Although they may be different and unique in many ways, developmentally they all go through the same stages (however at various speeds) and they all have brains developing that need to be catered for in developmentally appropriate ways. Wow, what a challenge that is, and a challenge I have decided to take on over the last couple of years. What a journey so far!
A closer look at development brings us back to Piaget's model for cognitive development. I am absolutely sure anyone that has done child development is familiar with Vygotsky and Piaget. Their research remains incredibly relevant for us today and is also backed up by research into brain development. Obviously there is more to early development than this diagram represents, but it is certainly a good starting point for anyone wanting to explore this further.
Also this one on the work of Vygotsky, who offers a much more social point of view of learning that Piaget, which I feel is more relevant to play-based learning. To me and a very obvious reason that a play-based approach works, is the amount of quality social interaction that goes on. However, I am not a researcher, and am much more interested in the practical application of an approach based on play, rather than having to justify why it works. The work of John Holt is also worth a read if you are interested in exploring more.
This along with the research of Nathan Wallis points strongly to the fact that what we are expecting of our children in their first few years at primary school (at least) is not cognitively appropriate. It is this cognitive development that I am really focusing on in this post, however I am very aware that this development does not happen in isolation from emotional, social and physical development.
Although much of this research has been around for a very long time, and at some stage we have all studied it, it seems to be largely ignored in our classrooms.
Why do we feel the need to test children from day one, why do we rush them into learning like reading before they are ready or interested, why are we forcing them to sit and concentrate for extended periods of time, why are we expecting children to hold information in their head when their brain is absolutely not yet able to? Why are we labelling children as struggling, when they are not even up to the point in their development where they are ready to learn in this way? Why do we think that for children to learn, we need to be right there like the fountain of all knowledge?
What is the need to use a test to 'assess' a starting point, when by simply observing and listening to a child we would have a pretty good idea of their stage of development. Why do we not trust ourselves more than a standardised test?
Why are we wasting our teaching time with strategies that are not working or creating anxiety? Why are we even employing strategies that cause stress for us and the child?
My plea to you is to have a really close look at the practices you are currently using. Honestly think about the developmentally appropriateness of what you are doing or expected to be doing. Is it appropriate to rush a child in their first week or two at school into magenta reading when they do not yet have the oral language or working memory (amongst other things) to make this learning relevant and useful to them. What would be the harm in just letting them settle in, and taking some time to get to know them developmentally.
Is it appropriate to expect a child to write when their fine and gross motor skills and oral language abilities are still developing. I liken this to me walking into a classroom and being asked to sit down and write a story in Chinese. Wow how stressful would this be? Hugely? Would I succeed? No...I wonder how I would feel about myself after a few weeks of this activity? Particularly if cognitively I was not even ready of this activity and the ability to hold symbols in my head was not yet something I could do.
What harm would it do for us to wait? None. What benefits would there be from waiting till interest was shown and readiness was seen...huge benefits, believe me, I have seen them first hand.
From my experience pushing children into learning early has no positive long term impact, but I am absolutely sure it has a negative one.
To put this in perspective, our children still made progress last year, none of them were 'held back' many of them excelled academically because they were ready, others developed in their own time and at their own pace, and developed a love of learning. The one thing they had in common were the development of fantastic social and emotional skills that will serve them well this year. They learned through their urges and were exposed to learning that I would never have normally introduced to new entrants.
If you are teaching in the first three years, or even beyond, consider the benefits play will bring to your children.
Just because you have always done it, you don't have to keep doing it. Current research and past research clearly points out that traditional approaches are not appropriate and we need to do something about it.
If you are interested my store has my 1st and 2nd 'book' about my journey so far. (this is very much a journey)
This is the developmental checklist we use at the moment, it is a great form of assessment and a superb record of progress.
And these are the dispositions and habits we are working towards in the first six years.
This is the framework diagram I created to guide my practice.
If you feel a need to demonstrate progress, oral language is a fantastic way to do this as it is developmentally appropriate. The JOST tool is a good one that I have used before, it is quite easy to deliver and gives us an interesting insight into where a child is up to and the progress that is being made.
Let us all take a good look at what we are doing, discard the things that do not be serve children and amplify the practice that does. Together we can make a huge difference.
Still in doubt...watch this...