Sunday, June 14, 2015

Don't Lose the Joy

This summer I'm reading and commenting on the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica.

What If Everybody Understood Child Development? (Brick by Brick)

Chapter 2: The Earlier the Better?
Chapter 3: The Power of Joy

Many adults are advocating getting started earlier and earlier so kids will be more successful. Let's push down some of those skills and expectations. If kids master these skills earlier, then they will be ready for success in school and in life. After all, we don't want kids to fall behind, to "lose" in the competition of life. But...is life and school really a competition? Is it true that earlier is better?

Rae Pica notes that this push down creates more stress and anxiety for kids. More pressure to perform. But often they are not developmentally ready to perform these tasks, so they "fail" at something they are unable to do. Research has shown that by third or fourth grade, any "advantages" of early skills even out; kids perform equally well whether they read early or later. Earlier does not equal better.

Recently I have heard the same remark or justification from different sources: "We need to teach them these things. They will need them later. Even if they don't understand it all now, it is something they will need." I don't think this is a valid argument. We need to think about who the child is NOW, not what he will be in the immediate or distant future. He is five (or seven or nine or whatever). Let's treat him like a five-year-old, with five-year-old interests and abilities and capabilities and development. Let's think about him as an individual five-year-old, not the same as another five-year-old that may be doing something else or interested in something else. Let's teach who we have, not who we wish him to be.

All this emphasis on performance and the anxiety that it creates obliterate the joy that kids derive from exploring, discovering, playing...learning. Kids naturally become excited and engaged when they are exploring ideas and pursuing something that interests them. As kids become absorbed in activities, they draw more from the experience. They experience the joy of learning. If they are being drilled on skills that may beyond their current levels of development, they may gain something from the experience. But they experience anxiety and stress - and lose the joy of learning.

A few days ago I watched a four-year-old using watercolors. He enjoyed the way the water changed color when he dipped his brush in it. His was green. His friend's was blue. He began to try and change his water blue. He experimented with different colors. He asked me about why the water stayed green (or became darker green). We talked about what was happening. He tried different things to make the water change. Very little paint went on his paper; most went straight into the water. But he was absorbed in this activity for a long while.

Watercolor Experiment (Brick by Brick)

Today I watched the same thing happen with a six-year-old. He kept adding different colors and adjusting the mixture. He learned that pinky red water mixed with green paint makes brown water. He began to stir the water to create a swirl, dip his brush in paint, and place it back in the water to watch the color swirl off the brush and mix with the dark water. What a fun science experiment!

Both of these boys showed a great deal of joy and contentment in their experiments. Did they learn something? Undoubtedly. Was it what I had planned? No, but I was happy to see their experiments and conclusions.

That's the joy of learning. And I'm afraid we are losing that joy in classrooms every day when we push an agenda rather than follow the kids.

Some links from the book:

And a few more:

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