Thursday, March 16, 2017

Preaching to the Choir - Slice of Life 3/16/17

Farm School
On Wednesday I spent some time talking to a friend who works in education as well. We were lamenting the way preschool and kindergarten look now to when we taught it. I'll be honest, the conversation broke my heart a little bit.

I've written before on this blog about Farm School. It's where I went to preschool in my tiny town. It truly was a school on a farm. To say my memories of that place are idyllic would be an understatement. It is probably my happiest years of being a student. I felt loved, wanted, and valued. I was allowed to explore and learn. The lessons never made me feel less than or that I wasn't smart enough. There was a value put on free play time and the adult left the disagreements up to us, within reason, to solve. 

I often joke that if I won the lottery, I wouldn't leave education, but I would create my own school. I have a feeling you would see me buying a farm and creating some type of learning environment there, it meant that much to me.

I think a lot of the feelings I had about Farm School I have tried to put in my own classroom. I want kids to feel the way I did there. By and large, I've been successful at that. Where I stress is when I look at early childhood education in this country, and I despair.

We often talk about how kindergarten now is first grade when I was growing up. Free play time is vanishing, as is some of the recess. Blocks and centers get traded out for worksheets. And the damn behavior charts are on walls in many different iterations. 

I'm no psychologist, but with the increase in anxiety in kids in the upper grades, the decrease in executive functioning skills, I wonder how much of this can be tied to the changes we're seeing in the lower grades? I realize the standards have changed, but if we know something isn't good for kids, do we have to do it?

My boys are in 6th and 8th grade. They have had excellent teachers the whole way through school, we're blessed. But I talk to their friends, the parents of their friends. The problems they face make me want to pull out my hair. Kids do not know how to deal with disappointment, how to manage when people disagree, how to try and fail. I can trace the time I learned these things straight back to my days at Farm School.
Farm School today
Please don't misunderstand, I celebrate the teachers at the lower grades. I've taught every grade from preschool through seventh. Without question, teaching gets easier the higher the grade. Curriculum is harder to teach, but the actual teaching is much easier. I think these teachers are saints and need to be celebrated. They also need to be supported. 

We know what is needed in these lower grades: read alouds, picture books, blocks, unstructured play. What we don't need is behavior management systems trying to get every kid to act the same, chapter books in the lower grades, or worksheets. Farm School is a time in my life I look back on with fondness thirty-eight years after I was there. I just want the same for the kids entering school today.
Slice of Life is a challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers