Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Culture of Childhood

Are kids today needing "recess coaches?"

This article in the discusses it:  Playtime is Over by David Elkind, March 26, 2010

For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.
Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.  (Elkind)
 Elkind is a professor of childhood development at Tufts University.  His column here has me thinking about growing up and what we did as kids.  Many days (I grew up in the 70s for grade school and middle 80s for high school - graduated in '88) we would go to the local elementary school and play at the playground or start a pickup game of basketball, wiffle ball, or kickball.  We also went sled riding a lot when it did snow.  We were outside a bunch.  Unlike most kids though, I was very, very athletic.   I loved playing ball as a kid.  I know that not every kid was like me.

I agree with Elkind that schools are definitely going in the wrong direction with education at the younger level.  Any high school teacher can tell you that there is a problem.  We see it when kids show up to us each year.  I catch my students up, but believe me, they are coming with hugh deficits.   That is not an excuse.  My job as an educator is to make them better and to improve each student.  Most of my students improve a great deal and I am proud of that work.  But, I would be ecstatic if there were changes in the focus of elementary education.  

A physical education is in many ways just as important as the academics.  It's like the balance between character ed and academic excellence.  I tell my students all the time, "No one is going to care how smart you are if you are a jerk to everyone."  It's true.  It is also true that a person is not going to be able to enjoy their intelligence and progress academically if they are living unfulfilled lives because of a lack of physical fitness and health.  

In any case, recess coaching is a vastly better solution than eliminating recess in favor of more academics. Not only does recess aid personal development, but studies have found that children who are most physically fit tend to score highest on tests of reading, math and science.
Friedrich Fröbel, the inventor of kindergarten, said that children need to “learn the language of things” before they learn the language of words. Today we might paraphrase that axiom to say that children need to learn the real social world before they learn the virtual one.  (Elkind)
As a former college football player and baseball player, I also know the other side of this coin. There are student-athletes in our schools today getting too much physical work and not enough academic work. Today in Texas (the high school football capital of the world), student-athletes take a class called FOOTBALL. During the school day they have a period set aside for athletics. They also then practice after school. Some programs also require kids to come in early before school begins to run, practice during the day for athletic period and then practice after school. That's too much. Anyone can see it.

And I can tell you story after story of very talented high school athletes that go off to their college or university of choice and immediately quit the athletic team because they are just flat burned out.  As Julia Child once said, "Everything in moderation, including moderation."  Maybe that's the answer.  

I look at things through my perspective.  That perspective is as an educator and also a father of a five year-old son.  I worry about him being pushed too hard.  People are always saying to me, "What sport is he doing?"  Well, he's freaking five!  I started baseball, basketball and football when I was six.  And I distinctly remember that my dad forged the form to say I was seven so that I could play.  I am in no way going to do that for my son.

Last fall he wanted to play soccer, so he did.  Last summer he wanted to try swimming, so he did.  The year before he took karate lessons for 3-5 year olds.  No big deal to me that he isn't continuing either of them at this point.  He is trying some things and making decisions about what he wants to do.  Pushing him down the road is not going to keep him on that road.  I want him to come to athletics if that is what he is compelled to do.  But, if Aidan decides to be in the band, to form a rock band with his friends, to join the chess club... so be it!  But, I will be trying to foster an active childhood where his physical fitness is improving.

So this is really two topics in this blog post.  One is of the failure of too little.  The other of the failure of too much.  The answer I suppose is something in between.

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