Watching the discussion on this blog about how the Common Core Standards might affect the pre-school years (pre-K and K), veteran educator Deborah Meier sent the following comment to me:

If counting to a hundred by ones and tens are appropriate skills for all 5 year olds, and children should read by sounding out words before they enter kindergarten, then Karen Nemeth might be right.  

But to say that such standards do not prevent teachers from responding creatively is…nonsense.  The most efficient way to do it is by repeated forms of rote learning, which interferes with both a solid mathematical education rather than furthering it and consumes the time otherwise spent in more appropriate activities–art, music, dance, science, block building, water play, planting, caring for animals, story telling,  learning about one’s surrounding neighborhood, and on and on.

Furthermore we know that children learn to read in many ways (some by “mere” extensive exposure). We’d be wise to pay attention to one of the best studies of reading I know of–Inquiry Into Meaning: An Investigation of Learning to Read by Edward Chittenden et al.  (Teachers College Press.)  The authors (researchers at ETS)  document the range of ways in which children learned to read–regardless of how they were taught.  We don’t have to settle on one way, but can provide opportunities to best match each child’s approach–which can be done easily under the right circumstances.   Apparently delaying any form of direct reading instruction until children are 7 hasn’t hurt the schools and nations who follow such a course.   But the Common Core prescribes a different developmental path.  

Yes, centuries of wisdom about the role of  imaginative and imitative play strongly suggest what is best for all young children–rich and poor.  Whether at home or at school, young children (perhaps all humans!) need a surrounding in which they can observe and imitate playfully the wondrous things they see peers and adults engaged in, where they are safe, watched over, guided, encouraged, and enjoyed.  Where the ratio of adults to children is more like natural human communities
It’s good that NAEYC paved the way–but I have concluded that they have not noticed what has happened to PreK and Kindergarten of late.  Not only are children spending many more hours in institutional care, with student/adult ratios that make it harder and harder to observe and respond to each child’s strengths and weaknesses but classrooms for 4 year olds look more and more like old-fashioned lst grades–in the name of innovation.  All to prepare them for 12 more years of test-driven schooling.   It is one of many things that is causing great distress in quite young children, above all, young boys.  The teachers that I meet are giving in because, in the name of “realism”,  they do not have NAEYC et al covering their backs!
Deborah Meier