What’s Your Mission for the Children?
In a recent interview for The Play Based Learning Podcast, host Kristen Peterson asked about my “origin” story. I explained that I’d fallen into the early childhood field by accident when a neighbor asked me to teach dance to a group of preschoolers. I then went on to outline how my mission evolved from being strictly a movement specialist to a proponent of active learning to an advocate for children, play, and the field of ECE.
As I told Kristen, some of my colleagues who’ve known me since the beginning, and who gravitated toward me because of my work in movement education, are confused by my transitions. Perhaps they even feel that I’ve abandoned the work that they find (rightly so) to be incredibly important.
I thought about this again the other day when someone asked me what my specific passion is. And I realized a lot of people might be curious about that – because it may not always be clear.
For example, when you think about Sally Haughey, you think play and wonder-based teaching. When you think about Lisa Murphy, play also pops into your head. Miriam Beloglovsky brings loose parts to mind. Sandra Duncan is all about design.
Once upon a time, my name would have immediately brought movement to mind. But now? Well, even I wasn’t clear as to what the answer about my passion should be!
All my early books were dedicated to the topic of movement. But then I wrote What If Everybody Understood Child Development?, followed by What If We Taught the Way Children Learn?, two books advocating for children. In between the two came Acting Out!, all about preventing challenging behavior.
When you look at my online courses, you see one about challenging behavior, one about transitions, and one about becoming a champion for play and joyful learning. There’s even one that helps teachers experiencing burnout. That’s quite the mish-mash! It’s no wonder the question about my passion is difficult to answer. So, I decided to find the answer! And here’s what I came to realize…
First of all, although I am quite a fan of variety, I’m not some scatterbrain who lives strictly by the credo that variety is the spice of life. And I’m not someone who simply can’t focus. I don’t think it’s possible to write a book – let alone 21 of them – if you can’t focus.
But here’s the most important realization of all: There is an underlying link among all the topics I’ve tackled.
In the beginning I promoted movement for movement’s sake. But as I came to better understand young children, I discovered that they need to physically experience concepts to best comprehend them. For instance, when they take on high, low, wide, and narrow shapes with their body and body parts, they have a much greater understanding of these quantitative concepts falling under the content area of math than they ever could by seeing the concepts on paper. So, active learning became my primary passion.
But as my years in the field went on, I heard more and more stories about developmentally inappropriate practices bringing a whole lot of unhappiness to the children (and their teachers). And a whole lot of it had to do with movement and active learning – or a lack thereof!
For example, because standards, “evidence” of learning, and early academics are valued more highly than movement, play, and active learning (the tools through which nature intended children to learn), the latter are too often nonexistent in early learning environments. Children are forced to sit, do worksheets, and take tests. There’s not even time to run and jump and play after school because there’s too much homework and too many extracurricular activities – all meant to give children the “jumpstart” they supposedly need in life. And on and on it goes. We’re not educating or developing the whole child, as we’re supposed to.
Hearing these stories — about children forced to sit for hours, recess eliminated from the school day, and the pushdown in curriculum — was (and is) devastating. The children were hurting! And, unbelievably, they were not being allowed a true childhood. My heart could only stand so much.
Child development was and is not guiding the choices parents, policymakers, administrators, and even some teachers are making for children.
And there’s the link! My course on transitions is based on the theory that if we understand child development and appreciate children for who they are – and use that in our transition practices – we truly can have trouble-free, teachable transitions. “How to Keep ‘Em Off the Walls” is based on the same principle. If we use our understanding of children and their development to guide us, we can avoid many of the challenging behaviors currently seen in classrooms. And, of course, the intention of “Become a Champion for Play & Joyful Learning” is to help you help others – parents, administrators, and policymakers – better understand child development — including movement, play, and active learning — and the importance of a true childhood. (“Too Tired to Teach” is based on the belief that we can’t have healthy children without healthy teachers!)
I haven’t abandoned the subject of movement. To my mind, movement and play are synonymous with early childhood, so they run through just about everything I do and promote. I’ve simply taken a broader view of the topic.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have been questioned about my specific passion. It caused me to do some soul-searching and to find the answer for myself. My answer? My passion is defending childhood.
Also, thanks to that question, for the first time in my career, I’ve created a mission statement. And here it is:
My mission is to do all I can to ensure children have the chance to be children – and that child development guides all of our practices with them.
Imagine that; after 41 years, I finally have a mission statement. (I’m not kidding when I say I’m a late bloomer.) Since mine started with a simple question, let me ask you: What’s your mission for the children?
I came across the same predicament as you have and came, as you, to the same conclusion of what my mission statement is. I defend childhood with all it’s facets. How can one touch movement without including play?! How can one explain the child’s lack of symbolic thinking without indicating that fantasy is a starting point?! How do we explain to teachers the damage endless worksheets can cause without referring to the importance of encouraging large muscle movement which benefit small muscle skills needed for writing?1
So I’m with your mission statement: We defend childhood!!!!!
Fight on, Sophie! Glad to know you’re out there!!