The internet is blowing up with first-day-of-school selfies and stories on social media, reflections of the past year, and wishes for the coming year (not to mention back-to-school marketing to test your self control). My household is is the full throes as well. Our youngest daughter has started preschool at our local school and with that, lots of firsts have ensued. My husband and I had an opportunity to “slow start” with her for 1/2 a day. During these three hours we went over classroom procedures and familiarized ourselves with her room and routine. As a parent, it was an assuring experience. I now know my child is safe and engaged. I can picture what activities she will be doing for the next 179 school days.
As an educator, I had mixed emotions throughout the morning. Let me explain: there are amazing, fantastic experiences being offered in our preschool classrooms across the nation. Children can explore cooperative play, verbalize ideas and act out realistic situations in the Home Play Area. Children can plan, observe, compare, make predictions, and discover at the Science Area. Children build self confidence, learn cause & effect, are creative and have an avenue for emotional expression at the Art Area. And the list goes on and on with the Writing Area, Block Area, Listening Area, Puzzle Area, Library Area, and Sensory Area. Each space offers in-depth exploration and enquiry while the students are always central to their learning which is using essential tools and skills necessary for a 4-year-old to be successful.
If my child is exposed to all these rich experiences then why do I have mixed emotions as an educator? Sadly, these experiences will wane throughout her elementary and secondary school movement. The magic will go away, the excitement will fade. Real-world experiences are replaced by the next test. Projects will be replaced by reports or Powerpoints that are assigned by the teacher, probably driven by state standards coverage, and these papers or projects will never see the light of day outside the classroom. Kids will do (or not do) homework for a grade. The grade will go in the gradebook and at the end of the quarter or semester that student will get an A, B, C, D or F. Ok – but what did the student learn? What will they take from their learning to contribute to our society? What real-world skills were honed? Did memorizing those dates and names teach them anything? Can what they are taught be easily Googled? If so, we failed. We are failing. Our educational system is failing by the lack of change in an ever-changing technological world.
Somewhere between preschool and 12th grade our focus shifts from what’s actually important to what seems like it’s important. The poem Just Playing by Anita Wadley is a good reminder.
Fellow educators – let’s keep playing, let’s keep advocating for play – our kids deserve that much.