GUEST AUTHOR: Rae Pica
It certainly seems to be one of those “duh” statements: all children are not the same. I mean, why would we imagine otherwise? If we accept that no two snowflakes are alike, why wouldn’t we accept that no two individuals – even of the same age and gender – are alike? It’s just plain common sense.
But common sense doesn’t appear to translate to education policies.
In an interview on BAM Radio Network, noted early childhood expert Jane Healy said, “We have a tendency in this country to put everybody into a formula – to throw them all into the same box and have these expectations that they’re all going to do the same thing at the same time.”
For the most part, that’s always been the case with education: expecting all children in the same grade to master the same work at the same level and pace. But since the inception of No Child Left Behind – and later with Race to the Top and the implementation of the Common Core Standards (common being the operative word) – it’s only gotten worse. The “box” has gotten even smaller. And the younger the children, the less room there is for movement inside it (play on words intended).
There’s nothing wrong with standards, or goals, per se. It makes sense to establish a certain level of mastery for children to achieve and to determine what students should be able to do and know over the course of a particular period of time, a school year, for example. But the standards should be realistic. It should be possible for the majority of students to achieve them, each at her or his own pace. That means the standards must also be developmentally appropriate and based on the principles of child development – designed with actual children in mind.
But they’re not. Standards are written by people with little to no knowledge of child development or developmentally appropriate practice. They’re written with too little input from people who do have that knowledge, such as teachers and child development experts. In fact, of the 135 people on the committees that wrote and reviewed the K-3 Common Core Standards, not one was a K-3 teacher or an early childhood professional.
Of course, along with developmentally inappropriate standards comes developmentally inappropriate curriculum. David Elkind said the following in another BAM interview:
We don’t teach the college curriculum at the high school. We don’t teach the high school curriculum at the junior high. We don’t teach the junior high curriculum at the elementary level. Why should we teach the elementary curriculum at the preschool level?…We have no research to support it; all the research is opposed to it, and yet we do it.
Teachers, more and more often, are being asked to teach in ways they know to be developmentally inappropriate. They’re asked to make demands of students whom they know are not developmentally ready for such demands. And, as Jane Healy noted, “When you start something before the brain is prepared, you’ve got trouble.”
If we’re to give the standards and curriculum writers the benefit of the doubt, we could admit that children these days appear to be smarter and savvier than they used to be. But, according to the research, children are not reaching their developmental milestones any sooner than they did in 1925 when Arnold Gesell first did his research.
As an example, demonstrating the large range of what is “normal” in child development, we know that the average age children learn to walk is 12 months – 50 percent before and 50 percent after. But the range that is normal for walking is 8¾ months all the way to 17 months. The same applies for reading. The average age that children learn to read is six-and-a-half, 50 percent before and 50 percent after. But that does’t mean policymakers and standards writers won’t continue to demand that they read before leaving kindergarten. (For more information, listen to Are Children Smarter, Learning More, Sooner, Faster? on BAM Radio Network.)
Anyone who understands child development knows:
- It’s simply not possible for all children to do and know the exact same things at the exact same age.
- All children go through the exact same stages in the exact same order but they do it at varying rates.
- Each domain – cognitive, physical, emotional, social – has its own rate of development.
And here’s the big one:
- A child’s development absolutely cannot be accelerated or hurried in any way.
All of this has been proved by research. But those with common sense – or kids – don’t need research to verify these facts. They simply need to look at any two siblings, even twins, and note the differences. When we consider the myriad possibilities for genetic combinations, along with various environmental factors, it’s clear that we can’t begin to envision the diversity in temperament, intellect, skills, and learning styles among a group of 30 children in the same classroom.
One of my favorite lines from the interview with David Elkind was, “Wrong ideas always seem to catch on more easily than right ones.”
The idea that all children are the same is definitely a wrong idea.
This piece is excerpted from Rae’s book, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Improving Education and Children’s Lives, available in the Gesell Institute bookstore.
Rae Pica has been an education consultant since 1980, specializing in the education of the whole child, the brain/body connection, and children’s physical activity. She is the author of 19 books and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she currently hosts Studentcentricity: Practical Strategies for Teaching with Students at the Center. You can learn more about Rae at www.raepica.com.
Interested in reading even more about Developmentally Appropriate Practice? Check out NAEYC’s resources here: https://www.naeyc.org/DAP