Should we honor our children’s right to curiosity, their right to not only choose what they want to learn, but from whom they want to learn it?
No human right, except the right to life itself, is more fundamental than this. A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.
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Lately everywhere I turn homeschooling parents are over the question, “is my child doing enough to get ahead?” The pressure on young children today is incredible. Even the developers of PBS believe that the biggest obstacle American children face in terms of education is being unprepared for kindergarten. No wonder parents are worried! Not only are parents over-teaching, but they are also over-scheduling, I believe it’s being done out of fear.
Phonics lessons and grammar lessons in the morning, music and Mandarin lessons in the afternoon, and in between all that Moms are forcing their young children to work in newly purchased math workbooks and insisting that they complete multiplication and division problems. The words “algebra” and “geometry” are being tossed around at play dates and these parents really think that they are doing the right thing. They’re giving their children a “leg up” right?
They are not. Here’s why.
First, young children are not developmentally ready to pursue such academic activities. Are some seemingly “able” to do this type of academic work? Perhaps. But a completed worksheet does not equal a deep learning for a subject matter and even if you believe that your child is ready, there is evidence that doing so is more harmful than helpful. Take a look at this article written by a mathematician </a>for reasons why worksheets should not be used with young children.
Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.
Secondly, the importance of play has been so overlooked in the last decade or two that it is shameful. Here’s what Edward Miller and Joan Almon say in their book Crisis In The Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.
Such practices are contributing to high levels of frustration, stress, and anger in kindergartners, sometimes resulting in extreme behavior problems. At the same time that we have increased academic pressure in children’s lives through inappropriate standards, we have managed to undermine their primary tool for dealing with stress— freely chosen, child-directed, intrinsically motivated play.
David Elkind’s “hurried child” is now not just hurried but also worried.
And this is only one outcome of the push to turn our kindergarteners into first and second graders and our second graders into adolescents.
We homeschoolers know why public (or private) schools aren’t the choice for us. We’ve heard the stories, and sometimes experienced them personally. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to “keep up” with what schools are doing and bring these inappropriate expectations into your home school.
Play is supremely important for developing imagination, for learning to be “thinkers”, not just “do-ers”, for getting the body moving and the blood flowing. Movement is so very important to brain development (again, a very important subject for another day.)
Perhaps a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics will be enough to convince:
Play is one of the vital signs of health in children.75 Parents intuitively recognize this and often describe the severity of a child’s illness by how much he is able to play. When a child is very ill, play ceases. It returns when the child is well again.
If play is such a strong indicator of children’s well-being, what happens when children grow up without adequate opportunities for play? How does this affect their immediate and long-term health, both physical and mental?
The American Academy of Pediatrics expressed concern about the demise of play in a clinical report issued in October 2006. Its recommendations included the following: Pediatricians can promote free play as a healthy, essential part of childhood. They should recommend that all children are afforded ample, unscheduled, independent, nonscreen time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress. They should emphasize that although parents can certainly monitor play for safety, a large proportion of play should be child-driven rather than adult-directed.
Pediatricians should emphasize the advantages of active play and discourage parents from the overuse of passive entertainment (e.g., television and computer games).
Pediatricians should emphasize that active child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies.
What did Miller and Almon find about the effects of the the academic push on mental health?
The overall picture of children’s mental health is summarized by psychologist Sharna Olfman in this way: The number of American children being diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses has soared over the past decade and a half. The National Institute of Mental Health
(NIMH) estimates that today one in ten children and adolescents in the United States “suffers from mental illness severe enough to result in significant functional impairment.” During this same time period, psychotropic drugs have become the treatment of first choice rather
than the treatment of last resort. Recent years have witnessed a threefold increase in the use of psychotropic medications among patients under twenty years of age, and prescriptions for preschoolers have been skyrocketing.
Over 10 million children and adolescents are currently on antidepressants, and about 5 million children are taking stimulant medications such as Ritalin. 83
Having been involved in the field of education since 1990, I have seen the despicable results of such changes in the education system. Like many things, the pendulum swings to the left, then to the right, and hopefully settles somewhere in the middle. Right now there is no middle. Continuing to take away the things that foster and nurture our children can bring nothing but more anxiety, frustration and depression to kids who should be free to love life and all it has to offer.
This is only one study. There are countless other books and articles on the subject of the importance of play. Listen to Kathy Hirsch-Pasek discussing her book Einstein Never Used Flashcards.
Don’t let this blog post be enough. I urge you to read the entire text of Crisis In The Kindergarten and let the failures of the school system prompt you to make the right decisions for your kids. When you read, however, keep in mind that this was published in 2009 and so many of Miller’s and Almon’s references to “turning our kindergarteners into first graders” can easily be translated into, “turning our kindergarteners into second and third graders.” The pendulum has swung that much further in the last several years indeed.
All quotations are taken from:
<strong>Edward Miller and Joan Almon, Crisis in the
Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,
College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood, 2009.</strong>
The entire text can be found here for free.
- this blog post was originally published on April 11, 2011