Monday, February 24, 2014

Preschool Is at a Crossroads. Let's Do It Right!

Is it play or is it learning? (It's both.)

This NYTimes op-ed about preschool points to the hazards of not getting early childhood education right. Two things can get confused and really muck up an important change in education policy.
By age 17, nearly one in five American boys and one in 10 girls has been told that they have A.D.H.D. That comes to 6.4 million children and adolescents — a 40 percent increase from a decade ago and more than double the rate 25 years ago. Nearly 70 percent of these kids are prescribed stimulant medications.
Families and physicians must take special care in medicating very young children. Today’s push for performance sets us on a troubling trajectory. A surge in diagnoses would mean more prescriptions despite guidance from professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommend that behavioral therapy rather than medication be used as first-line treatment for children under 6.
Too many kids are identified and treated after an initial pediatric visit of 20 minutes or even less. Accurate diagnosis requires reports of impairment from home and school, and a thorough history of the child and family must be taken, to rule out abuse or unrelated disorders.

Yes, this would be more time consuming and costly in the short term. But just like investing in preschool, spending more today on careful diagnosis and treatment of A.D.H.D. will lead to lifetimes of savings. As the early childhood education movement builds, let’s make sure we proceed with caution. We should fundamentally rethink how we diagnose and treat A.D.H.D., especially for our youngest citizens.
Right. The point is that, one, preschoolers are liable to be labeled A.D.H.D. most especially if the drive for higher performance leads to preschool curriculum guaranteed to make the mildest tot squirm in his or her seat.

The pound of prevention is, quite simply, a play-centered approach to preschool, even kindergarten curriculum. Of course, don't hold the adventurous back; but by all means let the young'uns play their way to smart. There's plenty of proof that this approach is highly successful.

Op-ed commenter J L says:
The headline for this opinion piece drew me in as I expected to read a compelling and clearly stated argument for developmentally appropriate programming for early childhood education and especially for what may soon be universal pre-K for 4 year olds. Young children learn by doing, they are naturally curious and provided with a nurturing, guided, play oriented environment will grow into curious active learners willing and able to sit still for periods of "instruction" when they are developmentally ready, closer to age 7 than 3 or 4 or 5. Educators who understand child development will design learning environments that allow children to learn in a variety of ways, recognizing the need for lots of physical activity. The point is, expecting young children to sit still for instruction in pre-K or even in Kindergarten (all day kindergarten is an invention of the need for extended day care….kindergarten was designed to be pre-k, a place to introduce children to the concept of "school", limited to a couple of hours a day, with lots of play, some story time (listening to a teacher) and a snack, getting kids ready to learn. Being ready to learn derives from kids feeling safe, cared for, nurtured in mind and body…..Please insist on developmentally appropriate practices in pre-K programming and carry through into early elementary….and there will be far less diagnosis of ADHD (it may be real, but it is conveniently over diagnosed for the benefit of teachers and parents)
Absolutely on point.

Note. My wife is a private preschool director. Without her, I would likely know nothing about this topic. But I do, so here's my two cents.

A lot going on: colors, shapes, objects, construction, engineering, cooperation.

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