Greetings from 3:53 am. I am charged with waking up my daughter at 4:15 for the big field trip to Music in the Parks, and of course I have been tossing and turning all night with very little sleep at all. Later I will crash. Now I will blog.
Weighing heavily on my mind is a comment made to me in passing that word from the higher-ups in the Howard County Public Schools was the possibility that all play is going to be eliminated from PreK, "so they can really learn". Now this is not a documented fact. I do not have evidence to back this up. So, why am I sharing it?
Well, if the current trend in the school system continues, if this were in the works, none of us would know until it was too late. There would be an announcement, a press release, or perhaps the elimination of play wouldn't be revealed at all, but hidden under a description of increasing educational opportunities. Parent input would be criticized and teacher input would be strongly discouraged, if not downright suppressed. So I certainly hope it is a misunderstanding.
I have worked almost my entire career in the field of Early Childhood. Education trends may come and go, but this remains the same: young children learn best through play. In fact, play is quite legitimately the work of childhood. The most precious experiences are multi-sensory, hands-on, allow for movement, and are extended through imagination and play.
The most valuable teaching creates, fosters, and supports such environments.
I read in the Howard County Times that County Executive Kittleman has formed an Early Childhood Task Force. I commend him for caring about this crucial time of life and our youngest citizens. The article quotes him,
"We have one of the best school systems in the country. However, we must also attend to preparing our children from the very beginning with access to the best early childhood education available," Kittleman said in a statement. "This foundation is a critical component of our work to close the achievement gap in the county and support kindergarteners in the critical first step on a path to success in school and in life."
I sincerely hope that there are professionals with credentials in the field of early childhood on this task force. I hereby issue a heartfelt plea to Mr. Kittleman:
Young children learn through play, and through relevant real-life experiences. We need to close the Achievement Gap by closing the experience gap. The foundation of learning for our youngest students is provided in the nourishing experiences of play, music, dance, dramatic play, art, and experiences in nature.
Opportunities to listen to story books and engage in language play are vital. Using manipulatives to develop number sense and other hands-on math activities should be in the mix as well. But teaching "reading and math" in the academic sense is unhealthy and counterproductive. It will not close the Achievement Gap, but reinforce it.
Children from at-risk backgrounds come to kindergarten missing the life experiences that more affluent children have received at home: nightly story-time, one-to-one conversations and word play, trips to the farm, to museums, and to concerts, creative and social interactions with peers, safe places for experimenting and making a mess, safe and developmentally appropriate spaces for regular outdoor play.
Eliminating play from the daily diet of the young child in order to "educate" them is the equivalent of eliminating lunch in order to teach nutrition: a starvation diet imposed upon the hungriest and most vulnerable. If there is a Bill of Rights for young children, these three things are at its core:
- Safety and Meeting Physical Needs
Dear Mr. Kittleman, thank you for caring about the needs of our young children. I ask that you support solutions which meet them where they are, and give them what they truly need. If you do, your legacy in Howard County will be carried in each little person touched and transformed by your leadership.
This almost sounds like a prayer. Maybe it is.