"Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily." - Finnish saying
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With my sister and I growing up in the 90’s and now having two young children (3 and 1) heading toward formal education, and our mother having attended kindergarten in the 60’s, we are truly worried about the changing tide in education and placing our children in the midst of what we can only deem an ineffective mess.
My mother experienced half day kindergarten complete with naps, milk and cookies, music, songs and art, and of course that forbidden word, recess. My siblings and I also attended kindergarten for half a day and though we were expected to know our ABC’s and count to 100, we had opportunities to engage in pretend play and participated in gym, music, songs, arts & crafts and yes, recess. Today, kindergartners attend a full day of school where all the focus is on academics with play becoming a negative word and recess non-existent. Our educational system is sacrificing play for earlier reading and writing, more homework, more testing and longer school hours and more school days and when children don’t achieve the goals that have been set forth, they are held back. As academics have increased, education has decreased leaving the United States performing dismally in worldwide academic rankings and yet we continue down the same path expecting different results.
Lately, we’ve noticed a growing trend of parents and educators advocating for the return to play based learning or in other words, getting back to basics. Research shows that young children need play and as Fred Rogers said, “play is the work of children.” Most important though is to realize that children NEED unstructured play and NOT play led by an adult. That is not to say that children shouldn’t be provided with objects for pretend play, but the children themselves need to be allowed to decide HOW to utilize them and for what purpose. Children will often create a game or play from what they have seen or participated in with adults but they need to be free to direct the play, which facilitates their own learning and understanding. Unstructured play allows the freedom to explore, create and discover. It specifically helps build creativity and imagination along with building problem-solving and social skills, which leads us to Finland.
Finland often garners educational attention and for good reason. Finland’s high school students consistently rank among the highest performers on international tests like the PISA, but their youngest students focus on play. Finland seems to understand that a child can only learn what their cognitive abilities allow and takes a more natural approach to learning. Kindergarten doesn’t start until age 6 and reading isn’t formally taught until first grade though many of their students learn to read in kindergarten. Books are a part of a kindergartner’s day where the groundwork for literacy development is laid, but as one Finnish kindergarten teacher puts it, “we don’t push them but they learn just because they are ready for it.” Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg states that “kindergarten in Finland doesn’t focus on preparing children for school academically, instead the main goal is to make sure that the children are happy and responsible individuals.”
Creating a strong foundation gives one something to build upon otherwise the gaps can weaken the structure. This is also true with building strong educated minds. Gaps in education can weaken a child’s comprehension and understanding, which will further place the child at a disadvantage because the foundation is not strong enough to make sense of new information. In building the foundation though we must be certain that a child is cognitively ready to receive the educational training that is imposed upon them. Not all children are ready for the academics that are required today in kindergarten and by not allowing children to develop naturally through play and exploration using their own curiosity and imagination to fuel learning, we not only short-change our children but also our nation, leading us to our own state.
Currently in the state of Michigan, kindergarten is not mandatory though 95 percent of Michigan children already attend kindergarten. Legislation has been introduced to make kindergarten mandatory, which then seems to point to eventual mandatory preschool. The premise behind this legislation seems to come from the idea that making kindergarten mandatory, less children will be held back in the third grade because of low reading scores. It is stated that though 95 percent attend, records show attendance is “spotty” leading us to wonder if the representative in question has considered that this may be due to the fact that many children entering kindergarten may not be emotionally or cognitively ready for a full day of academics. We know many children who at five years of age still need a nap to regenerate and wholeheartedly agree with the Finnish system of play and natural learning especially when we observe my own three-year-old at play and the skills and knowledge she is gaining.
The fact is, children are naturally curious and we as parents and educators need to find ways to use this curiosity to fuel imaginations and to facilitate learning in a natural way. We need to remember that each child is a unique individual and that play is a child’s way of learning and is essential to child development. We also need to recognize that one size does NOT fit all and that interests will vary and we should foster these individual interests to have well-rounded contributing members of society. Play based learning should be embraced as other countries have to compete in the global marketplace and to build stronger, healthier, smarter children to become our future leaders.
-Kate @ BTBL
We are three generations that seek a way to get back to basics. It’s not that we eschew technology, but sometimes simpler is better, especially in raising our children. Mom was a reading teacher, Amanda is an early childhood educator and Kate a children’s literature specialist and former school librarian along with the latest editions, a daughter for Kate (now 3) and a son for Amanda (now 1.) We advocate reading aloud, the simple toys that use imagination and encourage creativity and learning in the kitchen, which can be a fun mess but also teaches life skills. Join us in raising healthy, happy, inquisitive and intelligent children.
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We are mom Sandra and daughters Amanda and Kate, all with backgrounds in literacy and education, who want to share our philosophy of taking the basics of life; books, simple toys that encourage play, imagination and creativity, and using cooking and baking to teach math and real life skills to raise happy, inquisitive children. Join us in exploring the old and the new and sifting through the myriad of research to consider what is best for our children.