication. I often ask the students to tell me orally what it is that they mean to say in written form.  And then, instead of words flowing out of their lips, I ask them to make those words come out of their pencil. This is not a new and unique strategy — I know teachers do this all of the time.

What is troubling to me is that when my students resort to head bobbing, that oral language piece is, well, languishing and the proof often shows up in writing. Sentences are developmentally simpler than more verbal peers.

There can be no let up. Even with just 7 weeks to go, there will be a renewed effort to insist on using verbal language on Monday.