With Dr. Jill Biden at the helm, I hope we will turn our attention to the place where we can make the most impact on a better society—early childhood Education. There are so many ways to influence our country, but one of the best, is to give every child the most professional educator we can train at the beginning of every child’s school years in order to help every child learn to read.
In most schools in the United States, students are asked to learn curriculum and attain the standards for their grades. Wonderful teachers help them to learn their letters, practice their math, engage in science and to be social with each other. The first national marker comes around third grade where only 1/3 of the students attain proficiency on reading tests. This lack of success in reading is partly the result of the rise of video games and other visual distractions, and the reduction of reading practice at home. Schools are hard pressed to challenge this culture, and with COVID-19 the problem of “learning loss” seems to be getting worse.
Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia
Don’t we have some good models for early childhood learning? Yes we do. Maria Montessori thought that students should learn at their own pace. In Italy, she advised that teachers should stand by, be ready to guide and to support, but to let students own their progress. Rudolph Steiner who founded the Waldorf schools thought that play-based education should be the emphasis for younger children, relying on their innate ability to play, and allowing play to draw out their learning. Reggio Emilia also trusted the child to learn how to learn, this time through an emphasis on project-based methodology.
The US Department of Education, perhaps influenced by the first lady, might consider putting together a list of best practices that all K-3 schools could use and fund teachers to gain that knowledge. Of course it would be based on the three powerful educators mentioned above—especially the use of projects, the focus on students owning their learning, the creativity and play—but we might mention such impactful practices as the arts, differentiation of learning needs, and the responsive classroom. Social emotional learning would also be invited to the table: perhaps Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Bloom’s taxonomy should be layered in, and perhaps experiential learning, outside use of gardens, and group learning…sports, cooking, and….?
Learning to Read, Reading to Learn
Reading is Foundational
So it seems that a national need to improve learning in early childhood setting should focus on the foundational skill of reading but should also include the elements mentioned above. And because only a third of all third graders read proficiency, a national policy that adopts the recommendations listed above would help this country provide a foundational approach to helping all children learn well.
Let’s rebuild the nation’s early childhood policy by placing reading at the foundation of these great ideas, and then let’s recommend a national professional development program to incorporate reading into all of these good ideas. We don’t have to have all K-3 schools do the same thing, but we do need to unite in succeeding with all children.