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Lifelong Kindergarten: Reinventing How We Educate Our Kids

By Shlomo Maital

       

   When my wife and I were raising our four children, I recall bringing them to kindergarten some mornings. Secretly, and often, I wished I could stay there with them and play.   Can I join? Can I play too? With blocks, crayons, Lego? I even thought of trying to set up adult kindergartens, where grown-ups could become kids again and relearn how to play.  That happens again, when I pick up our grandchildren from pre-school.

   This is why I loved Mitchel Resnick’s new book, Lifelong Kindergarten; Cultivating Creativity Through Passion, Peers, Projects and Play (MIT Press, 2016).   Resnick, an MIT Media Lab professor, says correctly that “most schools in most countries place a higher priority on teaching students to follow instructions and rules, than on helping students develop their own ideas, goals and strategies.”  

   The reason?   Public education, one of the world’s greatest inventions, was designed to produce workers for the first industrial revolution – for factories. But we are now in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Robots and artificial intelligence will do the routine work. We need creative people. But we haven’t yet figured that out, and so our schools remain mired in the 19th C.

     The best kindergartens are places where children learn through playing together. The operative word is “learn”. There is enough structure to guide their learning. But not so much as to destroy their initiative and creativity.

       Worldwide, kindergartens are becoming more like schools. Small children are getting homework and work sheets. The opposite should happen. Schools should become more like kindergartens. Resnick proposes four P’s – passion, play, peers and projects.   Ignite kids’ passion. Let them learn through discovery, by working on projects together. This, of course, is how they will work as adults. And while the learning is serious, let it seem like play.

       As a retired but still active professor at an engineering school, Technion, I feel we are centuries behind in understanding how to reinvent education. Somehow, our students survive the rigid structured program and retain at least some of their creativity. Many launch startups.

     But – how much “creativity capital” (the present value of ideas lost because our backward educational system, focused on rules and solving canned problems, extinguishes creative ideas) is destroyed – and ignored, because it is largely hidden and unmeasured?

     Can we as parents and grandparents do anything? Here is one small step. When you buy toys for children – ask not (Resnick says) what the toy can do for the child. Ask, what can the child do with the toy?   Buy toys that stimulate creativity by letting the child decide what to make, what to invent, what to dream.   Understand that there is a reason why kids take a toy out of the box – and then play imagination games with the box.  

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Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone!

Are We Ruining Our Kids’ Imagination – in Kindergarten??!!

By Shlomo  Maital  

           kindergarten math

A Kindergarten Math Work Sheet

    My wife, a school psychologist specializing in early childhood, drew my attention to some disturbing research, that confirms my earlier blogs about the worrisome decline in creativity among children, due to rigid test-based schooling. 

     In their book  Crisis in the Kindergarten:  Why Children Need to Play in School, (Alliance for Childhood, College Park MD., 2009)  Edward Miller and Joan Almon report on research  argues that:

      “the traditional kindergarten classroom that most adults remember from childhood—with plenty of space and time for unstructured play and discovery, art and music, practicing social skills, and learning to enjoy learning—has largely disappeared. Among the findings of the latest research,  … is that, on a typical school day, kindergartners spend four to six times as much time in literacy and numeracy instruction and taking tests or preparing to take them (about two to three hours per day) as in free play or “choice time” (30 minutes or less).

     What are the poor kids doing?  Filling out work sheets like the one shown above (“counting backward”).   No Child Left Behind has now polluted our kindergartens, after ruining elementary and secondary schools with its ‘study-to-take-tests’ approach.

     Why is this happening?  Well, of course, because kids who start learning stuff early do better later, right?

      Wrong!

“Most troubling in this hijacking of kindergarten is that there is no evidence that a heavy emphasis on teacher-led instruction and scripted curricula yields long-term benefits for children. In particular, low-income children who need support to succeed in school are not showing significant long-term gains.”

    There is no benefit from eliminating unstructured play in kindergartens. But there is huge damage.   Take away kids’ unstructured play and you remove their daily opportunities to dream, to imagine, to play-act, and in general, to create worls where anything is possible.  This is proven.

     It’s bad enough when we do this in elementary school.  But in kindergarten???? In a society that pays lip service to innovation, why are we ruining our kids’ imaginations, at the age when creativity is at its peak? 

   The above research is about American kindergartens; but I have a hunch the trend is spreading elsewhere, too.  In Asia, where competition to get in to elite colleges is fierce, I understand that preparations for this can begin as early as kindergarten. 

     Let’s recall Pink Floyd’s song The Wall: “Teacher leave them kids alone. Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!”    It starts in kindergarten.

     If you have small children or grandchildren in kindergarten, hang around some time and see what they do.  Check out whether your kids are allowed to be kids, or whether they become miniature college students.  You do have the choice – you can pick nurseries and kindergartens that get it.  It’s your responsibility. 

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2019
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