By Stephanie McCauley
Are parents and teachers expecting too much from Pre-K level students? According to Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups, the answer is "yes." The Atlantic recently published an adapted excerpt of the book, “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids,” which details the negative effects of unrealistic expectations on preschool students. So what exactly are these more rigorous demands, and what do they mean for students?
Christakis points to the vast changes education has undergone in the last 20 years. Preschool classrooms have increased mandatory teaching and lecture time while stressing prereading and text-heavy material. Some of these changes have to do with the kindergarten Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Teachers and parents are hoping to give their children an edge when they reach kindergarten by prepping them in advance. But forcing too much learning on young children can backfire; although they may be more “school-ready,” they may also adopt harmful attitudes about learning, which can negatively affect their success. Students can become anxious or perfectionistic, and even come to resent classwork.
However, backers of the CCSS say that these standards are goals, not mandates. They hope that these standards will help level the playing field of early education by holding all students to the same expectations. (You can read about the CCSS ELA standards here.) Chris Berdik details both sides of the argument in “Is the Common Core killing kindergarten?” from The Boston Globe. On the one hand, we should be pleased that our young learners are being challenged. On the other, what should that challenge look like? The solution may not be as simple as pro- or anti-Common Core.
Christakis suggests an exploratory approach to teaching preschoolers—more play and fewer scripted lessons. Allowing kids to explore games and activities can lead to increased interest in related academic pursuits. Open inquiry can encourage young students’ curiosity and ensure their continued interest in learning.