What's The Point?

Recently I cam across a Dr. Jean poem that really speaks to me. It is called "What's The Point?" and although it references kindergarten, it could really describe any primary grade. It speaks to this "top down" curriculum that has teachers pushing more and more developmentally inappropriate academics on students so that one day they might do well on a standardized test.

 Read the blog post where she shared this poem here!
And if you click on the pic you can download this version of it.

It's one of those things that is really hard to believe if you think about it. It's gotten to the point that I've seen teachers - good teachers! - go from having center time and cooking experiments and lots of songs and stories to having students sitting all day, filling out worksheet packs because "they have to be ready for 1st grade". And the 1st grade teachers are coming down and telling kindergarten teachers what they need to be pushing because the 2nd grade teachers are breathing down THEIR necks! Third grade teachers are asking 2nd grade teachers to start pushing more and more skills because of that darned test that assesses children in things that they just might not be ready for!

But the thinking becomes, "If they fill out a 120 chart every day then eventually they will master the number concepts involved." or "If they do 30 addition problems every day and memorize their facts then they will be prepared for the test." without regard to whether the child actually UNDERSTANDS why 4+5=9. Or "If we push sight words so that they can read 200 words in kindergarten it will help on the test." regardless of the fact that forcing the rote memorization of all those sight words might turn a child off of reading forever.

Students are held in at recess to complete those packs of worksheets that they couldn't focus on during class - because somehow, being forced to sit still for even longer will make them focus better the rest of the day or "teach them" to focus in the first place! It becomes a case of, "The brightest minds in the class can complete the worksheet packet in 20 minutes (meaning they probably didn't even need the practice!) so if I give the rest of the class twice that amount of time, they should be able to finish it. And those that are overwhelmed or lost or space out will just have to learn to keep up with the rest of the class or miss out on every social and/ or physical activity until they do!"

And God forbid that anyone come by our classroom and see that we are not knee deep in some kind of obvious learning activity - ie worksheet - because if it doesn't look difficult, serious and quiet then it can't possibly be teaching anyone anything. On the contrary! Our classrooms should be loud, fun, and organized chaos! Learning isn't quiet! It isn't solitary! It isn't boring!

When we want a baby to learn to roll over or crawl we don't shut them in a quiet place without distractions. No, we get them the shiny, noisy toys to attract their attention and we encourage them to scoot just an inch closer and then we celebrate like crazy so that they'll scoot another inch. How do we go from THAT to thinking that a child can possibly learn in a quiet room with just a pencil/paper?

In my pre-k class this year we do play-based learning. We have long recesses, even longer center times and nap time! And yet, my students are learning! On the playground they run up to me with sticks to show me how they can form different letters out of them. At the art easel they paint letters from their friends' names. They can be heard counting out blocks at the Lego table to make sure everyone has an equal amount of the coveted yellow ones so that its fair. At the dollhouse, the finger puppet theater was appropriated so that the dolls could put on a stage act of Little Red Riding Hood.

These are activities that the children think up on their own and CHOOSE to do, because they are allowed to explore and play and internalize the "lessons". And those "lessons" consist of reading stories aloud, singing songs, and dancing. Every child in my class has learned to write their name - with one capital letter and the rest lowercase - without a SINGLE name worksheet. Without a SINGLE actual lesson. Instead they see their name in print everywhere, they learn how to form the letters from fun songs and videos and they are encouraged to write with markers, chalk, crayons and paint brushes or even with sticks in the mud on the playground!

In fact, I recently purchased a HeidiSongs Alphabet dvd (love the children's artwork in the videos!). On Friday we sat down to check out the songs with our dry erase boards and markers. I encouraged the children to write the letters as we played the songs. I watched for the kids to get squirrelly or disinterested, but they loved watching the videos and hearing the different songs so we made it all the way to Z. This is what 4 and 5 year olds can learn to do without ever touching a tracing sheet!

 Not one of these babies was able to write a single letter in August!

So my message for today is to STOP and THINK and decide for yourself what the best way to teach is. I'm not saying to ignore your admin or to not do what your district mandates. I  AM saying that if you think about it, and work on it, you will be able to incorporate play and dancing and singing into your classroom and STILL achieve learning. In fact, the learning gains your students make will be even more dramatic than if you have them filling out worksheet packets every day, I promise!

I'm going to be doing a series of posts on play based learning, and what it can look like in your classroom, so please follow my blog and let's take this journey together - to prove that play belongs back in the classroom and that the ONLY way to get our children to "do well on the test" is by letting them engage in fun, developmentally appropriate activities that trigger their innate learning drives!


meesabelle said...

I am a first grade teacher and we've limited those fun things we used to do too. It's where we are right now. I don't like it but I'm doing what I can to change that. Whole Brain Teaching has helped put more fun into the learning.

First Grade Frame of Mind

Gina said...

Thanks so much for the beautiful file! I appreciated your blog post as well! I love to hear how others are keeping kindergarten fun and learning at the same time!

Deirdre Garcia said...

Thanks for posting this! I struggle with meeting all the mandates and making sure every moment is "rigorous" in order to keep my job, and with doing what I KNOW is best for my kids and how they learn. This year, I have been doing more "fun" and letting my kids have more choice in what they do, and their learning has skyrocketed.

Mrs. Garcia's Super Scholars

Andrea said...

Thank you for this post. I too struggle with the thought that everyone wants the kids "working" all the time. No more cooking centers, puppets, etc. I am making some changes for next year!

HeidiSongs said...

Thank you so much for this post- and for the lovely shout out! I do appreciate it!
This is a wonderful sentiment, and I do hope that more teachers will be able to gather up their courage to make instruction a little more child friendly and fun, while still meeting the standards! If only more administrators understood child development, how much better would our schools be!
Heidi Butkus

kelly hoopes said...

As a kindergarden teacher I love this post
Thanks for sharing. I always say most learning happens outside my classroom and is leaned in the recess yard

kelly hoopes said...


kelly hoopes said...

I always think administration should take a class in early childhood or just spend the day with them

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