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Ten #What ifs for Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs

Published in ChicagoNow, January 5, 2015

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and linchpin of the education reform craze, recently tweeted, “What if every district committed both to identifying what made their 5 best schools successful & providing those opps to all their students?” Apparently, he received lots of tweets in response, mostly from folks who are not too crazy about the direction he has set for educating children.

My #whatif list is too long to tweet. As an early childhood educator, I have my own bias about the qualities that really make school successful for our youngest learners. I suspect these qualities would not align with many of the things Duncan espouses.

Just fun for, I’m going to take a look at Cherry Preschool, the early childhood program I helped found and directed for 15 years. You can check Cherry Preschool out for yourself by attending its open house on Saturday, January 10 from 9:30 to 11:00 am.

What if all programs serving preschoolers…

  1. Promoted curiosity

  2. Encouraged gender neutral play with non-commercial, open-ended materials

  3. Provided opportunities for imaginative free play and exploration

  4. Designed curriculum with input from the children, centering on their interests and questions about a topic

  5. Made community service an important part of children’s education

  6. Retained talented and dedicated educators by respecting them and allowing them freedom to teach

  7. Taught children to value and respect themselves, their classmates, their community, and the environment.

  8. Reached out to include children with special needs, families that cannot pay tuition for a private preschool, and English language learners, and celebrated that diversity

  9. Invited parents, grandparents, and other important adults in children’s lives to participate in their educational experience

  10. Fostered an appreciation for art, science, literature, math concepts, critical thinking, and exploration in a play-based, developmentally appropriate way

It is particularly important for programs like Cherry Preschool to provide a model for play-based early childhood education. Our country has increasingly embraced the academic orientation of the educational reform movement. Sadly, many children no longer have the opportunity for imaginative play in their early childhood programs. They therefore lack the foundational skills that are linked to play: memory, emotional self-regulation, oral language and literacy, perspective-taking, and social competence. It is these so-called “soft skills” that enable children to succeed in elementary school and beyond.

Unfortunately, educational standards have now become the sole driver of the content of many early childhood programs. Often, the classroom practices and teaching strategies used to implement these standards in a developmentally appropriate manner have been long forgotten.

An important part of teaching young children to get along in an increasingly diverse world includes giving all children access to creative, imaginative, child-directed play. Developmentally appropriate early childhood programs like Cherry Preschool work to enrich the lives of all members of their community by bringing children together in an environment that teaches acceptance, respect, and the appreciation of diversity and individual differences.

#Whatif our schools committed to developmentally appropriate practice so young children learned the way they learn best – through enriched play opportunities in a diverse and accepting classroom environment?


by Laurie Levy
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