How many of you have heard the term, "Common Core?"
What first comes to mind when you hear these words? For me, I think of something that started out as a good idea, but was implemented completely wrong. Children should not be "boxed" in. They shouldn't be expected to all perform the same way. They are unique individuals and their differences are what make them stand out.
This weekend, I interviewed someone very familiar with the public schools. Megan has played many roles in the school system. In years past, she was a first grade teacher. After taking a break to raise her own children, she is now substituting at a local public elementary school. She also works with Angela Hanscom at TimberNook and is starting to see a big difference between what happens in the classroom versus the great outdoors.
The behaviors Megan is observing in the classroom is unsettling!
Robyn: What are you seeing in the classroom in terms of activity-level, behavior, and attention?
Megan: "I'm seeing some interesting things Robyn! I see a lot of anxious and rigid children trying desperately to sit still - possibly in fear they may get in trouble if they move. I see children contorting their bodies in odd ways, in their chairs and on the floor. I see kids rocking and swaying, playing with other children's clothing and hair. I see kids having trouble paying attention, not following directions, and even out-right defiance! Then I see the kids that appear to have "checked out." They are wandering around aimlessly - staring at the walls and other kids with wide eyes. It is also REALLY noisy: constant yelling out - many voices to be heard."
Robin: What is expected of children these days?
Megan: "I am surprised at the expectations we have of children to sit still and attend for such long amounts of time. It is so developmentally inappropriate. For example, I had to assist with a special education classroom one day for preschool children - little three and four year olds! They must have sat for at least 15 minutes, if not longer....just going over their letter for the day! I don't know why we insist on having children sit in order to learn!"
Robin: Are you seeing a lot of fidgeting? Is recess being taken away for behavior?
Megan: "Sometimes five or ten minutes is taken away for not attending or doing work because their body physically can't do it, when movement is exactly what they need. Basically, they can't sit still - and they are being punished for it!"
Robin: How long of a recess do students get?
Megan: "Most I've seen, about 25 minutes - once a day. A lot has changed in the past ten years since I was a teacher. We used to have two recess times. Now it is nearly gone! All the teaching requirements replace that down time. Teachers feel the pressure to "fit everything in."
Robin: What do you see when children are free to play in the woods at TimberNook versus on the playground during recess?
Megan: "I see a lot of restrictions being put in place - especially with the little ones. The preschool children have a large sterile mat under their playground in case they fall. There are no swings! They have a climbing wall, but are restricted on how they are allowed to climb it - in fear they may fall onto the rubber mat and get hurt. A little silly if you ask me.
For the elementary children, I see a lot of children running around - teasing each other and then running off again. When I compare what I see on the playground with what I see in the woods, I see children in the woods as being much more "peaceful." The kids are not bothering each other. They have purpose - they are totally engaged in what they are doing. There is less controversy, less tattling, and "bugging" each other. I see more cooperative play, quiet play, and purposeful play in the woods."
Robin: How has working with Angela Hanscom helped with your understanding of child development?
"Before hearing Angela speak in person about the connections between time spent outdoors and child development - I had a gut feeling children should be outdoors but couldn't verbalize why they needed to be outside and moving. Now working closely with Angela, I have the words to explain why. To put it simply: children desperately need to be outside and moving!"
So, if you're like me, you are asking what happened. Why have we moved away from longer recess times and movement in the classrooms?
Common Core happened! Common Core are standards that teachers use to organize their curriculum around. Many teachers have shared it feels, "unbelievably constricting." Kindergarten teachers have shared with me that Common Core is not developmentally appropriate for their children. Common Core does not allow much room for creativity - stifling independent thought. There is also the pressure to fit in more material: leaving less time for play, down time, movement, and creativity.
Megan shares her beliefs about the Common Core:
"It affects the children the most between kindergarten through grade three. These children are not moving! They are like little business people - expected to go from task to task to task. Teachers are held accountable and have to have the standards written on the board for when the principle, school board, etc., walk in. They have to prove this is what they are teaching. I see lot of hoops, red tape, and wasted energy. Work expected in Kindergarten is really appropriate for the first grade. Words and word families. It's a disservice to the children. Many students are just going through the motions, not learning anything. Teachers realize this, but their hands are tied."
Robin: How would you recommend we begin to solve these problems?
Megan: "It just takes someone to take the lead and show teachers how easy it is. They are so focused on scores and tests, you can almost feel the tension. Teachers constantly feel like they have to FIT THIS IN."
Megan is constantly asking questions about Common Core - a national standard. She admits she isn't an expert by any means, but little by little she is trying to learn more from the teachers she works with on a daily basis. The Common Core's goal is that every school across the nation is going to be at the same caliber. The Initial intention of Common Core has merit but the way it is being implemented in the schools is not quite working. According to Megan, we need to start writing letters to Washington to reach the people that can change it.
Robin: What other ways can schools approve?
Megan: "When the kids first arrive on school grounds, get them outside playing."
"Delay classroom start time."
"Give them at least a full half-hour recess at lunch."
"Try to take pieces of curriculum outside. Nothing big, just take them out to do read-alouds, partner reading, journal writing. They can do all this outside on the grass."
"Gym class outdoors verses inside the gym. Why can't they play kickball in a field verses playing it indoors?"
"It would also be nice to see gym class incorporate things like ice skating, snow shoeing, and cross country skiing."
"Having an outdoor classroom and incorporating the curriculum into this. Such as planting things for science, writing about nature, and doing measurements for math outside."
I found it interesting that almost a week ago my husband, who works at a desk, rearranged his work area and now has a stand up desk. This means he stands up all day while doing work at his computer. He has found over the last week that his ability to stand up while working has actually increased his productivity.
What if we applied this same thing to children?
How much more productive would they be if they were able to move to learn - instead of being forced to sit still for unreasonable amounts of time.
Most importantly, remember that children are not cookie cut-outs and there is more than one way to learn. Embrace the differences in each child, acknowledge that most children learning by moving and doing, and lets not be afraid to stand up for the littlest of our society!