Friday, December 9, 2011

Death of Preschool?

Isn't that a catchy title? I recently read an article that was entitled that on Waldorf Today. The article was written by a man named Paul Tullis and appeared on Scientific American's website.

I, like many of you are very interested in early education, so this caught my eye. I immediately thought to myself that I assumed preschool rates were at an all time high, was I wrong?

I started reading the article and quickly realized that this had nothing to do with enrollment and everything to do with the form of instruction in preschool classrooms. The article began by replaying a conversation between some wealthy parents that are sending their children to a high priced preschool, that contains desks and chairs for each child and the children sit and learn versus a typical preschool where there are shared tables and more free learning and instruction.

One of these parents actually says "You go in there (his child's preschool), and they are sitting down, learning something. At other preschools, they are just playing." The author goes on to talk about how many preschools are turning to direct instruction instead of letting the child's natural curiosity and eagerness lead them in learning.

I have to say that I lean more towards the play is vital to learning camp, but I can see some perspectives of direct instruction. As a matter of fact, the National Institute for Direct Instruction defines direct instruction as "a model of teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks".

I agree that all teachers, even preschool teachers, should have well-developed and carefully planned lessons. A teacher should be prepared to teach for the day. The teacher should have the lesson plan completed and all necessary supplies at his disposal. Do not come into class and just "wing it" and hope all goes well. The other side of that coin for me, is that a teacher should not be so focused on her lesson plan that she misses an opportunity to teach a child. If you are teaching a farm theme in your preschool class and  one or two of your preschoolers are not ready to move on to horses instead of cows, what is the harm of teaching them more? Always be prepared! Typical preschoolers do not have a long attention span, if you have their attention and they are focused on your activities, continue that theme. Do not change gears just because your lesson plan says that it is time to move on.

The article also talks about how the children at the "direct instruction preschool" are studying great artists. They specifically talk about how the children are learning about Pablo Picasso and Pointillism. I think that the study of great artists should be included in any learning environment. It encourages creativity and problem solving in a child and those are skills that need to be nurtured. There are a great line of books geared towards young children. They are called Touch the Art and they are a great resource for a teacher or a parent to show great works of arts to children.

A problem that I see with this course of full-time direct instruction is that you are setting up many of these children for failure. If you say that a child has to read by 5 and know all of the states and capitols by 6; what do you do with the kids that can not do that? Do you start holding children back in kindergarten or in preschool? How does a child recover from that? Will there be psychological damage when a child realizes he has failed and all of his friends have moved on without him? I think 5 years of age is a little young for a child to give up on school. She has barely started her education and you are already pigeonholing her as a failure.

Allow kids to be kids. Let them play, with a bit of instruction thrown in. If you hand a child a toy, let them play with it before you show them "the correct way to play with it". Do not stifle a preschoolers natural curiosity, instead try to look through their eyes at the world.

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