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Why kids should be loud and playing...

It's taken me awhile to find a muse for a new post. Interesting discussion on Facebook this morning though. Prompted, in part, by an article about teaching your kids to sit still in church. And, just yesterday, a famous Chicago chef made some controversial comments about crying babies in restaurants. It's a complicated topic fueled by normal child behavior, parenting philosophies, cultural expectations, and the like.

For my part, I take a very natural view of children and a very family-friendly view of society and how it should treat parents and kids. I'm against the tide of testing kindergarteners, pushing preschoolers towards academic excellence, and putting our children in longer and longer school days while we ignore physical education, their holistic (and mental) health, and the need for children to have open, active play to stimulate their growing brains.

That's not just my parenting skills talking. It's also my psychology degree talking. Concepts, especially for young children, aren't set in rigid ways like they are for adults. The brain connections are more easily made, but also looser. It's why kids can pick up a second (or third or fourth) language so easily while adults cannot. It's also why imagination, creativity, and flexibility are so important with children. Play is what drives learning the concept.

I'm a big fan of the American Library Association's Early Literacy initiatives for that very reason. It's not about teaching your baby to read. Even the idea that we're going to send kindergarteners to all-day school to work on letters and numbers is not backed up by the basics of developmental psychology. What we can work on is the concept of reading...introducing our children to books, letting them love the feel of a story and the pages, learning right ways to hold a book, that stories have a beginning, middle, and end. We can let them play with reading back to us...even if the story is nonsense. It all prepares them with literacy skills they'll need much further down the road. In some ways, I'd argue these skills are more important than being able to recognize the letter A.

The other component of this is one I've written about frequently--that we pay lip service to being family friendly but rarely are actually tolerant of children in our vicinity. The Victorian idea that children should be seen but not heard still reigns. Sitting still in stuffy church is right up there. But unless a child is actively engaged, sitting still is not something that's going to occur naturally until elementary school. Yet we still have so many places in our culture where children don't feel welcome. Granted, I've been on the other side of this issue, too, with breastfeeding. As parents, we need to recognize that there are appropriate places and situations for childcare. It's not appropriate to change your child's diaper on the bench at the mall. In the back of our Subaru in the parking lot? Another story!

But the current trend of making churches child-friendly places where some running around during the service is ok. Crying? Certainly. No longer are kids banned to the nursery or Sunday school while the adults pray and sing hymns. Especially if we want to teach kids appropriate mature behavior, it's important we take them to the places we want to them to adapt to and let them soak in appropriate behavior. While, of course, recognizing that kids will be kids. They're supposed to be outside, running around, screaming at the tops of their lungs.

Ours have been trapped inside for weeks while the snow and cold rages outdoors. So yesterday's 49 degree temps got us out on the front walkway in the courtyard for some hard play. It was beautiful, completely age-appropriate, and we all had a great time.

We cannot simultaneously complain about low test scores and our children failing academically when we do not set them up for success. Asking children to sit in a chair doing cold science, memorizing, or taking a test is much different than experiential learning, science that teaches them to ask the questions, or letting them be creative in showing what they've learned. I'll explore these last ideas in another post later maybe. But if you want to look at why our students are struggling, it's not their fault. If I ask my dog to recite Shakespeare I'm probably not going to get much out of my dog, either. But if I find the right reward and ask my dog to crawl through a tunnel to get a tennis ball, I may have some luck.

It's time we stop viewing our children as tiny "adults in training" and view them as children who have very different needs. We need to stop watering our garden with juice thinking the plants will grow tall and produce fruit. If you want a good harvest, you need good soil, water, sunlight.

Maybe it's not our children who aren't behaving...maybe it's the adults trying to force a square peg in a round hole.

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