This is a guest post from Angel Mulhearn who is mother to two kids ages 5 and 3. Prior to that she was a kindergarten teacher. Angel is also my sister-in-law who lives on the farm next door to ours. She took her son out of school a few months ago. This is the list of reasons she wrote to explain to people who asked why she was doing it.
1. Sitting still for 7 hours a day is not developmentally appropriate for children who are 5 or 6 years old.
The first week of school, our son was beyond exhausted at the end of the day. Our normally energetic, spirited boy who loves to ride his bike, climb trees in the yard, and run away from “bad guys” was too tired to play outside. Even on the most beautiful warm days of September and October, he would say he wanted to “go inside to rest.”
My husband and I thought it would take time for him to adjust to the long school day. Six weeks into school, his behavior only worsened. He fluctuated between being despondent and clingy to irritable and cantankerous. The slightest event would send him into a fit of inconsolable crying.
We kept my son home from school three days within the first six weeks of school, because we thought he physically could not handle the rigor of attending school those days. After the third absence, we received a letter in the mail with a copy of his attendance record threatening that legally he can only miss up to five days of parent-excused absences in any given semester. (In other words, the school does not trust parents to make intelligent decisions for their children’s health and well being).
2. School interferes with his innate desire to learn and his creativity.
Children are naturally curious and eager to discover the world where they live. My son loves to read and with his own initiative has learned a great deal about space, plants, the water cycle, and other subjects. Ask him the order of the planets or which planet he would like to visit, and he will enthusiastically answer.
Before he started kindergarten, our son would draw intricate pictures and write elaborate, creative stories with multiple pages of story lines and illustrations. Since the start of school, he does not have the energy or enthusiasm for such imaginative work.
During the school day, he has no choice in what or how he learns, with recess being his only opportunity to play.
Upon returning home from school, my son has exactly 3 hours to do homework, practice piano, eat dinner, take a bath, and read stories before bed. This leaves little or no time for playing. Every night, kindergarteners from his school have homework.
The teacher informed us that if a student does not complete his homework at home, he will use recess time to complete it. One night, I worked with my son to complete all of his homework, except I did not force him to color the assigned picture. With a degree in early childhood development and eight years of teaching experience, I rationalized that the four pages of coloring worksheets sent home that day was enough fine motor practice. The next day, he was held in from recess to color the picture.
3. Worksheets are not developmentally appropriate for kindergarten.
I understand teachers are under immense pressure from government mandates and administrators to teach prescribed curriculum and facilitate more and more standardized tests. However, five year olds are still five year olds, and they should be learning through play. Period.
“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori
“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” – Carl Jung
If you doubt children can learn through play, please learn about Tools of the Mind. It is an early childhood approach to preschool and kindergarten that centers on play. It was featured in the New York Times bestseller, Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It’s not just possible for children to learn through play; they learn so much better through play.
In one school district in the U.S., teachers were selected at random to teach the traditional curriculum or Tools of the Mind. The spring standardized tests revealed theTools of the Mind classrooms were almost a full year ahead of their peers in the regular classrooms.
Personally, I have used Tools of the Mind in my kindergarten classroom the two years I taught kindergarten and witnessed the success first hand. Learning through play is not only possible but imperative for children.
4. The rewards and punishments offered at schools undermine children’s intrinsic motivation to learn.
In the first week of school, my son came home dismayed. He said, “I sat on the carpet and listened to the teacher like I should, but I didn’t get a Rosie Buck.”
Over and over again, research has proven the more external motivators given to children, the less intrinsic motivation children have. With this knowledge, why do educators continue to offer rewards for every little sign of “good behavior?”
Look at the tasks teachers are asking students to complete. Would you be motivated to spend a week or more completing a standardized test? Would you want to fill out another meaningless worksheet? Instead of asking, “How can we motivate students?” We should be asking, “Why aren’t students motivated?”
5. Schools smother children’s creativity and critical thinking.
I’ve worked as an educator and I’ve attended workshops on critical thinking skills; I’ve printed out and referenced Bloom’s Taxonomy. Every classroom in the country could have Bloom’s Taxonomy plastered to the walls, but it would not solve the problem of critical thinking.
Higher level thinking skills can only be practiced when students are encouraged to think freely and have their opinions and ideas valued. In traditional classrooms, the only ideas rewarded are the “correct answers.” This does not breed an environment for critical thinking. Too many classrooms foster mere anxiety and fear of failure.
After a month of school, I asked my husband to look through the papers and craft projects our son had brought home from school and find one, just one paper or project that showed some sort of self-expression or creativity. What did he find? Mostly coloring worksheets (e.g. color the leaf marked “red” red, color the scarecrow’s hat labeled “blue” blue, trace the numbers on the number line, etc.). He could not find one example of my son’s vivid imagination.
6. What the school values and what we value as a family does not align.
Of course we want our son to be able to follow directions and take instructions from another adult, but that is not the only or most important skill we want him to have. As far as I can tell, the school values “good” behavior over everything else– how to do what you’re told to reach the correct answer in order to not miss recess and possibly earn a Rosie Buck.