Roots and Wings

Community Preschool

January 22, 2018Roots & Wings Community Preschool
3703 International Way
Medford, OR 97504
541-779-3544

Kindergarten Readiness

Recently I have experienced some rather challenging and disturbing situations centered on education trends for young children in our valley.   This is in response to the sometimes heavy handed misinformation given to parents and message of what they should be doing to get their children ready for school and if they don’t their children will fail. It is a response to the many parents I have spoken to whose voices are full of fear as they discuss their 3 year old’s future with apologies that they are not yet recognizing their letters or numbers and prefer the company of their parents to that of strangers. It is a response to the unfortunate movement to prepare children for the future guided by expectations that are without adequate scientific evidence and utilizes strategies that may be doing more harm than good. It is hopefully an opportunity for parents to do some of their own research in order to make informed decisions regarding the education of their children and how to approach this thing we call kindergarten. It is a hope that parents will feel empowered to engage in meaningful dialogue with kindergarten teachers and other school officials whose intentions are good but whose own realities may interfere with making decisions based on best practices for young children.

Although this is being posted on our school website it is by no means meant to sway parent choice for preschool placement but to inform parents so that they can feel comfortable with the choice they make.

Marketing to Education

Education is a money maker for many companies; textbook companies, toy manufacturers, and classroom supply companies all benefit from education initiatives. These companies make unbelievable amounts of money on education trends. They scope out what those trends are and quickly manufacture or broker materials that meet those trends. I have noticed this with the current emphasis on STEM and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) initiatives. As I look through education catalogs there are now many materials that are now dubbed to promote better learning. This is not to say that they do or don’t but parents, teachers, stores and school administrators who look for supports are prime targets for this marketing. In addition, with the standardized test phenomena we are seeing a surge of ‘out of the box’ curriculum, Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) blogs, checklists, computer programs, handheld devices, and more tests that are promoted and sold without testing the claims made by the companies or individual. Companies must meet timely demands within a competitive market when initiatives hit the ground.  They want to be ready. Businesses need to make a profit, which is their primary motivation. This does not make doing business a bad thing. We depend in these markets. But we do need to be aware of how marketing is done, who the market is targeting, and we need to know whether the product will do what it claims to do and who the test market is. Currently the test market is our children. We are now in the midst of an escalating education market geared towards new products and technologies.

Some may call this innovation. But there is not sufficient evidence that many of these products are working. It would be interesting to see what would happen if profit margins were removed. New ideas should be welcomed provided they have been tested on some scale and evidence gathered prior to mandating. There is no standard for the standards. States and school districts have had to invest large sums in order to accommodate new curriculum and testing formats. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the reforms especially when the issues of poverty and segregation still go unaddressed. We know that children from homes with adequate resources generally do well in school and children without such resources struggle. (Ravitch, D., 2013)

We have cast aside childhood as a vital time period with its own unique characteristics and redefined it using ideas that are marketable and views children mistakenly as commodity. Children, as well as infants and teens, are now considered age groups with large amounts of expendable income. (Calvert, S. 2008) Parents stand to be a prime target to those marketing products in the name of “getting ready”. The next time you are tempted to purchase an educational game or toy, take a look at how it is being advertised. Are you left feeling that this is a must buy? Remember Baby Einstein? This is a great example of misleading advertising.  This is not a rare instance. The problem is there is so much false or misleading advertising when it comes to educational products that it is impossible to scrutinize every single product for effectiveness.

The school system has the same issue. Pearson Education came under investigation for practices of promising outcomes to meet new education standards in the United States. High ranking officials in one California school district were fired and files seized after leaks of insider trading between Apple and Pearson were discovered. Not all companies are bad. There are those that I regularly do business with because their products are interesting, thought provoking for children and well researched. Other companies unfortunately prey on our fear of failure. A Word about Creativity

Creativity can be defined as coming up with an idea that is useful, adaptable, unique or original. In early childhood we see creativity in children as they actively work out ideas, make or invent something for the first time and for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. Creativity engages various ways of expressing one’s ideas or thinking. Creativity is held as a strong indicator for future achievement. Inventors, doctors, software developers, designers, business and industry leaders all rate high on creativity tests. The most prominent creativity test is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking which has been around for decades and has been proven most accurate. (Isbell & Yoshizawa, 2016).

Since the 1990’s creativity test scores in the US have been declining most notably in K-3. What we know is that the world is in a shortage of creative talent. Many countries are making creativity a priority in school curriculum. Creative thinkers are;

  • Able to deal with issues that are both abstract and practical.
  • Flexible and able to adjust to changes in information and in diverse societies.
  • Problem solvers that can take on challenges and opportunities.
  • Can produce innovative ideas.

Creativity is considered a mindset and is critical to young children’s learning. A current problem is many school districts have removed materials and opportunities that develop and nurture creativity in place of skill and drill and rote memorization relying more and more on technology versus active full body, whole child learning using methods that physically activate the brain.  This is most notable in the kindergarten and first grade classrooms and is now seeping into more and more preschools.

A creative thinker is an independent thinker, can be daring in their own learning and willing to take intellectual risks, to try new and alternative ways to accomplish a task. This is going to be vital as the world continues to change. The jobs of the future have not been invented yet.

There are four skills that are recognized as essential by The Partnership for 21st Century Learning and believed to be the most important for today’s children. It is the recommendation that these skills be included in classroom and curriculum and part of educational goals (Isbell & Yoshizawa, 2016). They are:

  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking (problem solving)

Their “mission is to serve as a catalyst for 21st century learning to build collaborative partnerships among education, business, community and government leaders so that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops“. Visit P21 for more information. Many early childhood professionals know what this looks like, we call it best practices or Developmentally Appropriate Practices. Visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for information regarding developmentally appropriate classrooms for children.

Important skills that children really need

At the University of Oregon Brain Development lab a great deal of research has been devoted to brain development and cognition (thinking skills). One of the important skills needed for young children entering kindergarten is the ability to focus, to pay attention, which requires filtering background distractions. Not just auditory distractions (hearing) but also our other senses such as visual distractions, even temperature. This work has also been featured on NOVA on PBS.

In addition, recent research by Dr. Brock Rowley whose research, cited below, indicates that social skills, the ability to share space (not necessarily stuff) with others, is also an indicator of school success. Rowley’s research was specific to the Child Behavioral Rating Scale (CBRS) of the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment (Rowley, 2015).

Other research emphasizes skills that are not tangible, not easily assessed, are also critical. Children who use initiation, curiosity, and persistence to learn more about the world around them are considered those who have a greater likelihood to be successful in school. Children who engage in more imaginative play are thought to use these skills repeatedly. Reasoning and problem solving skills require children take appropriate risks, use trial and error, to solve problems.  These skills are also repeated in children’s play patterns.

Ellen Galinsky, author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs“, through her own research provides even more depth into characteristics that help children navigate over the life span. Focus and self-control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections (considered the heart of all learning), critical thinking, taking on challenges and self-directed and engaged learning make up her list with accolades from other top researchers and professionals. This is a very good read if you are at all interested.

In her book “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups“, Erika Christakus provides another powerful lens into the hearts and psyche of young children. This is another book that I highly recommend to parents, early care professionals and others interested in the well-being of young children.

Play: Crucial and Misunderstood

Do not be conflicted over children’s play. In its truest form children come to terms with their own capabilities, living in space with others, give and take both in conversation and in physical space. In addition children are introduced to the complexities of being literate, numeracy and how the world works (science). As adults, our role is to provide the appropriate and necessary materials and provisions; time, space, and events.  We are not talking about large sums of money here. The beauty of early childhood is not just in its complexity, the stages that the body and brain travel, but in its natural simplicity of real needs; safety, love, interesting things to look at and interact with

Children need prekindergarten classes that teach the how to socialize with others, how to listen and learn, how to communicate well, and how to care for themselves. While engaging in the joyful pursuit of play and learning what is appropriate to their age and development and that builds their background knowledge and vocabulary.” (Ravitch, 2013)

In a natural setting, the astute observer gains a wealth of insight into the child’s thinking and development, by listening, watching and planning for relevant follow up activities. Over time we have forgotten how to observe children and recognize intelligence in the patterns of play behavior as developmental milestones. That is sad. See these are professional publications; “DAP and Play Handout” and “Wisdom of Play” articles for more information on the importance of play and its contribution to children’s development. Many that I use with my college students. It is time that they come out of hiding and be made more available and accessible to our parents.

How We Got Here

Once upon a time there were nursery schools that offered enriching and nourishing activities in environments facilitated by caring and appropriately trained adults. Many of these programs were parent coops with a Head Teacher and many helpful hands. This was about the same time when much research on child development and the uniqueness of childhood were making headlines and these same programs were able to take advantage of this information and be a part of the research.

In the late 50’s the US entered into an emotional global rivalry with the USSR who had successfully launched a space craft. This altered the political, social and economic context of the time and revived the already existing competition in innovation and technology. School curriculum became the target and a downward spiral into the lower grades began. Up to this point kindergarten had its own unique characteristics and purpose, as did the other grades especially First through Third. What was considered appropriate for one grade was now seen as an opportunity for pushing down into the lower grades. The 60’s and 70’s brought ever increasing changes to the face of kindergarten. No longer was kindergarten considered a gentle introduction into the public school system. It became a time for assessing children based on the expectations pointed directly to upper grades (Abraham, 2012).

Somewhere in these years Nursery school began going through an identity revision. The term ‘preschool’ is fairly new and replaced the ‘nursery’ school as a marketable attempt making it a prerequisite for kindergarten success with much competition to follow. Today’s conscientious parents heed the warnings of future failure if their child does not attend preschool prior to kindergarten. (Abraham) Well, that is both true and not true. Exposure to engaging and interesting activities and opportunities increases brain power and when accompanied by good language models increases vocabulary. Let’s face it, how many parents want blocks and easels in the middle of their living rooms? How many want to deal with huge amounts of baking soda and vinegar, enough to blow up their homes? This is what we mean by interesting and engaging.

Preschool education is currently considered a necessity for young children if they are going to be successful. The pressure has become even more evident in the past 15 years with No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and now Common Core. This has created a fast track for the very young. If we were to remove all outside pressures what would parents and early childhood specialists want for children? This question points us to the very heart of the child and their real needs. We want children to be happy, loved and appreciated, and yes successful. But do we want success to be at the price of a child’s right to be a child? (Abraham)

A leading authority both here in the US and in the UK, Dr. Lillian Katz, speaks passionately against academic instruction in the preschool years. She says, “The evidence…suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.” Dr. Katz is a former President of the NAEYC and teaches at the University of Illinois. She and Sylvia Chard are the developers of the Project Approach, an innovative curriculum design. I heard Dr. Katz speak as the keynote in Denver in the 1980’s. To illustrate the point of the early push of academics she said this (and I have never forgotten it), “Fourteen year olds can have babies, but should they? We can make young children read, but should we?” More on Dr. Katz in BBC’s article “UK children ‘reading too early’“.

The right to childhood: Childhood vs. Current Trends

Childhood can be inconvenient for some adults. So why not just get it over as quickly as possible.  Childhood now seems irrelevant in today’s fast moving and sophisticated system. To illustrate this we only need to look at the current trend of eliminating play-based curriculum in preschool and kindergarten in favor of “one-size-fits-all” lessons and testing. This denies children of needed opportunities and provisions they need now and more than ever to develop meaningful foundations in all learning domains which include math, language and science in more appropriate ways. Current efforts are attempting to undermine appropriate practices for young children. More and more teachers are facing punitive action by administrators if they do not follow scripted lessons plans. Organizations, such as Defending the Early Years, work diligently to promote best practices for children and support teachers’ efforts to maintain hands-on learning and real world learning (Levin, D. & McLaughlin, G. B., retrieved 2017). These organizations have clear position statements grounded in research, which can help policy makers, administrators, parents, and educators to advocate for best practices.  We cannot rewire children, we cannot give them back the time that was taken.

Lack of scientific evidence and merit in current decision making

There are now mountains of valid and undeniable research that points to a much different understanding of childhood regarding the first 8 years of life than has been demonstrated in current educational policy trends. Within these 8 years are at least 3 uniquely vital stages of development, more if we track in terms of months rather than years.

This research has been well-documented over that past 10 years or more regarding the ineffectiveness of the Kindergarten Assessment as well as the push for early reading and math (Ravitch, 2013). The issue is that we have become so entrenched in the current spiral that we don’t know how to stop, recalculate and reset the compass. School systems change slowly. It can take years for policy to catch up to research and other grassroots movements.

Parent Choice, Empowerment, Rights and Responsibility

School districts are run by real people. These people went into the field of education because they love kids and want to do good by them. Even with the best intentions things can go astray given that these same people are accountable to other people, namely policy makers and federal and state departments, who also have good intentions. But motivation is a funny thing and can be swayed easily. Political and financial motivations play a very large role in policy making which also depends on who is sitting at the policy making table.  Input from parents can create change. We are already seeing grassroots movements all over the country in regards to opting out of standardized testing including the Kindergarten Assessment. In his research, Dr. Rowley proposes that the current Kindergarten Assessment is not only racially biased but flawed overall (Rowley, 2015). There is absolutely no research that can back the effectiveness of the assessment. There is no research that indicates that the assessment has any benefits. The biggest indicator of academic success is self-regulation, the ability to regulate one’s behavior in a variety of situations.

Parents have the right to opt out of the kindergarten assessment. In fact, in the winter 2015 edition of the Oregon Education Association journal (pages 10-11), which is provided to all public school teachers, there are articles regarding the history of Common Core and resources for parents interested in opting out of the assessment. Neither parents nor early childhood specialists were involved in the initial decision making process while developing Common Core or the current push for earlier academics. This has been kept like some guarded secret? There are some other interesting articles regarding standardized testing in the same issue as well.

Movement for opting out of homework especially in the younger years is increasing nationally. You may have already noticed.  Considering that kindergarten is now full day and the lack of evidence that certain homework has any benefits through any of the grades, some parents are putting more emphasis on reading to their children at home, providing other enriching experiences and emphasizing family time. These experiences need not be expensive. Time playing a board game, having meal time together with conversations, visiting free community family events, reading books, can do more to opening the world to our children than yet another worksheet. Certain projects sent home by teachers can be fun and engaging and certainly should be considered. But as a parent you have the right to scrutinize how your child will spend their time once they come home. This is also a responsibility. If we choose any opting out of anything it comes with the responsibility that our children do not spend hours in front of the TV or using other media. Recent studies indicate the children 2-5 should not have any more than one hour per day of any kind of media (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017). See the resources below. Organizations such as Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE) provides many ideas of inexpensive family play ideas called “Family Play Plans” and other brain building activities and information for parents.

I know parents that simply and kindly inform the kindergarten and even the first grade teacher that their child will not be doing homework, rather be engaged in family time. Many teachers have gotten on the band wagon nationwide and have abolished homework unless it is something special. I encourage parents to consider their options but with the understanding of the responsibility this brings. Enrichment is the key and it does not have to cost money and should never involve a long periods of sitting.

Open Enrollment

Every child brings a large amount of money during the 13 years they are expected to attend a particular school district. The last thing a district wants is a mass exodus. Some districts have been responding to the trend by evaluating their own district policies and making adjustments especially in regards to early education. If more informed parents brought their concerns and desires to the attention of administrators I would expect those same administrators would provide appropriate space and provisions to support the children. This has happened in a few districts where charter schools have been created, although recently even these have come under fire locally. In other districts, a renewed focus on developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) has created a new understanding on the needs of very young children.  This is happening nationally, not just here in Oregon.

March is open enrollment month in Oregon. Visit the Oregon Department of Education and policies regarding open enrollment. There is talk of some local school districts holding an additional open enrollment in June as well.

I encourage you to speak to your school district as well as the school district you may be interested in before any deadlines pass and opportunities become less accessible. I encourage you to meet with officials on both sides. Speak candidly regarding your concerns and why you are considering a transfer. As with chocolate, there are some brands that are better than others. Some brands put higher degree of emphasis and quality in the ingredients and the process. They have researched what makes a good piece of chocolate, understanding the exact science and timing and demonstrate that commitment every day. They support their employees and provide enough autonomy and trust to those employees to do their job well.

Change comes slowly

I recently read in a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), where, if our national pace continues regarding providing access for all children to early learning programs, it would take 150 years to provide for all 4 year olds (NIEER, 2014).  Children have many allies, people who sincerely believe in programs and opportunities for young children.  The challenge has been as with all movements, it takes the skill of a diverse and passionate population to bring lasting change. Families are likely the strongest force we have. We are already seeing signs all across the nation as parents insist on no homework policies for their young ones as well as increased recess times and eliminating punitive discipline practices.

While speaking to a group of early learning professionals in Medford (Nov. 10, 2016), Dr. Rowley explained, “The public school system is like a big clunky ship. It takes a very long time to get it to turn around.” This may be true but we do not have to wait or be victims. Change can come by educating ourselves of the real needs of our young ones then advocating for those changes by insisting that age appropriate goals and practices known as,  Developmentally Appropriate Practices or DAP, be used in all classrooms and programs serving children birth through age 8. If enough parents gathered together, most school officials would much rather keep the dollars in their district, rather than having those dollars go to another district.

In February 2016, the Oregon Department of Education rolled out new guidelines for both Early Learning and Kindergarten. Finally, there is a well-researched document regarding what learning looks like for young children. This is a wonderful conversation starter as it provides information to administrators, teachers and parents of what the expectations are during important growth time periods including goals for the end of kindergarten. As one representative explained recently, these are guidelines. No two children are identical. Development is individual and unique. Some children will enter kindergarten nearly reading, where others may demonstrate strengths with numbers or in other areas.

The big question is will schools be able to transition their curricula in a responsive way to children’s needs. When educating children we must consider body, mind and spirit; the latter referring to our sense of others and purpose.

Poverty and a Final Word

Poverty and the lack of community resources for under-served families and young children can no longer be ignored. Issues of poverty were not considered when the mandates of Common Core were created. What we know is children who are raised with far less resources than their more affluent peers stand a higher chance of dropping out of school, engaging in risky behaviors, and becoming an economic burden on the system.  Young children typically lack the language skills and social skills to help them navigate their way through life. Eventually these children fall through the cracks because early supports were never accessed or were extremely limited. Over time these children eventually find ways to blend into the walls of society and become invisible.

P21 believes “All learners need and deserve 21st century learning opportunities to thrive as tomorrow’s leaders, workers, and citizens.” That’s everyone. Further, “Learning takes place throughout life in many places and spaces. From birth through their careers, learners need a broad range of experiences that develop their skills, dispositions and abilities to succeed. A strong foundation for success is rooted in learning that happens in and out of school.” This means that as communities consider any projects or improvements that these include specific ways of creating environments for everyone to enjoy beyond just ways of being entertained. Open areas for play, museums, walking parks and other recreation and enrichment opportunities that are easily accessible by the public should become part of this conversation and benefit everyone.

These are not new conversations. They weave their way in and out of our lives regularly but are competed with by “more pressing issues”. I certainly get that. I suppose this becomes part of the big clunky ship we were talking about earlier. Once your kids are on their own it will no longer be that important. It now becomes their problem. If you are fortunate enough to ever have grandchildren it will revisit but with a different emphasis. I hope you will remember the things I have spoken about when the time comes. Or perhaps we may soon reach a point where these things are resolved.

A parent of our program said this recently, “I know in OT school (occupational therapy) it was driven into our brains that a child’s occupation, or job, is to play. Play is what is necessary for children’s growth and future success and this requirement is to be taken as seriously as an adult’s job that puts bread on the table and a roof over their heads. I have always liked that view, and of course it is backed by research.” Amy S.

Be well everyone!

Rebecca Tree, M. Ed.

Director, Roots & Wings Community Preschool

Bibliography

Abraham, G. (2012). Preschool Education: Keeping the magic alive. White City: Lampus Press

American Academy of Pediatrics. Media and Children Communication Toolkit. (Retrieved on January 24, 2017)

Calvert, S. (2008). Children as Consumers: Advertising and Marketing. (Retrieved on January 25, 2017).

Christakus, E. (2016). The importance of being little: What preschoolers really need form grownups. New York, Ny. Penguin Press

Galinsky, E. (2010). Mind in the making: The seven essential life skills every child needs. New York, NY. Harper Collins Publishers

Levin, D. & McLaughlin, G.B. Learning to Count to ’14’: The Common Core Way and the Developmentally Appropriate Way. (Retrieved January 24, 2017)

Isbell, R. and Yoshizawa, S.A. (2016) Nurturing Creativity: An essential mindset for young children’s learning. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

NIEER. 2014 Yearbook Release. (Retrieved January 24, 2017)

Ravitch, D., (2013). Reign of Error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York. Random House Publishers.

Rowley, B. (2015) KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT: ANALYSIS OF THE CHILD BEHAVIORAL RATING SCALE (CBRS). (Retrieved January 25, 2017)

Other resources for you:

Oregon State Brain Development Lab. Interventions. (Retrieved January 10, 2017)

Children Need Social and Emotional Skill for School Success (Retrieved January 17, 2017)

Why Parents should Be Concerned about the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment (Retrieved January 17, 2017)