But They Need to Learn To…..

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Originally published 3/14/16

“Heather, I think this is the first time that I’ve encountered a center that doesn’t request children to ‘sit’ when in group. I understand the philosophy, but children also need to learn that by sitting while in a large group, others are given a better ability to see what is going on. I’ll have to ponder on this one a bit.”

This is feedback I received after singing the praises of a PreK teacher (4 and 5 year olds) who allowed children who were not engaged in group time to leave the group and work on their own. This is not the first time I have heard the argument that if children are allowed to choose not to participate in group time in their child care setting or preschool, they will never be able to sit when an elementary school teacher expects it of them.

I wonder how this person would have responded if I had said that I appreciated that infants who are not yet ready to walk are allowed to sit, crawl, creep and cruise instead. 

Of course, that seems perfectly rational. But couldn’t an argument be made that we want children to be able to walk when they go to kindergarten? Aren’t we cheating them by not forcing that walking?

Two of the core considerations of developmentally appropriate practice explain why we allow infants to sit, crawl, creep and cruise before walking. First, we base our expectation on what is known about child development and the skills and experiences a typical infant needs to have before she can be expected to walk. Second, we observe the development of that specific infant to learn where she is in that developmental continuum, knowing that developmental variation is the norm. So why do we so often abandon that process when children are 4 and 5 years old?

I’ve got some news for you, folks. There’s plenty of time for sitting still and lots of experiences children need to have before we can expect it of them. And too often our attempts to force this “readiness” backfire. How? I’m glad you asked….

One way forced participation in group time (and punishment for pushing back) can backfire is by sending a message to young children that learning is not fun and doesn’t work for them. More and more attention is being given to desirable “approaches to learning” that contribute to school readiness. We need to pay closer attention to children’s FEELINGS ABOUT learning than we do to whether they are sitting cross cross applesauce with their hands in their laps, waiting to be given permission to express a thought or emotion.

A second way that we actually work against readiness is to force children who aren’t developmentally ready for group time  to develop escape behaviors. A child who is bored, scared or has learned that he cannot be successful in meeting the teacher’s expectations will find ways to get away from the group. She will learn that if she wiggles enough, talks when she shouldn’t or touches her neighbor too much, she will be sent away from group time. This is a behavior that her kindergarten teacher is going to have to spend a lot of time “unteaching,” further proving the child’s view of herself as someone who doesn’t fit and can’t succeed.

What do children really need to learn? Is it possible that unquestioning obedience is not the first thing on the list?

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Heather hosts the That Early Childhood Nerd Podcast and contributes articles to the Playvolution HQ website. Connect with Heather for personalized Skype workshops, book studies, consulting and more.

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