Little Birdies Develop at Different Paces
Little birdies develop at different paces and so do children. In general, pediatricians, early educators, and other informed professionals talk about developmental steps and milestones rather than finite skills that simply must happen by a certain date. However, our national stance has become heavily weighted toward measuring children against standards and ignoring the development of the entire child’s intellect for fear that she will not be “proficient” and that she, her teachers or perhaps her school will be subjected to punitive measures. We’ve become a nation of Chicken Littles, shrieking about the sky falling while we allow ourselves to be driven into the fox den. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has more than a few things to say, but I’ll use just a few excerpts from a 2009 document “Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8”.
Many early childhood educators are already quite concerned about the current climate of increased high-stakes testing adversely affecting children in grades K–3, and they fear extension of these effects to even younger children. Even learning standards, though generally supported in principle in the early childhood world,are sometimes questioned in practice because they can have negative effects.
When state standards are not comprehensive, the curriculum driven by those standards is less likely to be so, and any alignment will likely address only those few curriculum areas identified in the standards.
Such narrowing of curriculum scope is one shortcoming that can characterize a set of standards; there can be other deficiencies, too. To be most beneficial for children, standards need to be not only comprehensive but also address what is important for children to know and be able to do; be aligned across developmental stages and age/ grade levels; and be consistent with how children develop and learn. Unfortunately, many state standards focus on superficial learning objectives, at times underestimating young children’s competence and at other times requiring understandings and tasks that young children cannot really grasp until they are older. There is also growing concern that most assessments of children’s knowledge are exclusively in English, thereby missing important knowledge a child may have but cannot express in English.
There is also concern that schools are curtailing valuable experiences such as problem solving, rich play, collaboration with peers, opportunities for emotional and social development, outdoor/physical activity, and the arts. In the high-pressure classroom, children are less likely to develop a love of learning and a sense of their own competence and ability to make choices, and they miss much of the joy and expansive learning of childhood.
Who else is concerned about trends of this nature? Pandora, of course! This is how it might look in the avian world.