The Importance of Early Childhood Education

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Last week, I had a chance to speak with a teacher dedicated to our youngest students. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious; her vision for a risk-free, child-centered learning space will inspire both kids and instructors. Kudos, Ashley!

And then, over the weekend, our grandchildren chattered excitedly about school: fun, friends and learning. We learned of the symmetry of butterfly wings and the writing process.  Their teachers are embedded in their tales of Pre-K and first grade: knowledgeable, patient, creative souls.  When these kids grow up, it will be the magic of these teachers they will remember as their earliest introductions to the classroom.


Image result for images of math equations This all reminded me of the huge debt that we–as secondary teachers–owe colleagues like Ashley and those who teach our grands each day.  Without them, there would be no source-based argumentative essays, no DBQs, no chem labs.

Colors and shapes,  letters, the number line give way to sight words and greater than and less than which brings kids to us, to Hamlet, the civil rights movement, algebra and laws of motion. What kids learn in 7th grade or 10th or 12th is built on the foundation established in Pre-K and K. (NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio is onto something in his push for universal Pre-K.) Early childhood educators have the tools–and foresight– to create lessons that will support vertical consistency. As instructional expectations for the littlest pupils continue to expand, delivering content area instruction has become an increasingly challenging task.  Bless those who continue to work so hard at this job!

But perhaps equally important are the social and personal skills early childhood educators must develop in their students. Everyone knows about early lessons on sharing and waiting in line. But kids also have to learn to follow spoken directions and transition from one activity to the next. They have to feel safe enough to ask questions.  They must learn to use structure and routine to discover self-discipline and understand that mistakes are part of the learning curve, not signs of failure.

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The tricky part in all this? Holding onto innocence, to childhood. Finding ways to fine tune these skills that will determine future success without dampening the boundless curiosity that defines first graders.  Helping kids learn to laugh at themselves.

A good friend who sits in those little chairs in the district where I once worked, will be that teacher, the one kids will remember, the one who held their hands, dried their tears and set them back on their feet for the next day, the next challenge. Terry, long after kids have moved on to other classrooms, they will remember when you brought math and science to life, when you gave them room to be kids and the skills to be adults.

Image result for images of thank you     So to Terry and Ashley and all the other early childhood teachers out there prepping kids for what they will see in middle school and high school, thanks!  Teaching truly is a team sport.  You might not always see your work after kids leave your nests, but what you do makes all the difference.



Hard Work…it really is good for kids!

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In a district where I once worked, middle school homework was the instructional equivalent of the Great Butter Battle. Though during my early years there we were told we weren’t assigning enough homework, trending conversations have been about too much.

Turned out that homework was just too hard. Kids had too many other activities: sports, acting lessons, cooking classes, voice training. And when they did finally get settled in their rooms–where they had access to computers, smart phones, televisions, and video game consoles–they were simply spent.

Image result for images of a clock face Fueled by parent concerns– likely fueled by tween complaints– the superintendent responded by limiting homework to ten minutes. Ten minutes.

Ten minutes is an eternity when Dr. Tim is drilling your back molar. When your express train is delayed ten minutes, making you unfashionably late for a meeting, it can be kind of a big deal. But not much happens in ten minutes for a 7th grader planning an analytical essay or solving for x. And what takes Johnny ten minutes to complete might take Susie twenty. So the Ten Minute Rule temporarily put homework out of its misery.

The problem was that we were proud of our status as a high performing district. We were sending our middle school kids to compete in demanding high schools, where by all measures, they arrived academically very well prepared.  Image result for images of homework


Homework was giving our kids a three-fer: content review, skills practice and while the stakes were still low, an intro to personal time management.  Image result for images of a bargain

But Wait…There’s More

And now experts who know about these things suggest that time spent on academics can keep kids from discovering more dangerous pastimes.  An article in Monday’s New York Times by Austin Frakt cites a paper published by the Journal of Health Economics that concluded hard school work is actually good for kids. Who knew?


The paper focuses on advanced math and science classes, but it isn’t difficult to make the leap into the humanities, too. Deconstructing transcendental poetry, communicating effectively en espanol,  defending Truman’s decision to use nuclear weaponry can be every bit as challenging as derivatives or the periodic table.

In states where tougher academic standards have been phased in, statistics suggest that kids seem more able to avoid cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. Image result for say no to drugs


And we thought homework was just a three-fer!

The simple story here is kids who are busy with homework have less time to sniff out dangerous activities.

But it is also about setting kids up for success down the road. In middle school, where it is oh-so-safe to commit the occasional age-appropriate faux pas–and who among us doesn’t remember doing that?–kids facing the challenges of reading, writing, speaking, computing and listening are developing positive habits while navigating around bad ones. It doesn’t require an advanced degree to know that good habits are that much harder to form once the bad ones have taken root.

And if this isn’t enough, when we send kids the message that they are responsible enough, they are capable enough to do the work we ask them to do, we are telling them we believe in them. When we stay with them, even when they mess up–as they and we certainly will–we tell them they are not alone on this journey.

The Ten Minute Rule eventually faded away–as did the superintendent who decreed it–but the homework conversation continues. Kids hate it. But kids often hate spinach and flu shots. Poet Shel Silverstein envisioned technology that could take the bad taste out of homework, but as yet, science has not produced a homework machine:

The Homework Machine/ Oh, the Homework Machine,/ Most perfect/Contraption that’s ever been seen.”