How are we failing the kids?
The US should change its approach when it comes to playtime and relationships.
We want children who experience love, human connections and personal growth…but our approach in the US doesn’t foster those conditions.
All of my formal education came from the US. I’d even spent a few years as assistant and teacher to preschool and pre-k groups.
I’ve also spent the past five years as a primary school teacher in Central America. And I’ve got to say, we are doing some things wrong.
1. Kids can’t be kids.
The US culture loves structure and rules. So much so, schools even control playtime. The school I worked at didn’t have a park, but only a concrete area for recess. The kids were constantly being reprimanded and sitting in time-out for breaking rules such as, “the balls can only be used for bouncing up and down” or “no playing tag”. I recognized the rules exist for their safety (less accidents) but at what cost?
Childhood independence is crucial in their development. We want them to grow up to be innovative thinkers, brave citizens, and caring humans…and we want them to obtain those skills in an atmosphere telling them to behave only this way, distrust everything and everyone, and consider yourself first and only.
We learn when we fail hard. This applies even for children. They fall down, they get up. But not if we inadvertently train them to run for mom or dad the moment anything happens.
At young ages, playtime is just as vital in their growth process as books and lessons. They need risk and excitement and chances for opportunities. The play approach of minimal parent or adult interference allows kids to make assessments of situations for themselves and to reinforce a sense of freedom.
Why does every playtime or activity have to be monitored as if they are glass dolls playing on a row of needles? Let them run around and be wild. Damaged adults, stop trying to control the wild minds of little ones.
We strip kids of opportunities to create and expand when we fill their schedules with structured activities laden with rules and guidance. Then, they go to school and are told to demonstrate the learning objectives they developed, but to do it only when told and only in the approved ways.
We project adult-level stress onto the children. We throw them into everything because we think if we don’t they’ll somehow become inferior to their peers. We fear repercussions if they don’t do everything, when we should fear repercussions of when they’re forced to do everything. Emphasize quality over quantity.
2. Student-adult connections are sinful.
Most teachers enter the profession to make a difference, and they know the difference isn’t only in the test scores. We want to make differences in their lives. We want to foster connections and be support systems for our children. We understand functioning adults require a youth full of more than just regurgitating information and blindly following a long list of rules.
The system makes it very hard to do that. Rules exist for reasons, I know, but we seem to be operating as machines working with robots. The students are humans and they come to school full of experiences and emotions.
How can we be a society that preaches the importance of closeness and caring and the desire to lower suicide rates when our education system is failing to foster a place for such. According to the WHO, the US has about 14 suicides per 100,000 people; Panama has 4.4. I know statistics like this are skewed and difficult to dive into explanations. I am speaking on my observations only. Maybe one effort we can try to reduce suicide rates is to encourage human interaction and relationships between kids and the adults in their lives.
In the US, there are so many laws, rules and fears related to physical touch. When my young students would fall down or wake up from a nap in tears (two frequent occurrences with 4 year olds) we were discouraged to cuddle or hug them. It was against the rules. When a little one had an accident, I had to complete a small form, call over a coworker, have them sign the form and then have them wait and watch as I attended to the child.
When I began my teaching career in Central America, I was so taken aback and startled by the amount of affection (i.e. hugs, words of endearment, a feeling of interchange and openness, etc) shown by my students, fellow teachers, and parents. Latin culture is much more affection compared to the colder US personality, but I was able to experience the total opposite of what I knew and I am definitely team stronger relationships. The students view the teachers as adults who care for them in and out of the classroom. They are open when they experience difficulties and they trust teachers to confide in them.
Humans need touch and connection. Comfort and safety of the youth should always be the #1 focus, but we can’t forget that they are humans, and humans are messy. No blanket law or rule will prove beneficial for the masses.
Teachers and school staff are the adults who spend sometimes the most consecutive time with the students. I had four year olds whose parents dropped them off at the earliest mark possible (7am) and wouldn’t be back to retrieve them until 7pm. They went home, ate dinner, and put them to bed around 8:30 maybe 9pm. That’s a daily total of just around 3ish hours max with their kids.
So parents, believe your child’s teacher next time they voice a concern or observation. It isn’t coming from a place of hate, on the contrary, it’s because we see them so frequently we can pick up on subtle changes. We take the time to discuss it and create a plan because we care.
Let’s pop the bubble we are encircling the children in. The goal is protection, but the long term result is hurt and difficulties when they grow older. Let’s also bring back the warmth between student-teacher relationships in order to both increase their academic performances as well as open the door of communication.