I propose we give back to children something that rightfully belongs to them and that we adults, in our arrogance, have taken away from them, i.e. the gift of time. We need to be reminded of the saying, “Childhood is a Journey and not a Race.”
We no longer take into account that each child is unique and develops at a unique rate. Instead of pushing all children to grow up faster and faster. Parents are just as much at fault as the schools. Parents may be forgiven more than the schools. The parents may be acting out of ignorance believing that pushing their children is best for them. Since what is best is a vague concept, most parents have to rely on outside criteria. These criteria might inculde such things as being admitted to the most prestigious nursery school with the most demanding academic curriculum at the start of the child’s academic career.
Many preschool programs perpetuate parents’ mistakes. They offer too much too soon. Instead of the curriculum fitting the children’s developmental needs, it fits what adults mistakenly believe has to be accomplished if children are to be ahead of the game academically. Most adults concentrate on the academic because that can be quantified. The rest of the child’s development, i.e. physical, emotional and social is being more and more left to chance or is completely forgotten mainly because schools tend not to measure these areas of development.
Young children should have a great deal of experience being physically active. They should have opportunities to hop, jump and run. They should have opportunities to develop independence and able to wash, dress and feed themselves. They should have opportunities to play with their peers in dramatic play, taking on a variety of roles and developing social skills.
Children are concrete thinkers and need to interact with concrete objects in their environment not just paper and pencil. They should be involved in building with blocks, playing with sand, weighing and measuring objects, planting flowers and so on. They need opportunities to be involved in spontaneous play. When a child asks a question as a result of these interactions, instead of immediately answering the question, the adult’s response should be: “Let’s find out.” The process of finding out is more beneficial for the developing mind of the child than just being given the correct answer by an adult.
Research points up the danger of not giving children the time to grow and develop and of pushing academic development to the exclusion of all other areas. David Weikert, Lawrence Scheinhart and Mary Larner of High Scope Educational Research Foundation in Michigan studied fify-four children in three different programs. The children in the highly structured, tightly teacher-controlled and predominately academic preschool program did not do well as adolescents. Dr. Weikert feels that his results should give pause to adults, both parents and educators, who want to extend academic schooling down to age four.
Dr. George Sterne of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on Early Childhood feels that many working parents, in their attempt to do the best for their children, give them “quality time” by teaching them something. He recommends that some of this time be devoted to cuddling and playing with the children instead. Childhood should be a time for laughter and fun. Instead of overprogramming their children to give them the best, parents might consider more free time and more time for children to develop at their own pace, not only to be themselves but to find out who they are and to develop interests and personalities.
Being responsible parents can be very discouraging in these times mainly because parents are exposed to so many conflicting theories about what is good the growing child. Parents who are most successful understand the uniqueness of their children and act on that knowledge by giving them time grow and develop.