First and foremost, I would like to draw your attention to the highlighted question in the picture – Why The Rush? Yes, this is a question that haunts me in the sphere of early education.
And the answer is one that I have heard too many times for comfort in my career as an early childhood practitioner; that being – “… because they have to learn to do that; they will have to do it next year at school!” And every time I hear this answer, I get angry, really angry for putting these tiny tots through rigorous lessons to prepare them for the ‘next year’! Isn’t ‘next year’ the ‘next year’ in the real sense of the term? Why should we try to teach children what is meant for ‘next year’ this year?
These codes of conduct and lessons are often followed at different situations at preschools; some of them being when children are seated during story time, or when they stand in a line to be lead somewhere for some activity, or even when they are communicating with the teacher during a teaching-learning session. And it is then that these preschoolers are told to be still, raise their hands to answer, and stand in an orderly manner in a queue. Isn’t it a known fact that these are against the normal or expected activities of four year old children; who prefer to move, and jump, and run, and be active in all ways? Isn’t it telling them to do something that is against their basic nature when we tell them to sit still for half an hour, or walk sedately down a corridor in a perfect line?
On discussing with a passionate EC professional, I realised that this expectation is a result of the belief that although these children are in year four, it is beneficial for them to do year 5 work so that they are prepared for next year. Yes, it is this concept of ‘school readiness’ that is behind this propensity to rush, to make these toddlers do things that are meant to be done next year.
In a web magazine article by Helier Cheung, Hong Kong, the author notes how toddlers are given training to prepare for their first big interview; that being the interview to get admission in the best primary schools in the country, which are perceived to be the gateway to all opportunities. So the one and a half year old child is made to learn how to introduce herself to a stranger and answer his questions, as well as follow his instructions to do things like building a house with blocks, identifying pieces of fruits, and place pictures of facial parts in the correct places on a drawing of a face!
In India, things are no different. Thirunavukkarasu Arun Babu and Venkatesh Chandrasekaran of the Department of Pediatrics, Puducherry, India, talks about the Indian parents’ desire to make their children ‘super heroes’. Their goal is to make their children excel in academics and also in extracurricular activities. The result is the introduction of formal education at the preschool level, which is primarily meant for skill development rather than on gaining in factual knowledge.
I believe that a compromise should be made so that we may make our preschoolers ready for school, but not at the cost of pushing them beyond their natural capabilities, thus introducing the feeling of stress in them at that early stage in their life.
I have observed that most preschools rely on the process of sitting, reading and writing as the means of educating children; but aren’t there other means too? Howard Gardner has stated that there are various different types of learning styles; I think we need to incorporate those that involve the natural tendencies of children of that age; that is by ‘doing’ rather than by ‘sitting, reading and writing’. This will serve the dual purpose of allowing children to be themselves; and learn in the process too! Yes, activity based learning is the key to real learning, especially at that tender age.
I would like to advise educationists to embrace the ‘NOW’ and forego of the ‘next year’. School readiness is an important concept and a necessity, I agree; but I also believe that stressing on the ‘now’ will be enough to make the children ready for the ‘next year’. So let a child fidget with his shoe lace during a story telling session. Let a child jump when in a line (ensure safety, of course); let a 3 year old child speak out of turn in class. It is time we stop pushing the children to be what they should be in the future; let us slow down and enjoy their natural behaviour patterns. Let us be happy with what they are meant to know and learn at that age and not strive to cram their heads with more facts that they can handle. And I believe by doing so, we will help in the growth of children who are in tune with their own capabilities, and happy in their own skins.
The following quotes are in support of my viewpoint:
- “The children are the curriculum.” – Lisa Murphy
- “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” – Jim Henson
- “Choose happy” – Sue Knowles
- “Play is the highest form of research” – Albert Einstein
Babu, Thirunavukkarasu, Arun., and Chandrasekaran, Venkatesh (2011). Current preschool education: Are we expecting more? Retrieved from: http://medind.nic.in/ibv/t11/i1/ibvt11i1p76.pdf
Cheung, Helier (2015). Toddlers prepare for their first big interview. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32040752
Cohen, Richard (2015). Zen and the Art of Early Childhood Education. Retrieved from: https://richie4360.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/zen-and-the-art-of-early-childhood-education/
Image taken from: http://www.facebook.com/artofearlychildhood (Richard Cohen’s “Zen and the Art of Early Childhood Education”
is on Facebook.