In this opinion piece in the Gotham Gazette, Khin Mai Aung, director of English Language Learner Civil Rights & Policy in the New York State Education Department—and, perhaps more importantly, a parent— writes about the benefits and challenges of being part of racially and economically diverse preschool, the Helen Owen Carey Child Development Center in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It’s a school not so different from Hilltop.
Exposure to classmates from a wide range of racial and economic backgrounds is important. Young children need precisely this type of exposure, even if the process by which they come to understand it can be messy.
She goes on to describe her experience as a parent within the diverse preschool community.
Community building is tough, especially within diverse communities, even when this very diversity is what drew you into that community in the first place… Learning about other parents’ experiences and the challenges they may face has expanded both my sense of the privilege I enjoy, as well as my broader understanding of educational equity.
“It can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed over the past two decades,” writes Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator at the Yale Child Study Center, in a recent piece in the Atlantic. She then details the shift to an ever-more academic approach in many preschools across the U.S.–and her concern that maybe educators are missing the point.
The shift from an active and exploratory early-childhood pedagogy to a more scripted and instruction-based model does not involve a simple trade-off between play and work, or between joy and achievement. On the contrary, the preoccupation with accountability has led to a set of measures that favor shallow mimicry and recall behaviors, such as learning vocabulary lists and recognizing shapes and colors (something that a dog can do, by the way, but that is in fact an extraordinarily low bar for most curious 4-year-olds), while devaluing complex, integrative, and syncretic learning.
For Christakis, it’s really about the teacher-child interaction.
If you’ve ever wondered about the right age for your child to start kindergarten, a new study out of Stanford suggests that later may be better.
Researchers found significant mental health benefits for the kids who start formal schooling slightly later. And one of the keys to their success is access to high-quality, play-based preschools beforehand. The extra year of play is key.
“The study’s findings also align with other research that has shown an extended period of early childhood play—such as in preschools—yields mental health developmental gains.
As a result, Dee said he hopes his research will lead to broader examinations on how kindergarten is taught. It could be pedagogy pointed more toward play rather than structured academics.”
Here’s an oldie-but-goodie, tongue-in-cheek essay from The New Yorker. It’s a send-up of a preschool teacher trying to throw a Day of the Dead party and the email back-and-forth that ensues, for example:
Some of you have expressed concern about your children celebrating a holiday with the word “dead” in it. I asked Eleanor’s mom, who’s a pediatrician, and here’s what she said: “Preschoolers tend to see death as temporary and reversible. Therefore, I see nothing traumatic about the Day of the Dead.” I hope this helps.
In response to the e-mail we all received from Maddie’s parents, in which they shared their decision to raise their daughter dogma-free, yes, there will be an altar, but please be assured that the Day of the Dead is a pagan celebration of life and has nothing to do with God. Keep those photos coming!
Perhaps “pagan” was a poor word choice. I feel like we’re veering a bit off track, so here’s what I’ll do. I’ll start setting up our altar now, so that today at pickup you can see for yourselves how colorful and harmless the Day of the Dead truly is.
What do toddlers and seniors have to teach each other? As it turns out, a lot.
A recent CNN story features the Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC) in Seattle, where, “preschool children interact with retirement home residents on a daily basis. They sing, dance, make art, read stories together and just visit.” And the interactions benefit seniors and toddlers, alike.
Filmmaker Evan Briggs spent the 2012-13 school year filming at the ILC three days a week, and the result is the forthcoming documentary, “Present Perfect.”
For Briggs, the film is an opportunity for us to reconsider how we treat and value our seniors. “I’m optimistic about the possibilities for changing the way we think about aging,” she told Rebekah Lowin, of Today.
At Hilltop, we’ve long believed in the benefits of bringing together children and the elderly, which we do as part of the school’s commitment to visit Garden Crest regularly.
See the trailer and learn more about the film, here. Read the full CNN article, here.
Just in time for the back-to-school season, Valerie Strauss, who runs the Answer Sheet blog at The Washington Post, shared a post by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, where she makes yet another strong case for a play-based preschool curriculum.
In fact, it is before the age of 7 years — ages traditionally known as “pre-academic” — when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.
Here’s another recent New York Times op-ed in favor of a play-based curriculum such as the one we have here at Hilltop.
“Play is often perceived as immature behavior that doesn’t achieve anything,” says David Whitebread, a psychologist at Cambridge University who has studied the topic for decades. “But it’s essential to their development. They need to learn to persevere, to control attention, to control emotions. Kids learn these things through playing.”
The article is also critical toward overly academic teaching in kindergarten.
“Reading, in particular, can’t be rushed. It has been around for only about 6,000 years, so the ability to transform marks on paper into complex meaning is not pre-wired into the brain. It doesn’t develop “naturally,” as do other complex skills such as walking; it can be fostered, but not forced.”
With universal pre-K coming to New York City next year, two educators responsible for training 4,000 of the city’s pre-K teachers penned a New York Times op-ed on the importance of play.
In it, they outline what’s already a core part of Hilltop’s philosophy:
We do not need to pick between play and academic rigor.
While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.
The article is worth a read for its wonderfully descriptive, detailed and — especially from a Hilltopper’s point-of-view — familiar answer to the question, “What does purposeful play look like?”