– Jennifer McCarville
I share the same concerns as so many in our country. I spend more time than I can figure wondering what we are doing to people that would cause them to lash out so violently and destructively. As an early childhood teacher, private school director, teacher trainer, and parent educator my heart is breaking for children and what we are doing to them.
Today I find myself frustrated that so much of the conversation about what to do revolves around how to arm teachers, how to remove weapons from homes, placing more armed officers on school campuses, and how to get more therapists, counselors, and psychologists in schools. Not because I don’t entertain some of the ideas as helpful but because I cringe at the fact that we are, once again, looking for bandages to a problem that we are ignoring at its core. A problem that we actually have some power to attack.
I am frustrated that our society continues to overlook what I believe (what I know) is the real problem. We have taken away children’s tools to be healthy people. We have taken away their confidence and self-esteem. We have taken away their sense of belonging and worth.
We have taken away their childhoods.
And we are paying the price.
I sure don’t have all the answers but I can confidently share some of what I know we need to do for children in the first 8 years of life.
So I say it is time to arm the children…
Arm them with childhoods that deeply honor the way they are made.
– I have worked with a lot of children over the past 26 years and I can tell you without hesitation that children are made good! We must stop compromising them by pressuring them and pushing them to go further and do more than they are developmentally ready to.
– We must recognize children as whole people and give them the respect that comes with that knowledge.
Arm them with understanding.
– Teachers should have to have extensive knowledge of child development. Especially in the early childhood years (birth through age 8…that is third-grade people!). How is it that children are being expected to leave home for school at young (YOUNG) ages and then those children are being taught by people whose degree plans don’t allow for them to study child development? And I mean study. This should be the core of a degree for any educator. I can tell you that I would not dare go to a doctor who has not taken anatomy.
– Give teachers time and tools to build relationships with families and to respect their differences so that they can support their children.
– Listen more than you talk. Observe more than you teach.
Arm them with knowledgable parents.
– Schools have an amazing opportunity to be a source for empowering and educating parents about how children learn and grow.
– Stop believing that meetings that share assessments of young children’s reading levels or math skills give parents any useful information! Parent meetings should be about how children spend their time at school, who they interact with, how their emotional growth is being supported, and what they seem to be struggling with socially. We need to be focusing on who children are way more than what they know.
Arm them with an economy that allows their adults to be with them.
– One stay at home parent is ideal. (And quit telling us you can’t afford it. What you may not be able to afford is a big, beautiful house in an uppity neighborhood, two payments for fancy cars, and eating out six nights a week. Give those things up and then we can talk.)
– If you are fortunate enough to have a grandparent who can step in and take on the role of stay at home adult then that is an amazing gift and you should take it!
– If you really don’t like being with your children then we need to find mental health support for that, too. Because parents should find joy in the midst of child-rearing drudgery (at least the majority of the time).
Arm them with appropriate educational environments.
– Environments that truly education the WHOLE child. We must stop expecting schools to be places children enter without their hearts.
– The places they spend their days should be warm and inviting.
– Early childhood is the time children develop social skills and emotional competencies. This knowledge alone dictates what young children need to be learning at school. But it seems we expect them to come to school with those competencies and skills. Sound crazy? It is!
– Double the classroom square footage and the number of adults in those spaces. For children younger than kindergarten double the space and triple the number of adults.
– Create places that don’t pressure children to be more than they are ready to be because the places in which children spend their days should overflow with what they need and love and who they are. Because children are made good. And we are breaking them.
– Environments that celebrate and understand that every stage of development is complete and that are not always pushing children from that completeness into the next stage. That is not teaching. That is cruel. That is stressful. That is the stuff brokenness is made of.
Arm them with appropriate boundaries.
– Boundaries based on good knowledge of child development so that they are nurturing and kind and appropriate. Because boundaries make children feel safe (they make us all feel safe).
– And make sure there are enough adults to respectfully support children when they push those boundaries… because that is what children do!
Arm them with good health.
– Quit feeding them processed foods.
– Make sure they eat twice as many fresh foods as fried ones.
– Stop filling their spaces with toxins and chemicals.
Arm them with creativity.
– I don’t mean projects that adults force them to make. I mean spaces full of creative materials and time to use them. How. They. Want.
– Give them spaces to build. Unit blocks and building areas should be in all classrooms for children up to third grade.
– Give them materials to tinker with. Things to take apart. Things to hammer together. Things to mess about with.
– Create places to pretend. Pretend play is how children process their worlds. Teachers who want to know what children know and what children need must observe them playing!
Arm them with time in nature.
– Create outdoor spaces full of loose parts and then dedicate 1/3 of the day to being in those spaces. (And while they are there make sure that many adults are available facilitating problem solving and offering support.) Because children learn everywhere!
– Plant things and fill their classrooms with lots of different animals to care for. Because when we care for plants and animals we learn to be gentle and thoughtful and considerate of other living things.
– Remove technology from their classrooms and use that money for open-ended outdoor classrooms with tons of loose parts for the children to engage with.
Arm them with thoughtful intellectual challenges.
– Make the CHILD the curriculum.
– Not academic measurements.
– Base learning achievement on individual accomplishments not on age.
– Encourage children to wonder.
– Stop overloading them with information. Of course, you know more than them! But that’s because you’re older and have more life experience not because they are not brilliant and capable of learning.
– Read to them A LOT. For the love of reading not for the “lesson”.
– Sing with them. For the fun of singing! Sing happy songs, sing sad songs, sing silly songs.
– Play games that challenge their mathematical problem-solving.
– Give them real work to do and then let them do it.
– Listen to them.
– Take away the batteries and fill their spaces with things that are kid-powered.
Arm them with time to be children.
– Stop over-scheduling them.
– Stop putting them in tutoring.
– Stop plugging them into electronics (just stop with the electronics already!).
– Stop filling their days entertaining them.
You see, it is really very simple but somehow we have come to make it so difficult.
What we need to do to arm children is to give them back a childhood. A time to learn and grow well the social and emotional foundations that will nurture their souls and make them people who value themselves, life, and others.
We must make schools places children long to be.