Fighting Back Against the War on Childhood
I’ve written before about the need for early childhood professionals to advocate for the right of children to be children (see here and here). And, as you would imagine, I’m not alone in this battle. For one, research professor and play advocate Dr. Peter Gray is a fierce defender of childhood; and that puts me in excellent company.
In a piece for Psychology Today, Dr. Gray contends that kindergarten and preschool teachers may represent the last stand in the war on childhood – because it is in their classrooms that at least some play still exists. Certainly, early childhood professionals are among those who best understand the importance of and need for play! But Dr. Gray knows – as we all do – that defending play is easier said than done. He writes
[Teachers] are battling the effects of No Child Left Behind, and now Common Core, which have trickled down from the higher grades to K and preschool. They are battling policy makers who know nothing about childhood, who ignore the piles of research showing the value of play and the long-term harm of early academic training, and who see standardized test scores as the end-all and be-all of education. They are battling administrators, who either have fallen for the pro-testing propaganda or are cynically pretending they believe it in order to preserve their high-salaried positions. They are battling teachers in the grades above, who tell them that their job is to prepare little children for the next stage in school by teaching them to sit still, do worksheets, and suppress their urges to play and explore. They are battling parents, who have come to believe that their 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds will never get into Harvard if they “just play” in preschool and kindergarten.
Those are a lot of battles to wage! And all of them are exhausting and frustrating. What’s really frustrating is that they’d be unnecessary if policy makers, administrators, and parents could just be enlightened!
In Dr. Gray’s article, he shares stories from preschool teachers who have had their housekeeping centers and play materials confiscated. The kindergarten teacher told that by January the children’s entire day should be spent in their seats, doing paper-and-pencil activities. The teacher whose superintendent walked in as the children were singing and asked her, “You’re going to stop singing and start teaching, right?”
Those teachers who considered themselves “lucky” were the ones with administrators who get it, such as the assistant superintendent of elementary education with a background in early childhood, who supports developmentally appropriate kindergartens. Unfortunately, few administrators have such a background. And if, for example, they were a 7th-grade history or high school PE teacher before becoming a principal or superintendent, chances are they have no inkling that early childhood is unlike any other phase of the lifespan. That young children are a whole different animal with very different requirements! Even some with a background in elementary education haven’t been acquainted with the unique needs of young children.
I’ve often proclaimed that, in order to achieve success in this war against childhood, we must get the parents on our side. Help them to understand their little ones’ true needs so they’ll stand and fight with us. I still believe this. And it’s why I created my series of reproducible parent letters to help teachers pass along the message.
Now, to help bring administrators and policy makers to our side, I’ve created a series of reproducible brochures to make it easier to spread the word to those in charge. You can use them as is, or you can extract material from them to include in communications of your own. I don’t care, as long as the information gets out!
When I was considering the creation of these materials, I requested feedback from recipients of my e-newsletter. One gentleman wrote to tell me of an experience he’d witnessed at NAEYC’s Professional Learning Institute: An elementary principal was almost in tears when he admitted that his eyes had been opened during the session and that he would now view early childhood differently. He openly apologized for his lack of understanding!
That’s the kind of occurrence (miracle?) we’d all like to see happen every single day. The fact that it happened for one administrator gives me hope that it can happen for most, if not all, of them. What also gives me hope is the fact that early childhood professionals themselves asked me to create these brochures! I’m so impressed by their the determination to do what’s right for children!
I hope that you’ll find strength in their courage and that, in whatever way you can, big or small, you’ll join us in fighting against the war on childhood!
Want administrators & policymakers to understand early childhood and developmentally appropriate practice?
Share these REPRODUCIBLE BROCHURES with them!
Earlier Isn’t Better
Why Play Matters
Why Recess Matters
What You Should Know About Screen Use
Sitting Does Not Equal Learning
Worksheets Do Not Equal Learning
Great, I totally agree with you. But how can we bring about change? I really want my child to play and not sit and do his hw sheets after coming home. But I cant help.
I believe you can help, Gayatri. I believe all parents can help by advocating for their children. Speaking up to teachers and administrators. Refusing to let their children do homework. Arm yourself with the research. Find other like-minded parents. Then fight back!