The further I get into play-based learning, the further away I obviously get from who I was as a 'traditional' classroom teacher. The more research I have read in the process of writing my book, the happier I become about my choice. The flip side of this is the sense of frustration I now get when I look at some of the developmentally inappropriate things taking place in the classrooms of our youngest children. The practices that are causing our children great stress and slowly stripping away the strong sense of self that they often walk into our classrooms with. I had no idea how I was making children feel, that I wasn't adding value by accelerating them into learning that they were not ready for. I was kind and caring, gentle even. I really couldn't see that what I was doing was causing them anxiety.
I understand why these practices are still going on, after all it is how we have been taught to teach, we think we are doing the right thing, believe me, I thought I was too.
From the front of my book....
Just a Thought…
We are so busy preparing children to be successful adults that we forget to embrace the brilliance of a child. Their honesty, often to the point of bluntness; their openness to new learning; their inquisitiveness; their quirky senses of humour and the way they can belly laugh at just about anything. Their ability to freely use their imaginations without the constraints of reality; their intelligence to be able to turn the tiniest, most obscure thing into a wonderful world of play; their inventiveness and their ability to truly be absorbed in the moment. Their innate ability to embrace difference; and their dispositions of wonder and joy. Not to mention their overwhelming ability to forgive. Children gradually learn to modify these behaviours to become what they think we need them to be, but maybe it is us that should be modifying ourselves. The world needs the qualities of a child, now more than ever. Bringing play back to classrooms could be just the answer we are looking for.
So back onto the point of this blog post. I wanted to write it from the perspective of a five year old and their adventure into school.
Traditional Classroom(these are things that have happened in my class, that I was completely oblivious to)
I am so excited about starting school. Everyone has been telling me how amazing it will be. I enjoyed the visits, but I am a bit worried because everyone seems to know a lot more than me.
I started today, it wasn't too bad, but we had to sit still for a long time. I found it difficult because I'd just start to play with something and then I'd have to pack up and come to the mat. I wanted to go back to this play, but the teacher told me I had to do other things. We sat for AGES! I feel a bit stupid because the teacher is talking about things that I have no idea about. We had to colour a picture, the other kids told me I was scribbling and that I needed to strive for accuracy, but I was doing my best. I won't try next time.
Today is my second day, I didn't really want to come. We did writing today. I couldn't find my book, I felt stupid. I've never really learned to use a pencil. I prefer to play outside. We had to write. We had to write in silence. It hurts to hold this pencil, I don't think I'm cut out for this writing stuff. I had no idea of my own, so I copied the teachers story, hers is perfect so if I copy hers, I can't be wrong. She didn't seem very happy that I did this. I even copied her name, she told me that was her name and I needed to do my own. I don't know what my name looks like yet.
Today is my third day, I cried, I feel worried. I didn't want mum to go. The teacher told her I have settled in well. That is what she thinks. I saw some toys in the corner today that I really wanted to play with. I got them out, but got in trouble because I was supposed to be using the puzzles and books at the front of the room, it was reading time apparently. I don't really like puzzles and I'm not really interested in books yet. Reading time is boring. The other children seem to know what they are doing, I don't...I think I am stupid.
Today is my fourth day, the teacher sat next to me and asked me about the alphabet and numbers. I had no idea and she kept putting dots next to the letters. I think that means I got it wrong. I felt yucky in my tummy when this was going on. I don't want to try, I might be wrong, so I just gave up. I just want to play with the trains and trucks, but that is for choosing time and that is after lunch. Are letters and numbers different? I have no idea. The teachers seemed frustrated that I didn't know anything. We did maths. Oh dear. We had to make a group of ten. I don't know what ten looks like. The other kids tried to help me. I just felt like a dummy. I hate maths too.
Today is the fifth day, the worst one yet. I was put in a reading group. The teacher says I am going to learn to read. I sat in the group. She tells me to point to the words, what are they? They other kids know what they are doing, I don't. I feel stupid. How come they know and I don't? That yucky feeling is in my tummy again. I have decided that I hate reading, if this is what reading is, I don't want to read. I did see some books about horses they looked interesting to me, but I wasn't allowed those ones, they were for the other children that can already read. I just want to go outside. I got brave and I asked, The teacher said we don't go outside until playtime. She seemed annoyed. She's really busy trying to read with other children and I interrupted her. Why can't we play outside?
I told mum that I felt worried at school. That I feel nervous talking about reading, writing and maths. She talked to the teacher and the teacher said she hadn't noticed anything. She isn't lying, she probably hasn't, I hardly ever get to spend time with her. She's so busy getting all the groups done. I am going to be sick next week. I want to go back to Kindy, my teachers loved me there and I loved them.
A Classroom Based on Play (probably a little fast forwarded, but you get the idea, once again based on a child staring in our class.)
I am so excited about starting school. Everyone has been telling me how amazing it will be. I enjoyed the visits, but I am a bit worried because everyone seems to know a lot more than me. That's ok though because everyone spent a lot of time playing, and I know I am good at playing.
Today was my first day. I was worried but I loved it. We spent most of our time playing. The teacher talked to me a lot, she already knew I like trains, she had asked me at my visits. We talked some more about trains today. She showed me where there were some toys I might like, and she showed me where the special train books were. I spent a lot of time looking at these, they were really interesting, and guess what, the teacher let me take one home. Wow. I made a friend too, we hadn't met before, but we played and we both like trains and tomorrow we are going to make our own train track.
Today was my second day. I made mum bring me early so I could play outside with my friend. When the bell went, we were allowed to go back outside into the busy. When we came inside we made our train track and the teacher loved it. She let us keep it up, we didn't have to pack it up, she knew it was special to us. My friend likes to draw so I decided to have a go. It didn't matter that I hadn't drawn before, we just had fun. We got to make our own books, I ended up turning mine into a paper plane and the teacher thought this was cool. She took a photo. Some other kids liked paper planes, so we made some and had a flying competition outside. The teacher wrote a story about this and sent it home. Mum was so happy to see how happy I am. Now I have lots of friends.
Today was my third day. We were pretend agents today, there was this funny puppet. It had a funny voice and the teacher made me laugh. If this is maths, I love it! There wasn't a right answer, we just made stuff out of popsicle sticks, I knew a lot about triangles and I could help my friends to make them. Some of the other kids are learning to read. I asked the teacher if I could read with her, she said yes. I sat beside her, I even snuggled in and she didn't mind at all. I made the story up and she said how well she thought I had done. Then she read the story to me because I asked. The other kids came and listened to. It was so much fun I love reading!
Today was my fifth day. I played in the bush with my friends a lot today. We had a bit of an argument and the teacher helped us to sort it out because we asked for her help. She told me I had done well using my words. I was really happy. We spent some time on the mat doing writing today. All we have to do is draw a picture. The teacher told us a story and drew it out and then she said have a go. We didn't have to stay long and when we had had enough we could go. I spent some extra time drawing because I really enjoyed it. I love writing.
My mum came in to thank the teacher for making my start to school such a good one. The teachers said that I had settled in well and have friends. She is right, I am really happy. I still like trains, but I also like lots of other things. I feel so proud of myself. I like school.
Obviously this is a rushed version of events, but a very real reflection. I really want us to be conscious of the stress of we inadvertently cause children. Why do we think rushing children into magenta as soon as they start school is benefiting them? That testing their early literacy and numeracy is valuable? Why do we think that the earlier we get them onto cognitive learning the better? Where is the research that points to the need to accelerate children beyond their developmental stage, because I certainly have not been able to find any. If we are expecting children to do, something they are not developmentally ready for, I'm afraid we are the ones that need to look at ourselves.