Ryan has about 5 more minutes before he has to turn off his iPad, get in the car and go to his acting class. After acting class, he will tackle that workbook page and get ready for dinner. This sounds like a typical day for a teenager in 2012. Sadly, it is also a typical day for many 3-5 year olds.
We have forgotten. That must be the reason that so many young children spend their days with an adult’s schedule. We have been distracted by product marketing and standardized test makers. We are ignoring what children need in order to learn. We have reprioritized to a point where children are expected to perform more than pretend. We have given into a society that says the definition of successful parenting is pushing children beyond their developmental stage because everyone needs to be the absolute best at literally everything. We have forgotten and it is sad.
Technology – tablets, laptops, smart phones – are the products of creative, critical thinkers but they do not develop that sort of thinking. Applications are being marketed to parents and educators as tools that ensure more success in preschool by encouraging children to read and write at a very young age. The publishers of workbooks try to tell us that they can do the same. We cannot open a child’s head and put knowledge in it. Early childhood learners need to construct their own knowledge. Jean Piaget, the cognitive theorist behind many of today’s accepted practices regarding child development, taught that if you teach a child something before they are ready to learn it, you deprive them of the opportunity to learn it completely. Babies cannot read but they can point to the picture that makes you react. They enjoy when you smile or clap – it is entertaining. Preschoolers will write and read successfully when they are ready to do so. Understanding the symbolism of letters can only take place when a child is ready to understand that one thing can stand for another – a letter can stand for a sound. Copying letters and imitating an adult’s pencil movements are meaningless until the child is ready for them to have meaning. Preschoolers are egocentric and only care about what matters to them. When it matters, they will do it more easily and with more depth of understanding. It is a wonderful thing when you expose children to language arts skills and they suddenly grasp it. They were ready. Until then, keep in mind that children need to engage all of their senses to integrate concepts. Write letters with them in shaving cream or sand or finger paint. Read to them so they can see your finger move along the page with each word and your lips move to form the sounds. To a preschooler, tablets, laptops and smart phones are toys and should be treated as such.
The use of many technological items is a solitary activity. One person can use the mouse. One person can use the touchscreen. Have you ever really watched children sit together at a computer? They are fixated on the screen. They are sitting together, each fixated individually on the movement, colors and music coming from the monitor. Socialization, something that should be a primary goal of any preschool program, can only come from social interaction. Children need to speak to each other, not a computer program. They need to learn about things that technology simply cannot teach them – caring, sharing and finding their place in a larger group.
Children need time to explore their world on their terms. Schedules that include lesson after lesson do not allow them to experiment and learn by satisfying their curiosity. Lessons and sports are adult driven activities. Adults decide what the children will do. Adults cheer them on and encourage their success. Team building, instructive activities have their place. I do remember taking dance lessons as a young girl but I remember far more time spent sitting in the grass exploring nature, playing with my friends at their homes and riding bikes in my neighborhood. I remember my parents telling me to go play and indulging me when I wanted them to participate in some pretend activity. My fondest memories are not in the car going from one adult driven thing to another but in the yard with my family and friends. It was okay that I went to dance class but my neighbor did not. Everyone didn’t need to be doing everything. We grew up, learned to read, went to college and have families of our own now.
We have forgotten. I hope you join me in a quest to remember.
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For information about The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom or Temple Shalom Religious School, contact Cindy Terebush at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732-566-2961.