Friday, June 17, 2016

Early Childhood Education Should Be the Model

I am reading and reflecting on the book The Power of Play by David Elkind.

Chapter 9 - Schooling with Heart, Mind, and Body

In this final chapter of his book, David Elkind thinks about education in light of our current cultural climate. Or at least he thinks about it in the climate in which he wrote the book. This book was written before tablets became ubiquitous. But he still talks about how technology has and is changing the classroom. Many students and families have easier access to information and more opportunities to respond and create (instead of just consume information). Teachers are more facilitators and guides instead of givers of information.

Elkind sees the current atmosphere in education as a reinforcement of Dewey's ideas--education should be functional, practical, related to what students need to know or do in the "real world." He notes that Dewey's ideal was the project method of education, one in which students bring together different skills and knowledge to complete a meaningful project. Elkind's thinking here dovetails with the maker movement and genius hour and creativity and other current trends and topics in the current education discussion. "Dewey's project method," Elkind writes, "combines creativity, self-motivation, and practical learning--play, love, and work. Such education is effective because it addresses the chid's heart, mind, and body."

Elkind also notes the inertia in our current education system. Through choice or circumstances, through other priorities or misguided thinking, many schools and educators do not embrace our new reality. They hold on to methods from earlier eras (memorization, rote learning, acquisition of information) rather than allow technology to serve a tools for these things.

Then Elkind wrote what is, to me, a key statement. (I love it so much, I'm setting it off on its own.)
"Of all the educational models, the early childhood model is the one that is most in keeping with the new reality.... Although it seems counterintuitive, quality early childhood education should be the model for education at all levels."

Instead of a factory model, inputting information to the blank minds to get the desired final product, schools of all ages should include curriculum and methods that incorporate students' interests, needs and abilities; students should be able to choose projects that challenge them to investigate and develop appropriate knowledge and skills. Elkind writes, "When children have a say in their learning, they are much more excited and involved than when they do not."

But our current system isn't doing that on a large scale. In fact, just the opposite is trying to happen - many are trying to push the factory model into early childhood education. "Those who are willing to look an see that the early childhood model of education is best suited to meet the new educational reality. This is what makes contemporary efforts ti impose the factory model of education onto preschool pedagogy such a travesty. Quality early childhood education is effective because it integrates play, love, and work."

I think we need less "academics" and rigor in early childhood education and more play and exploration in primary and secondary education. Let's start pushing up instead of pushing down.

Since we're not there yet, Elkind recommends that teachers incorporate playfulness and creativity into the activities (to combat the outmoded system). Games, open-ended question, challenges, activities/projects that cross disciplines - all of these can help add a little play in any grade level's learning time.

"It is when all three [play, love, work] are brought together that children have the best chance of learning in the context of their unique personal circumstances."

This book has stimulated all kinds of thinking for me - maybe more of a gathering of threads or consolidation of concepts rather than new ideas. I'm reflecting a little more and will post a final reflection next week. (Bottom line - I recommend this book!)

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