Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Truth About Consequences

Here's a bit of a conversation amongst music educators that I read this week:

I don't know if it is a trend all over or just our little nook of the world right now but every year in recent history, I find it harder and harder to teach first grade.  I honestly feel like I'm teaching preschoolers with some of the behaviors I see and how far I have to simplify lessons.  It's taking them much longer to achieve  beat competency than I remember in years past (been teaching 16 years).  They seem to not have control of their bodies/personal space.  I try my darndest to use this to my advantage and engage them with movement and very "active" things... but when playing games, doing dances, playing instruments, it takes every last ounce of my classroom management efforts (and I have been told that my classroom management is excellent) to just keep them focused long enough to get through something fun!  They just lose sight of the objective so quickly.  I do remind myself to keep it in perspective in that they are only 6/7 years old but I mean it... this is preschool type behavior I'm seeing.  Anyone else noticing this???

Some answers:

  • Because they have reduced their time in unstructured play, where they learn self regulation skills (Lave) and being in a community (Vygotsky).  Read some of David Whitebread's research.  It is all done in PLAY and we keep taking it away.

  •  The absolutely terrifying thing about this is that it happens everywhere, in both public and private schools. We're expecting children to act a certain age but not giving them the opportunity to grow into the age we want them to be. Play is so important in the lower grades but isn't an acceptable part of "instructional time" anymore, so our children are not learning how to regulate their behavior, their emotions, or even how to be self sufficient problem solvers. It's such a tragedy.

  • Yes, this! I want to do so much "work with a partner to do x y z" activities in older grades but they don't know how to work together or problem solve with each other because they never have the opportunity to do so anymore.

Taking away play has consequences. Children need time for open-ended exploration: outdoor play, dramatic play, building and experimenting with materials. They need permission and support to create with art materials and express themselves musically. They need choice and self-directed activities. When schools and parents take that away in favor of producing measurable "academic" goals, the end result is profound.

Early childhood is a time of immense brain development. It is also a time when crucial social-emotional boundaries and expectations should be introduced and supported. None of that can happen successfully if we don't respect children's basic needs.

Play is a child's work: upon this everything else is built. But, if you take it away, then there is no foundation upon which to build.

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