by Travis Tagart
With Ferris Bueller Gifs, Because, Why Not?
Someone else took one for the team in the form of ScaryMommy's article "Our Kids Don’t Need F@*#ing Pedal Desks, They Need Recess". It's a passionate, strongly-worded indictment of what I call "the abuser strategy", even though perhaps author Maria Guido didn't intend to invoke this reality in her exposé. So, let's dig a little deeper.
I've noticed in all of the manipulative and abusive relationships (romantic or otherwise) I've encountered or observed in my lifetime, there's this one running "tactic" borderline sociopaths use to manipulate their partners' or friends' perceptions of them, and that is the idea of slowly and quietly creating an underlying problem that would have otherwise not been in existence, and then swooping in to "solve" it, be recognized as a hero, and gain some undeserved respect, trust, or love from their partners or friends.
For a little real-world application, I had a friend in high school who could never hang out with her friends because her significant other would give her some lame excuse just plausible enough for her to justify cancelling plans. Okay, cool. Eventually, though, this isolated her to the point where we all just sort of stopped inviting her, already knowing that she'd agree and have to cancel last minute. By the time she was isolated enough that we started talking to her about the fact that maybe this was a deliberate plan, she started to worry for herself, and before the worries could become conclusions, her significant other all invited us to participate in a surprise birthday party for her, which she saw as the grandest gesture he could have ever shown her, despite the fact that we wound up doing all of the planning, buying, and decorating, where he mainly just came up with the idea. But wouldn't you know? Every suspicion she had was shattered with this one grand appeal to emotion. When we tried to remind her that he was isolating her still, she brushed us off, because obviously that couldn't have been the case if he came up with this lavish surprise party!
He manufactured a problem, so that when we showed the slightest bit of discomfort with it, he could manufacture a half-baked "solution" that merely served to divert our attention away from the problem.
Take a deep breath.
In through your nose, and out through your mouth like a straw.
American School Districts manufacture problems, and when we show the slightest bit of discomfort with them, they manufacture half-baked "solutions" that merely serve to divert our attention away from the problem.
It didn't end well for my friend, and it's probably not going to end well for children in our school systems.
Consider the following progression of events, as I've observed it:
In the spirit of Maria Guido's article, that's bull s&#t and we shouldn't accept it. Only, a lot of people are.
In the Facebook comment thread I'm looking at for this article, the top 50 comments line up as follows:
We should be letting children play and engage in an environment that allows for most of the learning that would have happened through lectures and workbooks and textbooks to happen through toys and materials and nature and literature, and then fidgeting won't be a problem ever again. Not getting enough exercise wouldn't be a problem.
The expectations of children do not need to change. The expectations of their environments need to change. If a funding organization can agree to drop $12,000 on pedal desks, you can convince one to drop $6,000 on teacher training, a bunch of loose materials from thrift stores, the woods by your house, quality children's literature, and a professional aggregate of research to give to your district.
It might not work with the first try, but throwing up your hands and saying it's impossible or not worth it sure isn't doing children any good.
Need a solution? Let's stop behaving as if "we've been doing it this way for a long time" is a valid excuse for anything. History doesn't very much like that.
When I started teaching preschool, I remember colleagues and supervisors telling me I had a gift for early childhood education. You would walk into my room and see kids quietly and neatly sitting at the tables coloring, a few kids peacefully playing in the dramatic play area, several children engaging in Montessori works at rugs, and soft ambient music (thank God for Brian Eno) playing as I stood off to the corner observing.
Every now and then if you walked in at an inopportune time, the serenity remained but a child would be almost silently sobbing at his or her "wall spot", a dedicated, laminated circle on the wall with their name on it--the place they were sent if they broke a rule or I needed the group to look at books without going near one another.
It was a tight ship. When I wanted to transition into the next activity, I'd say "class!" and they'd all respond "yes!" and I'd say "clean up!" and they'd say "okay!" and in seconds my classroom was spotless and well-organized. If I said "Line!", everyone would stop what they're doing and form a perfect, military-grade single-file line.
Then I took a brief break from early childhood altogether. I took up an office job. It didn't suit me at all, but, as many in this field can attest, it paid a whole lot better. But, at a certain point the extra pay just wasn't worth the long, eventless days. I needed more action. I needed more creativity.
I took a job at an early childhood center and was told that I needed to curb a whole lot of behavioral issues in the specific classroom. I honestly didn't really know if I could so easily be thrust back into that groove, especially with such a daunting task. I brought in a few of the Montessori materials I owned, and went to work.
I started my usual thing. I made the wall spots. I started implementing the chants and responses from Whole Brain Teaching. The classroom was turning around, and just as quickly as I was thrust into this new position, I was about to be thrust out of my entire understanding of who I was as a teacher.
It happened like this: I had just instructed the class to start cleaning up the room after the serene, quiet work time I described before, a little boy was working with the Cards and Counters. He had been enthralled by them since the day I had brought them in. I walked up to him and said in my cookie-cutter, preschool teacher voice, "Did you hear me? It's time to clean up!" and I'll be darned if this little boy didn't look me right in the eyes and say "no."
I was offended. I don't know why I was offended, but I was. I told this boy to go to his wall spot and he cried. I started to pick up his work for him when I looked down at the neatly, carefully, and purposefully placed counters, and a sudden wave of intense realization hit me like one million bricks. I had just punished this boy for wanting to learn. I had just sent a message to this boy that he was only allowed to learn when it was convenient for me. I wasn't being an effective teacher, I was being controlling.
I went home that night shaken. Just a week into this brand new job, where everyone was telling me I was a blessing and an amazing teacher, and I had just realized that all of those complements and rewards completely blinded me to how damaging I was to the children I was caring for. What was worse was all of the other teachers were coming to me for behavioral advice. So not only were people in love with my style of teaching, others wanted to adopt it. I had to stop.
I started researching developmentally appropriate practice--something I cling to to this day--and the fabulous works of Dr. Becky Bailey. I was easily distracted from this "road to recovery" by the simple notion that how I taught children was considered totally normal in the early childhood field, and I could easily just stop trying to make myself better and remain in my old ways, but I decided that this work meant more to me than my admitted love of being lazy now and then.
I started to realize that I did have some control issues--possibly passed down from past teachers--that gave me this adult idea of how things were supposed to go with children. Adult tells child what to do, child does. I had no concept of the importance of mutual respect. I seriously had never stopped to think that maybe the class would almost always use quieter voices if I just whispered all of the time. I thought back to every time in my career that kids were putting their dolls in time out and just being totally brutal to these poor dolls, and realized that what they were acting out was their childish perception of me--a scary, brutish, jerk.
It took months for me to get to this place where children had the freedom to think and act as they felt they needed to. It took me months to get rid of the regulated centers. Months to get rid of the trace and copy worksheets. Months to get rid of the Pinterest art activities. This all led to emails from my supervisors accusing me of slacking in the job. I started to communicate with parents and colleagues that parents don't need receipts for their child's learning. That little panda you made out of the letter 'P' didn't teach that child anything any more than the worksheets taught them how to write.
Other teachers started to attack me because I didn't have interesting art on the walls (e.g. I didn't have 22 identical Pinterest crafts hanging on the wall). I had to be strong enough to tell these teachers that I didn't believe that any craft that I had anything to do with was appropriate for an early learning art activity. I would let them do art for themselves.
I had to explain the concept of child-led hundreds of times. I had to explain that I still had boundaries in my classroom that were to be respected. I had to explain why I didn't use "time-outs" any longer. It took a lot of explaining from me, and after a while, the explaining started to get useless. My words were falling on deaf ears, despite the constant, often totally ignorant and mean, requests for my explanation. I had to take a lot of deep breaths and be compassionate, because I was that teacher months prior to this. The parents were always on board with me through my learning, but the teachers made the struggle unbearable.
I chose to leave that position. I applied to several other programs and was offered positions at each of them, but the directors all warned me that it would be an uphill battle with the other staff members to be able to use my own style of teaching in my own classroom.
That's when I started my own center. Child-led, play-based, teacher-facilitated, early learning. I find myself having to explain myself a lot less often. I find myself surrounded by a staff that is eager to work on the next big thing to ensure we're aligned with D.A.P. and other early learning guidelines.
Here's me not stressing about cleaning this mess up because I'm wearing a shirt that says "Let Kids Be Kids", which you can order (with or without my logo) here.
It always takes people a while to get on board with child-led/play-based. It can take up to a year sometimes. We get so judgmental of younger generations over their need for instant gratification that we forget that most of our problems as adults stem from that exact same need as well.
Some teachers just need to see the proof that it does lead to a less stressful environment. Some teachers just need some proof that a classroom that looks like a tornado went through it isn't such a bad thing after all. Some teachers just need proof that you can have a handle over the behavior in the classroom without time outs and behavior charts. You can't force that proof. You just have to let it show up organically with a teacher who is willing to try, just like I was willing to try years ago.
I ditched the compliant classroom because I should have known after my first high school psychology class that accepting authority on the basis of authority is a dangerous, dangerous thing.
I ditched the compliant classroom because I was so sick of worrying more about what my classroom looked like than I did about the development and education of the children.
I ditched the compliant classroom because I knew that proving that "learning happened" with paperwork and teacher-led projects was a blatant lie meant to keep parents pleased with their choice of childcare.
I chose the child-led, play-based classroom because when I let them play, the proof that learning happened is right in front of me, as it's happening.
If you're a licensed program with your state, accrediting, or aligning with quality rating scales, the likelihood that you are required to post a schedule is high. I am in no way advocating for people to defy the powers that be. They exist for a reason and their purpose is a good one.
However, just because you're required to post it, doesn't mean it has to be in-depth, and it, by no means, requires you to abide by it. We'll get back to that in a minute.
Early childhood classrooms are not governed by core curriculum standards. Read that aloud. Early childhood classrooms are not governed by core curriculum standards. This has got to be the greatest part about the difference between early childhood education and traditional K-12 education. This is a privilege that we have over K-12 teachers. We need to acknowledge this. Unfortunately, for a vast majority of early childhood teachers, we're still behaving as if we are bound by core standards. We're behaving as though the children in our care are required to be able to do X, Y, and Z before they go to kindergarten.
That's not true. No quality rating scale or state regulation explains an "end point of aptitude" for the children in early childhood environments. We need to take advantage of this freedom by implementing developmentally appropriate practices. It's important to mention that D.A.P. defies boundary within NAEYC. It just so happens that NAEYC has a very good handle of what those practices are. A program can be 100% aligned with developmentally appropriate practices and still never accredit through NAEYC, and that's okay. Accreditation does not determine a program's true quality.
I am all about releasing the archaic need for control in a classroom. I am all about giving up that age-old notion that "I am adult. You are child. You respect me. I scare you. I love you. You fear me. You love me. You have no option." Not only is that wrong and setting a horrible precedent for social awareness in the future, it's just stupid. Plain stupid and useless. One of the most controversial ways I encourage teachers to release control is by killing off the role lesson planning plays in the early childhood classroom. Think about being in control versus facilitation this way: When you "control your classroom", every time you get a new student or group of students, you're back at square one and have to go through all the stresses of acclimating these brains to your rigid, developmentally inappropriate set of expectations. When you don't "control your classroom", that won't matter to you.
I walked into a classroom the other day with a schedule that listed the following:
8:00am - 8:30am: Breakfast
8:30am - 9:00am: Circle Time
9:00am - 9:30am: (Monday/Wednesday/Friday) Science (Tuesday/Thursday) Story Time
9:30am - 10:00am: Writing/Language/Literacy
10:00am - 10:30am: Math
10:30am - 11:00am: Outside Time
11:00am - 11:30am: Art
11:30am - 12:00pm: Lunch
12:00pm - 3:00pm: Nap
3:00pm - 6:00pm: Snack & Play
Two and a half hours of what this teacher considers "learning". I hate this. I hate this about so many of the teachers in our profession. Not only does splitting up Art, Science, Writing, Language, Literacy, and Math imply that these subjects never overlap, it also signals a gross lack of trust in the students.
If you can't trust that little Johnny is going to gain some language and literacy skills by hearing you talk while you play together, you aren't trusting Johnny as a student or yourself as a teacher.
If you can't trust that little Mary is capable of using her own imagination to make art out of mud outside, you are stifling her ability to believe that she can succeed on her own.
If you can't trust that there are materials in your classroom or outdoor areas to explain, by the very nature of their existence, concepts related to science and math, it's time to buy items worth having (i.e. get rid of the "Frozen" toys).
What hurts most is that this implies that playing comes secondary to learning. Which shouldn't even need further explanation: total, unabridged, unexplained play is the ONLY way to fully grasp new concepts.
Assuming this schedule required mealtimes to stay the same, I made it better.
8:00am - 8:30am: Breakfast
8:30am - 8:45am: Storytime / Stretches / Songs (Exploration Available Elsewhere if Needed)
8:45am - 10:00am: Outdoor Exploration (Play)
10:00am - 11:30am: Indoor Exploration (Play)
11:30am - 12:00pm: Lunch
12:00pm - 1:00pm: Outdoor Exploration
1:00pm - 3:00pm: Quiet Time or Exploration for Non-Sleepers
3:00pm - 3:30pm: Snack
3:30pm - 6:00pm: Indoor/Outdoor Exploration As Requested
A cookie-cutter teacher may be asking, "How am I supposed to lesson plan for that?"
My answer is "don't".
You can plan novel activities by just dropping the materials in the middle of the room and seeing where the kids take it. You can plan science activities by sitting in the middle of the exploration time and mixing ingredients to make different ooey gooey materials, and letting the kids play. You can plan writing activities by buying a movable alphabet, putting a word together, and letting the kids touch the letters and copy them once they're ready and willing to do so. You can plan art activities by throwing down some butcher paper and paint and saying "go for it!". You can plan a math activity by counting every child who is in attendance aloud with the children.
If you're really interested in doing what's best for the children in your care, you don't need any more proof that learning happened than the smiles on their faces, the messes on their clothes, and their willingness to do it all again the next day. No more schedules. No more worksheets. No more dedicated activities. No more group lectures and rules.
Let it go.
Our posts are created by several early childhood professionals. Most stories will include the author's name and a link to their "About Me" or the program they own or represent.