Let’s Spark a Revolution in Early Childhood Education!

Over the 40 years I’ve worked in early childhood education, I’ve believed many times that a revolution in the field was imminent. Heaven knows we’ve certainly needed one, as misguided policies have brought about increasingly inappropriate practices. Surely people who understand child development would finally begin making the decisions about ECE!

Clearly, I’ve been naïve.

As regards a child’s need to move, I first saw the revolution coming when Howard Gardner brought his Theory of Multiple Intelligences to the world. Dr. Gardner identified the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence as one way of learning and knowing, thus validating the connection between mind and body. But, nope; despite the way in which educators gravitated toward Gardner’s work, there was no revolution.

Then came all of the incredible brain research demonstrating the link between moving and learning. To this day, there are stories in the news about the amazing impact physical activity has on optimal brain development and functioning. Still, even Dr. John Ratey’s contention that movement is like Miracle-Gro for the brain has done little to impact flawed education policy.

But once people began hearing about the childhood obesity crisis and all of its horrifying statistics (40 percent of children ages 5 to 8 with at least one heart disease risk factor; one in three American children at risk for type 2 diabetes; etc.), I felt sure the revolution would come and people would at the very least grant children’s bodies greater respect. How could they not? Well, as you know, even the fact of hypertension at age 5 didn’t bring about a revolution.

In fact, things have only gotten worse for children, despite all of the research we have available to us. For example,

  • the Common Core standards for kindergarten were designed with no input from anybody familiar with child development, or in the early childhood field. The resulting requirements (like the one that all children read by the end of kindergarten) were more informed by the “earlier-is-better” myth than by science.
  • the above-mentioned myth has taken hold of society, putting increasing pressure on the little ones to perform in ways nature never intended them to.
  • parents now overlook play-based preschools and childcare centers in favor of those that emphasize early academics.
  • the ongoing belief that the body has nothing to do with the brain means children are sitting more than ever in school, expected to do without recess and fill in answers and bubbles on worksheets.
  • the belief that digital devices are more educational than play means not only that children sit more, but also that they’re subjected to the potential for myopia, language delays, depression, aggression, and more. There is little to no consideration of the fact that children learn best by doing. By learning through all of their senses.

More than once over these past four decades, I’ve wanted to scream, cry, or pull out my hair over what is being done to children. I wasn’t sure which action to choose last week when I came across these three stories:

I think perhaps screaming, crying, and pulling out hair are called for here! I mean, what the heck? Social distancing for preschoolers? And no child, of any age, should be forced to sit in front of a computer for five hours a day – let alone a three-year-old! As for the last item…well, I have no words.

These stories are all the more egregious because there are educators and early childhood organizations behind these ludicrous choices! What kind of educator thinks these decisions are reasonable?

Still, a person’s gotta hope. I know that if I didn’t, I couldn’t carry on with my work. So, I’m going to hope there are many other stories out there that are the opposite of these three. I’m going to hope that during this pandemic, many, many parents discover the value of play and downtime for their little ones. Who realize that active learning is authentic learning.

This morning I read a story about teachers, used to standing all day, struggling because they now must sit in order to teach. That gives me hope that teachers will now understand why kids must move in order to learn. Why sitting all day in school is a really bad idea.

I’m going to hope that educators freed from the rigid restrictions policymakers and administrators have imposed on them will return to developmentally appropriate practice. That they’ll begin to stand up to those who try to force them to implement harmful practices.

We know that even once we’re released from social isolation, life will never be quite the same again. Life can still be good, but there are many things that won’t return to what we think of as “normal.” I pray that current policies in early childhood education will be among them – because “normal” was never good enough.

There are many things beyond our control right now. But not everything is. Let’s take this opportunity to observe our children and to learn from what we see. Let’s rise up and spark a revolution! It’s long overdue.



  • Ellen Cogan says:

    This is the time! We ALL have to raise our voices NOW!! We need to find EVERY panel and group that is trying to “fix” education and insist that early childhood educators are in the mix, that PLAY and MOVEMENT and choices for little ones are mandated, not just allowed.
    How can our voices be amplified???
    I’m in. Count on me!

    • Rae says:

      Love the passion, Ellen! And I completely agree that we can no longer be silent! But, my question is the same as yours: How can our voices be amplified?

      I’ve been venting through my writing for decades now, as have many others. Still, there’s been no change. So, what can we do that’s different? As I mentioned in response to Cheri’s comment, I’m going to create an online course around advocacy — to help more ECE professionals know how to have a voice. Beyond that, I’m at a loss. But I’m open to ideas!!

      • Cindy Robles says:

        Count me in! I look forward to learning more about early childhood advocacy. Thank you for creating a spark in me and I promise to make a change in my community. Thanks for holding the torch and leading us all.

  • Cheri Overstreet says:

    Thank you so much Rae for your passion and dedication to developmentally appropriate practices! I have felt the same hope about how this pandemic could finally change the way things are being done. And also felt the same disappointment that many inappropriate, and even detrimental, practices are being implemented. However as a public school preschool teacher so much of what’s required of me is up to policy makers. And as you’ve pointed out, many of them have little to no experience in early childhood. And now I fear more and more funding being taken away from our programs. Perhaps the whole system needs to break down and the revolution can come then with total redesign of our schools.

    • Rae says:

      Thanks for your input, Cheri! I agree that the whole system needs a redesign.

      I’ve decided that my next online course must be on advocacy. Beyond that — and the ranting I do through my writing — I’m at a loss as to what to do. I’d love to create a webinar for admins & policymakers who are clueless about early childhood…but how do we get them to attend it?? I’ve heard from a lot of people who want to be part of a revolution since publishing this post. Maybe we need to form a working group of some sort. If you have any ideas, please share them!

  • Brian Crooks says:

    As a relatively new teacher in the field(4 yrs), I would love a training on advocacy which I have been saying I wanted for a long time now. Please keep me informed about your training when you decide to do it. Thanks for fighting the good fight (the best, actually)!!

  • Brian says:

    I love the topic and your comments. I’ve been teaching for 25 years. I’ve seen some positive changes in the field but the negative ones you mentioned infuriate me too. I believe it’s due to the business world running the schools now. It’s a for profit set up. Educators need to be involved in decisions related to students.

    • Rae says:

      Educators absolutely need to be involved in decisions related to students! It’s absolutely preposterous that educators aren’t invited to the table to help make decisions about education! And I agree, Brian; we need to stop letting money do the talking!

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