I read something last week issued by the Louisiana Department of Education that scared me. It really scared me. The LDOE is pushing for “strong and coordinated curriculum and assessments” in child care and early education. They are even going to implement a program for centers to either get approved curriculum free or funds to help purchase and implement high quality, approved curriculum. WHAT?!?!
The push down of academics into early childhood education is nothing new. It’s not right, but it’s nothing new. I believe that the intention behind it is sincere. “They”, they being the policy makers of our state and federal government, want our children to succeed. Sure. Grand idea. Children are not entering kindergarten prepared to do what is expected of them, never mind that what is expected is not developmentally appropriate, so let’s push these academic principles down to our 4 year olds, our 3 year olds, our 2 year olds so that when they enter kindergarten, they will be better prepared. We must get them ready for school. IT’S NOT WORKING! The children are farther behind than ever! It must be the child care centers, the early learning centers, the preschools so let’s get stricter and push even more down on our youngest children so they can be ready to enter school. Well people, it’s still not working and it never will. You want to know why? Because it’s not. developmentally. appropriate. Those little brains are not made that way and no amount of drilling, flashcards, worksheets, computer games, teacher-directed instruction and no outside time because there is too much to learn is going to change that fact. It is a scientific fact that humans learn best through self-directed play. Scientific people. Look it up. Here, I’ll get you started with this, this, this, this & this. There is no scientific research that proves academics introduced to children during their toddler, preschool and pre-k years is successful. In fact, scientific research is proving the opposite. More harm is done in the long run. IF, and that’s a big if, a child who has been in an academic environment during their preschool years enters kindergarten slightly ahead in academic knowledge than their counterparts from a play-based, child-led program, they certainly do not enter kindergarten socially advanced and any academic difference disappears by 3rd grade. At this point, other difference begin to emerge. These differences have been present all along but the gap becomes exponentially larger. The child from the academic preschool environment falls dramatically behind socially, they have poor impulse control as they have had all along and a poor attitude about school which translates into poor performance in school, on assessments and a higher drop-out rate. The rise in childhood mental disorders is also directly linked to the decline of play and the rise of academics in early childhood.
Now, why does the LDOE helping child care centers purchase and implement high-quality curriculum scare me so much? Don’t I want children to begin their academic journey with as much of a head start as possible? Of course I do but high-quality curriculum does not come in a box. It does not carry with it pages and pages of assessments that are to be placed upon the child. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes from an enriching, engaging environment where the child is free to choose what they will work with, how they will work with it and how long they will work with it. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes from being outside for most of the day and working with loose parts in whatever way the child can dream of. High-quality early childhood curriculum provides the child plenty of opportunities for them to figure out how their bodies work and how powerful they can be. High-quality early childhood curriculum comes when the adults get out of the way and instead ask “what else do you need?” ensuring the child has everything they need to fulfill their goal and not the adult’s. High-quality early childhood curriculum focuses on social-emotional development and provides opportunities for children to figure out how social dynamics work. High-quality early childhood curriculum does not, and never will, come from a box. It cannot be purchased. It is up to each child to create their own curriculum. Children are only ready for kindergarten when they have had enough time to explore their world on their terms. Only then will they be ready to allow someone else to tell them about their world.
For those of you who know us (The Co-op), you know that we don’t subscribe to the canned curriculum. We allow our children the opportunity to explore the environment on their terms. They drive the curriculum. Our children are competent and eager seekers of knowledge. Our center is one of a kind in our community. I wish it wasn’t. The children in our community, in our state and in our country deserve a high quality early childhood and they are not getting it. My wish is that one day, “they” will wake up and think, “This isn’t working, maybe we should look at all that scientific research.” Maybe one day those centers that are using TV and flash cards and worksheets with their littles will read the evidence that they are helping to perpetuate the poverty cycle. Maybe one day families in our community will stop putting their children into inappropriate environments because they fear their child won’t be ready. Maybe one day publishers won’t print that canned curriculum. Maybe one day I won’t have to defend what we do. Maybe one day…