I am an advocate for children’s rights. Rights that are lacking in early childhood. There are some critical happenings we are missing during the early years of life. What we are missing in early childhood worries me about the future. What we are missing is putting us on a broken conveyor belt of education. It needs to change.
Early childhood is defined as children, birth through 8 (yes EIGHT years old. That is second grade), where “critical change and development that a child attains the physical and mental skills she will use for the rest of her life” (Livestrong.com, 2015). If this is such a critical time in their life, why do we waste it making children sit still, read before age 7 (when it is prime literacy time), and learn about trivial attributes?
Early Childhood stretches through second grade. Yet we cut off early childhood at kindergarten when children have had 5 years of life. What do they learn those first five years? They learn motor skills (how to run, jump, skip, hold a pencil, pinch, balance, communicate, and try new things. All of these things are important for their life as adults.
You must be asking yourself now, what are we missing in early childhood? Why should we care?
Why We Should Care
We should care about early childhood because change has to start somewhere. It can start with you. You can make a change, shift your mindset on early childhood even just a little bit on how you view early childhood. I’m not saying throw all of your views and values out the window, but I want to challenge your thinking. And I want you to challenge mine. Please read this with an open mind, think about how you want your own children to be treated when you aren’t around, what goals you might have for them, and how you can help them be successful in life.
What We Are Missing In Early Childhood
- Free Play
- Outside Time
Now, I know what you might be thinking. Kayla, you are crazy we aren’t missing anything. How early childhood education is right now is helping our children succeed in school. Yes, but hear me out. Remember, my goal is to just challenge your thinking. At one point in time, I thought that too. Once you see that there is another side to early childhood education that doesn’t force meaningless academics down young children’s throats, it is hard to go back.
One of teacher’s biggest complaints is time. We don’t have enough time to teach what we have to teach. But…do you really have to teach that? Do we have to teach children about seasons? Or can they learn by experiencing the seasons as they come? Who deems what children have to know?
Do we have to sit down and teach children how to zip coats or put them on? Or can we teach them when the moment is there? Do we have to teach 3-year old’s sitting in a circle what sound “T” makes? Or can we teach them when it is meaningful to them to learn about what sound “T” makes when it is age and developmentally appropriate?
We make time for what is important for US. Why don’t we make time for what is important for CHILDREN? We already know these things we are teaching, children are experiencing life for the first time. Our topics need to be interesting to children. And not a forced interest, a genuine interest. Interests come out during play and conversations. We need to take the time to observe, question, and scaffold during these moments.
Why do we rush children from one activity to the next? “We have to have meals at this time.” “We have to get the day going.” “We have to have this activity and then circle time and then another activity.” WHY? Children don’t run on a clock. When are you ever hungry at the same time every day? Don’t you ever have days where you want to mosey around? So do children. That’s OK! Why don’t we let children become a bit bored sometimes? Having a strict rigid routine doesn’t work for all children. Constantly giving ideas and completing tasks for them isn’t helping.
Let’s make time for things that matter to the children. Let’s give them the time to learn and practice putting coats on and zipping them up. I don’t mean to do it for them. I truly mean to let them do it and scaffold if need be. If children don’t ask for help, they don’t want it. Children deserve to have the time needed to accomplish a task they are interested in. If it takes twenty minutes to zip a coat, let it take twenty minutes. How do you think they’ll feel when the accomplish that?
Kayla, my kids play with materials all day. Yes, and that’s great. I’m talking about unstructured, child-initiated play. Often times this is the play that is left out of classrooms because “they are just playing.” Do you know what children learn during free play? They learn body language, social interaction skills, problem-solving skills, creative thinking, fine and gross motor skills…just to list a few. Children learn how to think, plan, and execute their plans. They learn how to fail and how to try again. In free play, children are learning about society, how it works, and how they fit into that mold. Free play is how children express and explore their interests.
Why are controlling children’s play? Too often I’ve seen adults tell children “No. You can’t do that.” or “No. Those stay there.” Why? I want you to question yourself every time you tell your child “no”. Think about why you are telling them no. Why can’t we get in the moment with children, explore and learn with them? That’s how the human brain works best. We learn best when we are interested in a topic. Children have interests too, they are people. How much do you remember from school? I bet not much. How much do you remember from a topic you were interested in outside of school? Probably a lot.
Even though children’s brains are smaller doesn’t mean they don’t process information like adults. Children’s ideas deserve to be trusted and listened to. Children don’t do things on purpose to make us angry or annoyed. They are trying to figure out how to handle their own thoughts, actions, and feelings (with little concern about how and what we think). In early childhood, children don’t think about how they affect others around them, so it is our job to help them learn. Children deserve to play in a way that helps them construct knowledge.
This goes along with the one above but with an outside focus. I think it is safe to say every program goes outside at least once a day. What do you do outside? Do you have a jungle gym set up? Swings? Slides? Why do we fill the insides with toys but leave the outside bare?
The outside environment is an extension of the inside one. Why don’t we fill it with materials that encourage free play, provoke their curiosity, and make children work? Grass and open spaces are great, but what are children going to do with it? Run. And then what? Let’s view outside time as a time for children to explore in nature, create, and engage with peers and adults.
Outside play is the perfect time for messy play. Let children get messy. I find it crazy in the centers I’ve been in, whether to work or observe, how many parents are shocked when their child is dirty at the end of the day. Why do we hate it? What is so wrong with a child getting their hands dirty? Sensory play is so beneficial for children and we need more of it!
Children are capable of so many great things outside and gain so much by being outside. Their environments need to reflect that. Let’s give them uneven surfaces, opportunities to build with real materials (yes, real hammers and nails), areas to get messy and create whether it is paint, dirt, water, or mud. Children deserve to find a love in learning, a love in getting their hands dirty, and to love of feeling confident and capable.
This one might be my favorite. Society has limited the number of risks children can have. We make playgrounds flat so children don’t fall. We keep everything low to the ground so they don’t get hurt. What makes situations worse, we rush to their side at the sight of a wobble. Rushing towards a child usually scares them and can make them more unsteady and lose concentration.
Here’s what gets me and Little Miss Early Years says it best, “Children have been taking risks from the moment they are born. They are natural risk-takers as they learn to roll, learn to crawl and learn to walk. Taking risks is nothing new for children. The risk of a scraped knee or bruised elbow is far outweighed by the learning outcomes of taking risks.” We encourage risks in the first year of life and then stop.
What message are we sending children when the first year or so of their life we are encouraging these risks? Cheering when they roll over, crawl, and walk. That’s when it stops. Why don’t we cheer when children climb up onto something? Yes, they could fall and get hurt, but did they? Why don’t we cheer when they want to carry a heavy bucket? Or ask to pour milk, water, and juice? If they are never able to practice, they won’t be very successful.
Is our own fear getting in the way of a child’s success? When I have my own children, I will encourage healthy risk-taking. I trust children and I trust their abilities. They may fall and that is okay. What do they learn from falling? They can’t push themselves that far yet. They’ll keep trying though because that is how they learn. Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll get it.
Nobody learns by staying in their comfort zone. We are always taking risks away and that doesn’t help children learn. Children deserve to learn and try new things within their zone of development. With trusting adults, children are capable of so much.
I know I just said the risk is my favorite. Respect is the most important. Without respect for each child, how they learn, their backgrounds, and troubling behavior, everything I said above doesn’t matter. We treat children as lesser beings because they haven’t had as much life as us. But oftentimes, children know more than we believe.
Listen to your children. I mean, really listen. They tell us things that are important to them. I see parents all around the public who are a little disengaged from their children. I have my phone out to take pictures, but I am still engaged with children and asking them questions about what they are doing or saying. Showing them that I am interested in what they are doing impacts them, they don’t have to act out to get attention from me. They get attention from me because I’m interested in them.
Children deserve as much respect as any other person on the street. How do you feel when you ask someone a question and they ignore you or mumble an answer? Maybe not so great? That’s how children feel too. They process feelings just like you do.
When someone says, “You can’t do that” or “No” or “You are going to get hurt” what do you say in your head? How do you feel about that? I think, “yes I can. You can’t tell me no. And I know my limits, I might get hurt but I’ll be fine.” Children feel the same. Let’s give them the respect we give others.
Why do we have a long list of rules for children to follow when they could create their own and we wouldn’t have to nag all the time because the rules are meaningful. Often times when children as you “why” it is because the rule doesn’t make sense, it isn’t meaningful to the child or has no consequence. The less we say no, the more time we have to enjoy children for who they are in the moment.
They may be little, they may not know as much as we do, but they deserve more than we give them.
How Do We Change It?
This is the hard part. Writing this now, I know I’ll get backlash. I am okay with it. The discussions need to happen. Change needs to happen. I could shout this from the rooftops and that won’t change anything. I am going to keep pushing children’s rights because they deserve it.
I recently attended an online conference put on by Fairy Dust Teaching, who I link in every blog post. Her conferences are worth the money, especially if you get on the early bird deal. All of the videos are yours to keep and watch forever and most presenters provide some sort of handout to reference later on. Each conference has great presenters and this one focused on the Pedagogy of Play. I will link all the presenters below so you can check out their wonderful work.
There were discussions with all presenters about making the change. Even though there were lots of wonderful educators from around the world engaged in this conference, that isn’t enough. Change needs to start with parents. Parents need to start voicing their concerns about what education has to turn into. Change needs to start with the media. How many shows and movies have you seen where education doesn’t look fun? Children see that. They see it every day and come to the conclusion that education is boring, a waste of time, and shouldn’t be a thing. Change needs to start with politics. No matter what side of the spectrum you fall on, most people generally care about what happens with children. It is one thing that unites us, but we are doing it all wrong.
During the presentation Teacher Tom talked about how we push high standards and higher expectations to prepare them for jobs of the future. But what are those jobs? How can we prepare them for future jobs when we don’t even know what jobs are there? Wouldn’t it be better to prepare them to communicate with others, be able to learn what they are interested in, and know what they are capable of?
They say that passion fuels purpose. I am passionate about children’s rights. I want to see a change. My change will start in my community, and yours can start in your community. Find or open an early childhood center where children’s rights are at the forefront. Connect with other educators and community members who are passionate about children’s rights. I could go on about what children deserve and why, but I’ll elaborate more on future posts.
Now, I don’t have children of my own but I want the most for your children. I want them to love learning, love exploring, and love trying new things. Let’s give them the time, respect, and trust they deserve. Your children matter.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Let me know your thoughts. This is a discussion that needs to happen. Share with your friends, family, and teachers.
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- Presenters from the conference: Teacher Tom, Erin Kenny, Deb Stewart, David Elkind, Sandra Duncan, Carol Kranowitz, Helen Nonn, Julia Berry, Louisa Penfold, Vanessa Dooley, Laura England, Rosalba Bortolotti, April Zajko