"Defending the Early Years"

Do you want to know the current status of animals in the National Zoo? Make me a friend on Facebook and you will get almost a weekly update by way of photos of animals taken in the zoo by me or my son. My son and I regularly visit the National Zoo and if we happen to be in a different state and that place has its own zoo, you may find us touring that zoo as well. My son really likes wild animals especially the big cats. My son enjoys seeing animals and going to the zoo feeds that interest. He likewise reads books and watches documentary videos about animals in the wild. What is really amazing is the amount of material I have learned myself.

There is a lot to learn from how early childhood education really works. Children learn while playing. Of course, this is no different from a chemist who pretends to be working in a laboratory, but is actually enjoying the quest for a greater understanding of how protein and peptide structures define their function. It is no different from trying to figure out how basic education ticks and understanding its challenges and problems when one is immersed and dedicated to this issue. Working with dedication and interest is no different from playing. Playing requires engagement. In so many ways, playing is imitating life. In fact, playing is life. What makes an activity different from playing then? The answer to this question lies perhaps in one of the lessons I have learned with my son. It is about the cubs of wild cats:

Above captured from
University of Minnesota, Lion Research Center, "Daily Life"

Above captured from
Africa Inside, "Cheetah Cubs get Cheetah Hunting Lessons from Mom"
And the lesson is nicely summarized in the following table:

Captured from
Short-term costs and correlates of play in cheetahs

What sets "play" from other activities is low risk. In human games, scores are kept and there are winners and losers, but with children, these scores are not supposed to matter much. What is important is participation and simply having fun.

For this reason, it is troubling to hear, "Every reader by Grade 1", or other policies that may seem appropriate and ideal at first, but may actually be detrimental to child growth and development. This blog has more than fifty articles posted on early childhood education and it is of concern when I receive comments from parents who are proud to cite that their children can read at the age of five. Learning to read is very important. In fact, it has been pointed out in this blog from research that reading in Grade 3 is correlated with later academic success. This, however, does not mean that learning to read at age 5 is necessary:

Captured from
When politicians and so-called education reformers begin to bring high-stakes testing to preschool and kindergarten, when teachers' salaries or bonuses become tied to how high exam scores of kindergarten pupils are, when society begins to demand inappropriately from children, the costs of play suddenly have gone up. Play vanishes.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post recently posted on her blog an essay written by Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, and Diane E. Levin of Defending the Early Years (DEY). DEY is non-profit with the following goals:

The following is an excerpt from the article:
A disturbing shift is underway in early childhood classrooms around the country. Many classrooms, especially those that depend on public funds, look more and more like classrooms for older children where standards, testing, and accountability rule. Federal and state mandates are pushing academic skills and testing down to younger children, even preschoolers. These days, there is less and less emphasis on promoting child development, active, play-based learning, and hands-on exploration for our nation’s youngest learners.
A lioness does not bring her cubs to hunt for a cape buffalo. There is no reason why humans should do differently.