This article at the Atlantic discusses disturbing trends in preschool education, fueled by concerns over school “readiness.”
Step into an American preschool classroom today and you are likely to be bombarded with what we educators call a print-rich environment, every surface festooned with alphabet charts, bar graphs, word walls, instructional posters, classroom rules, calendars, schedules, and motivational platitudes—few of which a 4-year-old can “decode,” the contemporary word for what used to be known as reading.
Because so few adults can remember the pertinent details of their own preschool or kindergarten years, it can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed over the past two decades. The changes are not restricted to the confusing pastiche on classroom walls. Pedagogy and curricula have changed too, most recently in response to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s kindergarten guidelines. Much greater portions of the day are now spent on what’s called “seat work” (a term that probably doesn’t need any exposition) and a form of tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction, formerly used mainly in the older grades, in which a teacher carefully controls the content and pacing of what a child is supposed to learn. Read the entire article at the Atlantic.
The article concludes with observations and recommendations of a fix. Charlotte Mason’s “preschool” program would certainly fill the bill—
Media attention to the cognitive potential of early childhood has a way of exacerbating such worries, but the actual academic consensus on the components of high-quality early education tells another story. According to experts such as the Yale professor Edward Zigler, a leader in child-development and early-education policy for half a century, the best preschool programs share several features: They provide ample opportunities for young children to use and hear complex, interactive language; their curriculum supports a wide range of school-readiness goals that include social and emotional skills and active learning; they encourage meaningful family involvement; and they have knowledgeable and well-qualified teachers.
As an early-childhood educator, I’ve clocked many hours in many preschool classrooms, and I have found that I can pretty quickly take the temperature from the looks on kids’ faces, the ratio of table space to open areas, and the amount of conversation going on in either. In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.
His recommendations certainly sound like the best preschool is not school at all, but real life with parents, siblings, church family, and neighbors. Read living books aloud together. Skip the busy classroom walls; instead, fill them with a few prints of classical art at child’s eye-level. Read living books aloud together. Skip the seatwork, or at least keep it to a minimum, and don’t require focused concentration with pencil and paper for longer than five to ten minutes at a time. Read living books aloud together. Play outside. Take nature walks, listen to classical music. Read living books aloud together. Listen while they tell you stories and sing you songs. Don’t talk AT children, talk TO them like they are born persons. They are. Read living books aloud together. Beyond that, involve them in everyday chores and real-life activities. All easily—and reasonably inexpensively—done at home or, if needed (sometimes, it is!), in a preschool environment.
Oh, and did I mention read living books aloud together? This is true language-rich interaction, and it certainly develops meaningful relationships.