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Begin with Yourself
Is your work life stressful and fast-paced—your time filled with a
continuous cycle of activity preparation and cleanup; parent notes,
curriculum plans, reports, and newsletters to write; and e-mails,
notices, new regulations, and articles to read?
Do you have few opportunities to slow down and spend quality time
Are you exhausted at the end of each day, more because of what
didn’t happen with the kids than because of what did?
Are you concerned because your program has been invaded by
commercialism and the media’s idea of childhood?
Do children’s toys, lunch boxes, and clothes reflect the latest super-
hero products from TV and movies?
Do you find the children following the scripts of these violent and
stereotyped characters with play that is repetitive and lacking in
creativity? Do most of your interactions with children involve preventing fights
and soothing hurt feelings?
Have you noticed that many toys are designed and packaged with
predetermined themes and offer limited opportunity for investiga-
tion, invention, or using one’s own ideas or imagination?
Are you concerned that when you provide open-ended, challenging
activities and toys the children won’t know how to begin without
your help and some may be reluctant to even try?
Do you ever feel it’s time to reexamine the icons of preschool culture—
circle time, calendar time, cleanup time, paper plate and paper bag art
projects, holiday themes, or the value of learning the ABC song?
Do your holiday projects create additional stress and exhaustion
for you and the children and convey an underlying message of
commercialism? Have any children in your program been overlooked because you
assumed all families celebrate and value traditional Christian or
European American–based holidays?
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14 Chapter 1
Have you discovered that getting children ready for kindergarten
often really means teaching to the standards rather than engaging
When you reflect on children’s play, do you really understand how
to support the learning quest they are on?
The Three Rs Aren’t Enough
Findings in brain development and early childhood learning theory
demonstrate that children thrive and learn within the context of loving
relationships. Children grow when curriculum activities are meaning-
ful and geared to their interests and developmental and cultural needs.
They reach new understandings as a result of attentive adults who scaf-
fold their learning. They develop positive self-esteem, social skills, and
confidence when their family life and culture are part of the life of the
classroom. At the heart of children’s learning is active play in an engaging
environment—uninterrupted time to curiously explore, to become
physically competent, and to be intellectually engaged. Adults enhance
children’s learning with support to extend these experiences and deepen
Yet, in early education today, we see an ever-increasing “push-down”
curriculum with an emphasis on “academic readiness.” Kindergarten
feels too much like first grade, and thus, preschool expectations resemble
the view of kindergarten that was held a couple decades ago. This shift
reflects the notion that children have to be given formal lessons at an
earlier and earlier age in order to be successful. There is also the more
subtle implication that children can’t be trusted to learn through their
play, that play is wasting valuable time that could be devoted to prepar-
ing for school. This “get them ready” emphasis leads to a preschool cur-
riculum that is too abstract for young children’s concrete thinking and
often includes meaningless memorization and parroting. To be sure,
some children need to be guided to learn how to benefit from playing.
They have spent more time in front of a television or computer screen