23 August 2013

Little Children

I spent a couple of days this week with two dozen kindergarten teachers. Kindergarten teachers are a very special breed of teacher---and I mean that as a compliment. I have nothing but admiration for these teachers who have what may be the most important role of all of us in K - 12. I enjoy kindergarten students immensely, but I know that I do not have what it takes to teach them. If you have the chance to hang out with kindergarten teachers, I highly recommend it.

The discussions this week were all about how we transition students and families to K - 12 public education. Some kids make the jump from pre-school...and for others, this fall will be the first time they ever set foot in a space with their peers. Some families will be sending their first child into our care---others know us quite well by now, for better and worse. How do we both welcome our newest students and learn about them? Our state has its own version of an "inventory" to capture information about the whole child, from family hopes and dreams to observing the child at work and play.

Many seasoned veterans of teaching kindergarten spoke about how incoming students today are different from the ones they saw five or ten years ago---how much better prepared (in general) they are for school. Teachers aren't spending as much time with some of the basic routines and procedures---students already understand what it means to line up or come to morning meeting. These preparations are not so much about the content of the learning...after all, five year olds are five year olds. Their brains don't pick up readin', 'ritin', and 'rithematic any easier or faster now than they did in previous years. It's really about norms of behavior.

I don't have a quarrel with that, but it did get me to thinking about how our view of childhood is coming full circle. A century (or more) ago, children were viewed as miniature adults. Childhood was not seen as a developmental time...something separate from life as a grown-up. And then we built understanding about children, about how they learn, about how their brains work and bodies grow. I do think this is being incorporated into how we work with students of different ages. And yet, when I hear how well-heeled 5-year olds are these days to stand in lines and sit at desks, I can't help but picture mini-adults, ready to wait for their order at Starbucks before trotting back to their cubicles.

I understand that part of the role of public schooling is to teach civic norms and kindergarten is the perfect place to begin practicing how we interact with others and our environment. But part of me still has to wonder if we're still holding onto the view of children as small adults. Is there still enough room to let them be little children, too?

No comments: