The Death of Childhood?

I’ve had a ‘multi-skilled’ work career … the fault of a constant need to be challenged, and possibly a rebellious streak that makes me, in perfect Leo-like logic bend the rules – to do it ‘my way’. My way or the highway, sort of thing. Well-done steakMost times over those 20+ ‘career choices’, my way was the better way, except for those three days as grill cook at the Newnham Hotel … how many steaks can one massacre before getting sacked? Back on ‘the highway’ again.

So I went back to finish high school as a 27 year old, then university to train as an Early Childhood teacher. For the first time I knew what it meant to work with a passion, with an utter love of and belief in what I was doing. Piaget and Maslow became my heroes. New Zealanders, Marie Clay and Don Holdaway were my Literacy and Literature gurus. I taught children how to read and write – not with rote methods and forcing kids to write before their fingers could control pencils – but by Language Experience, and the wonderful Kiwi author, Joy Cowley’s Story Box series … The Hungry Giant and his Bommy Knocker, The Jigaree, The Meanies, Mrs Wishy Washy, and so many more wonderful stories. The Hungry Giant

I was an educator who believed in Play-Based Education. And I still do! But nowadays, play-based education and all its multi-benefits is out of fashion. Apparently.

Are we witnessing the death of childhood?

I’m not a teacher anymore – I’m a full-time children’s author. I wake up with a headful of stories and plots and characters every day, and I thank my lucky stars that I had the strength (and family support) fifteen years ago when I walked away from teaching.

If I had stayed in the Education Department I would be diminished, that I know now. Beaten by bureaucracy, by form-filling  on internet programs that never work, by constant pressures to perform, to get results from unwilling children, to test the poor little blighters until testing becomes the new norm of teaching.

And the worst thing of all – a blight to tear a hole in my Early Childhood heart – to witness the destruction of Play-based education in early-childhood classrooms, from Prep through to Year Three, for 3-8 year olds. prep kids

We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively — they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of 4 are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood development expert ... How ‘twisted’ early childhood education has become – from a child development expert.

Across the globe, concerned educators, parents, citizens and those who care about the state of early childhood education fight against the destruction of play. Play is the natural way for young children to learn – it makes sense to use it to facilitate good, true, successful learning. I know many Early Childhood teachers who believe in the right way to teach, who fight for their beliefs every single day, little by little, in classrooms across the country. Thank you for your courage! girl scientistSo, why this push to destroy childhood? Who benefits from kids learning under more restrictive regimes? Who pushes headmasters towards forcing it upon schools? Is, as many believe, corporate Australia slides its ugly head into Australia’s Education Departments? And why are parents so sucked into believing that Prep is all about preparing their kids for academic learning?

I’ll finish with Nancy Carlsson-Paige‘s words of hope. We all share a common vision: Education is a human right and every child deserves one. An excellent, free education where learning is meaningful – with arts, play, engaging projects, and the chance to learn citizenship skills so that children can one day participate — actively and consciously – in this increasingly fragile democracy.

 

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