The term “School Readiness” has always bothered me. As a preschool teacher, I am not just getting children ready for school or even for kindergarten. I am helping them learn to be life-long learners. I want them to enjoy school, of course. But I want them to enjoy the people they meet at school and enjoy the things they do after school just as much. I want each of them to be a well-rounded person who finds their own way of fitting in to the world and offering something to the communities they find themselves in.
A blog post of Teacher Tom’s http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2015/06/your-child-is-not-falling-behind.html
made me see another reason to dislike the phrase “school readiness.” It is often a euphemism for literacy; more specifically reading and writing. Too often I see programs focusing on “school readiness” put so much emphasis on reading and writing that they ignore speaking and listening skills. They miss out on the power of pretending. It often seems to me that these programs think that if you teach preschoolers like they are first graders, they will learn first grade material. This includes the idea of having them sit for longer periods of time and discourage them from moving their bodies until Outside Time.
I do believe that people create these programs with good intentions. I am from Minnesota where African American students in fourth and eighth grades are more than three grade levels behind white students in math, and they are more than two grade levels behind whites in reading. This is usually referred to as “the achievement gap,” but Dan Gartrell points out that it should be called “the education gap.” The first phrase puts all the responsibility on the children, but the second phrase points out it is a shortcoming of our education system.
I also want to acknowledge that there is no golden age of education when we didn’t have an education gap. Frankly public education over the past century is filled with so many achievements that the bar has been raised. 1940 was the first year that half of the 17 year olds in the US graduated High School. Public schools have continued to improve on these graduation rates. The education gap we are talking about has always existed, but now we consider it unacceptable.
The sad truth is that our schools have never served most African-Americans well. The push for school readiness is understandable, but the problem is that too many schools are built on the same school culture that has failed. If we want all children to be ready for school, we need schools that are ready for children.
Children need to be moving. It is what is best for them in all developmental domains, cognitive as well as physical, social and even literacy. More and more evidence shows the importance of movement for learning at all ages. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that sitting for long periods of time is bad for people of all ages. In the UK, there was a recommendation that 2 hours of an 8 hour office workday should be spent not sitting. Too many young children don’t even get that much time to move around.
Those of us in the education world have to take responsibility for the education gap. We need to find ways for kids to play more, to move more and to express themselves more. We need to address the needs and interests of the children in our schools and childcare programs. We need to think less about school readiness and think more about child readiness.
It’s on us.