It Not "Just Recess" Anymore!

Teachers often heave a sigh of relief when they take their students out to recess. Finally! The children can burn off the pent up energy they had been accruing for the past few hours indoors. But what if we change our outlook on outdoor play time? What if we create an outdoor environment that offered all of the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors? What if children could run out to a well-planned play yard to find experiences in math, science, nature, dramatic play, water, building and construction, sensory activities, physical development, art and music? What if they play yard developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills? The result would be that we wouldn't have "just recess" anymore. We would have The Outdoor Classroom!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kindergarten and Algebra

It appears we have been so swayed by the thought that even the young children need to be "academically" ready for kindergarten, that we have been consumed by the idea that in-your-seat-learning, rote memorization, and beyond-their-developmental-ability academics is the best way to teach our youngest learners. It is so much so, that when children do get the chance to go outside, it is viewed simply as a chance to get their "wiggles" out. And then, it is back inside to where the "real" learning takes place. But what does "ready for kindergarten" really mean? Does it mean that children should be able to spew out memorized answers before the teacher even has a chance to cover a concept? Does it mean they should be reading, writing and computing complex algebra to the point they will be bored stiff when the teacher has her turn to introduce the subject? Should we forfeit social skills for push-down academics that WILL once again be covered in kindergarten? My son's preschool teacher expected the kids to voluntarily take time out of their limited hour of playtime to work on math problems such as 4+___=7. And no, they weren't pictorial!! Funny enough, she was confused as to WHY the children didn't want to interrupt their play to come joyfully bounding over to write answer on her whiteboard! Actually, she even mentioned the word "lazy" when it came to my son's resistance to put down the blocks and head over to the algebra! Hmmmm.

Or perhaps, does "ready for kindergarten" mean that when children exit preschool, they will have gained the skills that allow them success in the more structured classroom? According to Chancy and Bruce Educational Resources, Inc., ready for kindergarten means, "the ability to cope, learn, and achieve without undue stress." In fact, according to Dr. Jane Healy, "trying to make children master academic skills for which they do not have the requisite maturation may result in mixed up patterns for learning." Stimulating the cognitive process is certainly encouraged. Learning about the world and the way it works is imperative. But, learning needs to be developmentally appropriate.

Supported by research from leading child development experts, children learn best in a child-initiated, teacher supported, active learning environment that is geared to their individual needs and interests. Just as we wouldn't expect a baby to hold a fork, or allow a 12 year old to drive, we do not expect young children to sit on end learning rote facts under teacher directives. It simply isn't appropriate and it isn't the way they learn best. Experts believe that when children play in a well-planned and purposeful environment, they gain the necessary social skills, focus and attention, confidence and motor skills that prepare them to be successful students in the more structured elementary setting. When children experience an environment built to foster discover, problem solving, and creativity, it creates children who know HOW to learn, who enjoy learning, and who have a positive outlook on school. Through research, we also know that exercise is linked to positive cognitive learning. The Outdoor Classroom is an extension of the indoor learning environment offers children the opportunity to socialize, explore, discover, problem-solve,care for the environment, develop motor functions, and gain a healthy view of nature and the outdoors.

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