Updated: Mar 1, 2021
I recently conducted entrance testing for a 5 year old attending our Kindergarten in the fall. Our testing is truly quite simple and just gives us an idea of who the child is and what their personality is like. I will tell you that my heart was breaking for this child. When I walked up to this child to introduce myself she was alone, no parents with her, and she had a huge stack of worksheets that she was supposed to "study" while she waited for me to test her. I saw that she had a school uniform on and asked her where she went to school. Her reply was devastating to me, "I just got kicked out of school because I wasn't learning good enough."
I have been teaching in my current school for 12 years, Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten. Over these last 12 years one thing is for sure, children have changed! Mostly I believe due to technology but also contributing to this change are the breakdown of families and the lack of freedom to explore our environment. There have been huge shifts in parenting norms and the role of parents in their children's lives. Let's face it, kids have a whole lot more to deal with now then we did when we were growing up. Gone are the days where we roamed the neighborhood on our bikes until dark, played down at the lake without supervision and had the freedom to just be kids. Now our students are far more restricted and micromanaged than we ever were. I have compiled a list of the biggest changes I have seen and the results within my classroom. I hope you will add to my list and join the discussion of how we can tailor our classrooms to meet the ever changing needs of the children we teach today! (these are not in any particular order)
1. More Academics = less play based learning and underdeveloped social skills
2. Longer Days= tired brains and bodies (not to mention later bedtimes and earlier wake up times)
3. Overload of Technology= poor concentration and attention
4. Less Environmental Exploration= sensory issues related to texture, noise and light. Also lack of social skills and underdeveloped muscles in the core and vestibular system of the body.
5. Higher Academic Expectations=learner burnout, hating school and learning, quitting
6. Less Movement and Less Tolerance of Movement=pent up energy and frustrated learners
7. Friendship Parenting=lack of behavior control, acts like adults often knowing too much information about adult concepts, inability to socialize with typical children
8. Shortened Recess Times=information given during instructional time not being processed by the brain as intended and underdevelopment of gross motor skills
9. Less Freedom to Run, Climb and Play= weakened core muscles and underdeveloped vestibular systems
10. Helicopter Parenting= less emotional and social development, lack of confidence, inability to take risks in learning. children learn to use their parents for everything instead of developing appropriate independence
Is it just me or do these changes seem alarming to you as well? Of course all of these do not apply to every child, there is a mix depending on the experiences the child has before coming into your class and how their families are raising them. So, what can we do to combat these changes and get children to learn and blossom in our classrooms? (this is by no means an inclusive list of strategies, I would love to know what has worked for your classrooms.)
1. Set reasonable, age appropriate goals. For instance: Don't expect that a 5 year old can sit perfectly still at a desk for long periods of time and can do multiplication in Kindergarten (O.K. I am exaggerating but you know what I mean!) Instead evaluate your group in the beginning of the year and start with short periods of time on activities and build up to the desired amount of time that is still reasonable for the students age. I like to track time building on stamina charts to show progress to the students.
2. Integrate movement at the beginning of lessons and during transitions.
3. During those movement activities intentionally cross the midline to stimulate the brain.
4. Allow for flexible seating within limits. Be sure to set out rules and procedures for flexible seating so the class understands how each type of seating can be used, when they can use them and what behavior you expect them to exhibit while being given this choice. This can be as simple as cushions on the floor or as elaborate as ball chairs. There are so many options!
5. Allow noise and fidgeting within reason. Allow children to swing legs, fidget in their seats etc. as long as they are working and not disturbing others. Don't ban talking all together as long as the children can stay within boundaries. Use a voice level chart to regulate the loudness and amount of talking that is allowed for certain activities.
6. Avoid sitting for long periods of time. I strive for no more than 15 minutes of lecture teaching without a movement of some type. Even just 30 seconds of simple stretching that crosses the midline halfway through a lecture can make a huge difference in attention span for kids.
7. Use single user technology in the classroom sparingly. It is a shame that a good number of our children are on technology for multiple hours a day at home. Encourage using technology in the classroom as a partner or group activity to allow for socialization and problem solving instead of an alone activity.
8. Incorporate tactile and sensory stimulating materials into your day. These can be a simple as listening to a book on tape, watching a brain pop video or playing/learning with tactile objects like wikki sticks, playdough and kinetic sand. Allowing for sensory input is not only beneficial for those who struggle with sensory issues but is so good for all children! We often play squish the sound where we make small playdough balls and squish each sound as we pull apart a word. (There are so many activities that can incorporate sensory input, that is another blog post for later.)
9. Plan a schedule that allows for movement and sensory input often. 3-5 minute brain breaks with gonoodle.com, youtube.com and brainopop.com give children an appropriate release for pent up energy.
10. GO OUTSIDE! I know all caps, no I am not angry. I just feel like this one has had one of the largest impacts on my classes. I will often plan a read aloud for outside and have the children bring their crayons, pencils and clipboards with them to complete a reading response. Not only do I get better attention form the class but the quality of their writing and drawings is much higher. Something about being out of those four walls in the fresh air is so good for them! (I wanted to title this one "more recess" however I know that most of us have restrictions on the amount of recess we can build into the day so if nothing else teach a lesson outside when the weather is cooperative.)
Now with all of this being said there needs to be limits and expectations for each one of these strategies. You will need to evaluate how these can be worked into your classroom in a manner that doesn't drive you crazy by the end of the day. I can assure you that with the proper procedures in place allowing these "behaviors" as some would call them can change your classroom for the better and make for a much more enjoyable school year for you! If you are struggling with where to start with some of these then pinterest and teacher bloggers are your friends. There are so many activities and ideas out there on the web. I could not list them all here if I tried!
And please do not get me wrong, I do believe there is a place for quiet working time and for technology however I believe these should be limited and the amount of time the class spends on these types of activities should be broken up into small sections. If you do small group rotations then plan at least one of your math and reading centers that allows movement throughout your space. I love read the room activities for incorporating movement while engaged in learning. I also love to play math games that involve putting numbers in order around the carpet, jumping over the river (blue paper) if the child gets and answer correct etc. These activities can easily be self regulated with the proper procedures in place.
Our classrooms are changing and will continue to change with each new set of students. Do yourself a favor and go with the flow when it comes to some of these changes. There is nothing we can do to stop them so why make ourselves crazy. Trying to make our current students be the same as students we have taught in the past is not only frustrating to us but detrimental to children. Where there is innovation in the world there will be changes in society and that is no different for kids than it is for adults. Let us also remember that the experiences we allow these children to have will make an impression on who they are. When we have expectations that are not developmentally appropriate we risk the chance of causing more harm than good.
Remember the little girl I spoke of at the beginning of this post, she has at 5 already been told she is not a good enough learner and that will probably follow her throughout her entire educational career! She struggles with confidence and self worth which can lead her down a destructive path later in life. Let's be careful to remember that children will carry negative thought with them for many years and how we talk to them makes a difference. We can counteract the negative with positive classroom experiences that are developmentally appropriate.