Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 21 2011

Crunchy Kids on the Common

I went into downtown Boston with my family yesterday and we were hanging out, sitting in the Common (which for you non-Bostonians is the big park in the middle of Boston) when these two women came and sat next to us with 3 4-year-old in a “preschool” class. They were clearly crunchy organic types: the kids (2 of whom were boys) had long uncut hair, all were wearing Birkenstocks and Keens, and the teacher was both sans bra and mit overlarge hiking backpack. They were also obviously holistic-school types, trying to talk about the science behind the Swan Boats they had just ridden on and the benefits of webbed feet. The teacher was trying so hard to work learning into the real world, and it sort of worked until they saw another kid with ice cream, at which point all three kids lost it with their confectionary cravings.

What was interesting about this was that, initially, I was a little skeptical of this woman, stuffing hydrodynamics and criss-cross-applesauce into a hot summer afternoon when those kids clearly wanted to be running around with an ice cream cone. She started talking about igneous rock at one point, and I was like, come on, lady! Who talks to 4-year-olds about geologic classifications? Let’s start with counting, shall we?

But then I listened to the kids a little bit. Yes, they were still bickering like most kids, but they were taunts of, “My rock’s igneous and yours isn’t!” When one kid got annoyed at another, the teacher asked him to use his words, and he popped out with, “I was mad at him because he didn’t know what I meant and I didn’t want to explain it.” They had all totally internalized the idea that they were allowed to have feelings, that those feelings matter, and that words are the way to express those feelings to other people. They were still working on the idea that they don’t always get what they feel is best, but overall, at 4 years old they had mostly surpassed the verbal fluency and vocabulary of my 6 year olds from Institute.

Studies show that by the time a middle- or upper-class child reaches school age, they have had between two and three times as many words spoken directly to them than their low-income peers. Add the difficulties of switching from one’s birth language to a new, academic language (which 13 of my 16 kids did), and it’s no wonder my munchkins come out behind. But how to fix it…

Side note: am I going to keep seeing educational inequity everywhere from now on? Probably. Thanks, TFA.

One Response

  1. G

    Here’s my scientifically unproven theory: children are fearless and have no idea of what they’re supposed to know (or not) at a given age. Teach 2nd graders about irreversible/reversible molecular change while teaching a unit about changes in matter? Sure, why not? Teach them to multiply and divide through 12 x 12 before the 3rd grade? Of course. Encourage them to learn a new 4th grade vocabulary word a day, just because? Yep.

    Those children in the Commons are learning through everyday experiences. Why not teach them about igneous rocks and how to properly express their feelings without throwing a temper tantrum, as would be expected from a 4 year old? We sometimes underestimate the capacity to learn that little people have. If we as teachers stop being afraid of exposing kids to things that we may think are “too difficult” for them, they just might surprise us! In the same vein, I’m not saying to overwhelm them, but challenge them…every.single.day. They will amaze you – I promise!

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