THE BLOG

In The Classroom, Let Kids Just Be Kids

02/17/2016 05:27 EST | Updated 02/17/2017 05:12 EST
shutterstock
education elementary school ...

duchess

He squirms in his seat, a chair much too high for even the sturdiest of six-year-old legs. I have already prepared him for the "fun" game we are in the midst of playing, but I can see that he is tiring of this activity. No matter how I "package" the testing I am doing -- whether as a game, a fun thing to do or anything else somewhat entertaining: it is still something that requires him to sit still, concentrate, focus and then provide me with data. I know that our time is quickly coming to an end.

"Do you want to take a break?" I ask him sympathetically. He nods his head vigorously and is out the door like a shot, heading back to our early-years classroom downstairs before I can even get a chance to turn around. Meanwhile, I am left behind staring helplessly at the multi-page test I have just administered -- wondering: why in the world am I doing this?

Yes, that is exactly the question. WHY?

I daily find myself trying to fit and squeeze in speech and language assessments, math assessments, guided reading sessions, observations -- and I haven't even started yet on running records and report cards.

According to Chip Wood in his book Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14, "many of our kindergarten and first grade programs are once more seriously out of balance with the developmental needs of five-year-olds." Five-year-olds (and their counterparts who are four and six) are busy, life forces with one thing on their mind: playing. Wood claims that "too much attention to paper and pencil tasks, test taking, and early reading acquisition is creating a pressure cooker environment for children, teachers, and parents."

How true this is. With report cards looming, the test-administering in my classroom has been increased in frequency and duration. I daily find myself trying to fit and squeeze in speech and language assessments, math assessments, guided reading sessions, observations -- and I haven't even started yet on running records and report cards which all are due to be finished in three weeks time.

Is it any wonder children are stressed out and maxed to the limit?

Wood states that "in our rush to 'fix' our schools, we are supplanting essential aspects of childhood education -- imagination, play, creativity, scientific curiosity, reading for pleasure -- with testing in every subject." He then adds that "recess and special area subjects such as art and music, world languages, and even computer literacy are held hostage to subjects that are measured by standardized state assessments." The elimination of these and other rites of childhood cannot help but bring about negative consequences.

Children need time to imagine, play, create, be curious, read, write and dream. Children need time to explore and discover. Children quite simply need time. And without that time, they will become anxious, agitated, fearful, worried, nervous, restless, apprehensive and uneasy.

Children need time to imagine, play, create, be curious, read, write and dream. Children need time to explore and discover. Children quite simply need time. And without that time, they will become anxious, agitated, fearful, worried, nervous, restless, apprehensive and uneasy. The state of their mental health becomes a huge concern merely based on the decrease of time they are allotted during the school day within which to function as typical four and five-year-olds do: with child-like, playful abandon.

What is the answer to this crisis of epic proportions? One answer is found by investment in good teaching practice; that is, finding professionals who realize that students learn best when the learning is tailored to meet the students developmental needs and situation and then placing these open-minded individuals in early-years classrooms. The next step is getting principals and leadership on board to support their early-years staff in providing learning environments and curriculum tailored to the whole child, not merely geared for their 'grey matter'.

But we cannot forget that public perception and awareness both play a supporting role in the effort to reverse the trend toward an increase in mental health deterioration; that is, we need more understanding from the public of the work teachers do to support the needs of children so that we can be the kinds of professionals we need to be, working with the future leaders of our country, our children.

Parents, your child is still a child. Help us as teachers value this sacred time of their lives without rushing them along to adulthood.

Parents, your child is still a child. Help us as teachers value this sacred time of their lives without rushing them along to adulthood.

Children are not miniature adults: they are kids. They are kids who need opportunity and possibility built into their lives. Kids who need time to be kids. Kids who want scaffolding in place to help them move forward, yes -- but who don't require all the blueprints so as to get the job done. They are kids who want to be nudged, not pushed into learning opportunities. Kids who need coaching, not babysitting. Kids who want to look back on these early years with joy, not regret that they had to grow up too fast.

These children are still kids.

Can we please let them stay that way for at least the early years?

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email cablogteam@huffingtonpost.com

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:


Kids' Snacks That Boost Their Mental Health