Thursday, October 15, 2009
At our school we have a saying that even the children will recite. K through 2 is play all day; 3-5 is play half the day; 6-8 is work all day; 9-12 is work all day and night. In other words, as children grow and develop through the grades it is natural and appropriate that their work load increase accordingly. In the Kindergarten-2nd grade class the children are allowed to "play all day" meaning that everything they do should be perceived by THEM as fun. Reading is taught through card games and bingo and matching words to tiny dollhouse objects. Math is taught with blocks and tape measures and pennies. Science is taught outside collecting mushrooms and catching bugs and on the tree swings. In 3rd grade this "play all day" mentality shifts, as this is the age when children are ready to sit for longer periods of time and do the more typical pencil and paper work which adults perceive as the "real work" of school. This transition is difficult for some children and easy for others, but what we have found is that if, for example, you teach how to capitalize before third grade the child may be able to fill out the worksheet, but they don't really understand the concept. Third through fifth grade is the core of the grammar stage of education and it is the appropriate time to teach the core: reading, writing and arithmetic. Yes, there are children who are ready for more advanced work at this point, and there are children who struggle, and our school's individualized program meets those needs. But either way when a child enters middle school they need to have the core firmly in place. When they do, they enter adolescence confident and ready. That is why we say 6th-8th grade is "work all day." If children aren't challenged during this period they start to experiment with ways to challenge themselves, and these ways aren't always positive. Most people agree that children should play during their preschool years and research bears this out (see this article). But our culture has unfortunately been moving away from children having the opportunity to play much beyond that. This article decries the high pressure kindergarten that has taken over American education, but where is the outrage over the fact that third graders are being given end of grade tests which determine whether they pass or fail? These kids are 8 years old! Twin boys came to our school this year because in public school third grade last year one of them "failed" the reading test and was going to be held back, while his brother would have gone on to 4th grade. Their parents, rightly outraged, pulled them out. Guess what we discovered about the "failing" brother? He reads on grade level, albeit a bit slower than was needed to pass that one test. Finally, a student came to us last year from an elite private school where he had attended preschool and kindergarten in a very structured academic environment. When he came to us he was "behind" (academically speaking) for a first grader. He spent six months at our school playing with blocks and building some of the most amazing structures you have ever seen. At the end of the six months he had learned to read, and he was able to entirely skip two math books WITHOUT formal instruction. As parents and educators and citizens we need to rely on research and the facts of child development, instead of being scared and pressured into believing that our future depends on a 5 year old knowing how to read or an 8 year old passing a test. Let those 5 year olds play all day, and let those 8 year olds climb trees all afternoon, and as a society we will have more positive results for years and years to come.