Early Childhood: Balancing Rigor with the Needs of the Child
One Teacher and Mother’s Perspective
As a mother of two young girls (ages 9 and 6) and also as a former classroom teacher of young children, I find myself a bit overwhelmed balancing the rigor and expectations of today’s standards with meeting the individual needs of my children. I must say, it’s an interesting position to be in. Especially when I think of my first grader.
About three years ago, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. Up until kindergarten I wasn’t really sure if or how this diagnosis would impact her schooling. In fact, I truly believed that because she communicates well verbally, cognitively understands all that happens around her, counts, decodes, recognizes more than 50 sight words, and so on, that her diagnosis would not impact her ability to perform well in school. Boy, was I wrong about that!
Unfortunately, throughout kindergarten I began to see a pattern of poor behavior in my daughter that not only impacted her learning but also those around her. I witnessed the teacher shut down and give up on her. Then, as a result, I watched my baby shut down. The frustration of those around her began to affect how she viewed herself. She began to hate—yes, hate—school. She cried often, and daily we heard her say such things as “I can’t do it,” “I don’t know how to…,” “I’m dumb,” “I’m mean,” and “Nobody wants to be my friend.” This broke my heart because she has always been so joyful and has always played school for fun—“reading to” and “teaching” her classroom of stuffed animals. When this play, too, began to fall by the wayside, I knew I had to do something to protect her, to protect her love of learning, to protect her self-efficacy. I had to take off my teacher hat and become fully an advocate for her as a child, my child.
Developing a Sense of Self
So often, especially in the early years (preschool–grade 1), those involved with education, myself included, forget that students at this age are still developing a sense of self—who they are and what they are capable of. For some, this is a seamless process, but for many, it can be frightening and overwhelming. We must remember that what is developmentally appropriate for a child might not be in line with the expectations of a specific age or grade level. The development of many children does fall within certain expected parameters—but far more children than we often realize fall outside those norms. There is no magic that will change that, and while expectation can support a child’s determination, it has no ability to speed fundamental development.
Key Goals of Early Childhood Education
So I ask you to think about what education in the early years means to you—as an educator, and perhaps also as a parent. Take a look at the word cloud shown here that focuses on early childhood education, with key words pulled from an array of experts in early childhood education. The most common words associated with education for young children are such things as play, discovery, self-efficacy, engagement, inquiry, inspiration, motivation, creativity, trust, and child-centered learning. Rigor, assessment, and standards don’t appear anywhere. Surely, as educators, we know their value—but can we all agree that the value of the child comes first?
What happens when a child’s developmental needs aren’t in sync with classroom expectations? Can we find a way to meet both sets of expectations while keeping the overall goals for the child in mind?
We welcome your thoughts and feedback! How successfully do you think that early childhood education meets the needs of the whole child?