I’ve been incubating this post for a little more than a week. OK, maybe procrastinating. Or, maybe avoiding. Quite probably, it’s all of the above!
I’ve been an educator for a long time now. I’ve seen ups and downs, highs and lows. Over the years, I’ve watched, participated in, embraced, and avoided trends. It’s part of growing as a professional and generally working to become better at what I love.
However, about five years ago, something changed. I became a mom and started adding another rich layer of experience. These years have provided teaching experience of a different kind. I now examine and evaluate educational practices from yet another angle.
So, as you can imagine, it was with great interest that I opened and read a new study from the Alliance of Childhood about a crisis in kindergarten classrooms in the US.
When I opened the report summary I was greeted with this statement. A statement that was carefully crafted, I’m sure. It’s, frankly, a heck of an opening line.
The importance of play to young childrens’ healthy development and learning has been documented beyond question by research. Yet play is rapidly disappearing from kindergarten and early education as a whole.
I will be honest and tell you that I read the report with some skepticism because the world of educational news reporting has gotten a bit shrill and dramatic for my tastes. This report is also, by the Alliance’s own admission, a call to action. So, it’s written with a certain drama and tension. It’s meant to provoke!
Somewhere in the middle of the second sentence, I stopped reading as a professional educator and began reading as a mom. I can tell you the instant it happened … the niggling concern, the desire to protect.
So, here we are. What follows is an open letter to Little Man’s kindergarten teacher … whoever you are!
Dear One of the Most Important People in My Son’s Educational Life,
Please know that we value you. You are about to be entrusted with one of the loves of our lives. Along the way, I am sure that we will learn more about each other than we ever intended … the good, the bad, and, perhaps, the ugly.
We also know that you have a difficult job and that the pushes and pulls on your time and focus are intense and immense. We respect that and will support your efforts.
Little Man, like all of the children in your class, is unique and special. We hope we have instilled in him the skills and behaviors that will make him happy and successful in your class … and in life.
I have only a few requests of you as you interact and guide my son through this vital year in his educational career.
- Celebrate him. Little Man is interested in a great many things. Not all of them translate clearly to the objectives you’ve been asked to tackle with him. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the accountability of benchmarks and testing – things that tend to shift the focus to weaknesses. Please take time celebrate what he knows and can do – his uniqueness, his joys.
- Support him. Little Man is one of the most cautious little guys I’ve ever met. He’s sometimes slow to try things because he needs to feel that it’s safe to take risks. He needs to learn to take risks – both interpersonally and academically. Please make it safe for him to practice doing so.
- Laugh with him. My little guy can be so serious sometimes. He’s got a very clear grasp of real and pretend – and he prefers real. Please help him develop a sense of fun and play! Please provide him time to expand his creative horizons … dare him to dream and be silly. Ask him to tell you all about it. Go along for the ride!
- Build a strong foundation for him. I firmly believe that what you and Little Man build in this first year of formal schooling will set the tone for years to come. Please show him that learning is one of the most important things he can do for himself – and one of the coolest. Please show him daily that there are many ways to think and learn and do.
- Cheer with him when he succeeds and help him fail with grace. This is very tough for him. Please let him fail (when necessary) and help him understand that, from failure, sometimes great learning occurs.
It is my hope that we will grow together during this year. It is my hope that we will be true partners in my son’s education. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if there is something we can do to support your efforts!
With all of our best wishes and regards,
I have about four months before the reality of kindergarten sets in. Honestly, I’m not ready for it. I’m hoping that I meet with our kindergarten teacher and the contents of this letter – the requests – just fade away because it’s obvious that he or she values creativity, problem solving, play … the very essence of childhood.
However personally I have chosen to react to this report, I do think it’s beyond time we take a closer look at what we value as we educate these youngest of school-aged learners.
Times they are a’ changin’ (and have been for some time). Are the changes for the better? Are we doing this the best way we know how? Are the ripple effects clearly understood? Is this report reactionary or is playtime getting the short end of the stick? Should we reverse the current conventional wisdom and return kindergarten to the realm of early-childhood education? What are the risks? Are we willing to take them?
I’d love to hear your take on this!I'll be hoppin' along now ...