Science Opinion

Plant the Seeds for Future Thanksgivings in Kindergarten

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 25, 2014 5 min read
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In the United States, this week presents a cultural holiday for giving thanks. It hearkens back to the feast between Pilgrims and Native Americans at the end of the harvest. Ah, the indigenous people and the newcomers...certainly themes of our history are still alive today.

Families across the country will gather to give thanks for the freedoms with which we are blessed and for the opportunities that sustain our hopefulness as a people. Some show their thanks by gathering around the Thanksgiving table and enjoying a traditional meal with loved ones. Others show their thanks by helping cook or serving food to the less fortunate. Some visit hospitals or nursing homes. Schools are also places where efforts are made to be sure students go home thankful. Funds are raised for those who need it. Families are invited to homes that can welcome them. In all ways, the country gets blanketed with thanks. It is a generous time.

We Give Thanks For Free Expression
We have written often about welcoming different opinions and respectfully working to come to common understandings. So on this week, we want to take the opportunity to “walk the talk,” and give thanks. We are grateful for the opportunity extended to us three times a week to include you in our thinking. We especially appreciate those who retweet us and those who send us comments. It keeps our thinking alive.

Today, we address a reader’s comment received on a recent post about P-TECH and how its value begins in Kindergarten. Our reader wrote:

By all means - let’s get started early to prepare our 5-year-olds so they are “first in line for consideration for IBM entry-level positions,” while learning “science, technology, engineering and math” and “leadership, communication and problem solving.” Doesn’t anyone remember that we are talking about children here? That “kindergarten” literally means a garden for children? Gardens are not factories, and children don’t need to be slotted into technical career preparation at 5 years old. Five-year-olds have unbounded curiosity and are natural learners. There is no need to channel that into adult categories and cut off any broader interests they may have. Please allow the “experts from the field” to apply their expertise at a level where learners might actually choose to focus on STEM, and leave the education of young children to those who truly understand them.

We do read the comments we receive and we realized that, at least for this reader, we had not made certain things clear. Often in blog writing, in an effort to be pithy, the details that bring understanding can be omitted. This reader was specific about how we may have missed the mark. So with thanks, we offer a more complete response.

Doesn’t Anyone Remember That We Are Talking About Children Here?
Child development and curriculum in classrooms should be inexorably linked. We both believe that as a basic tenet of all school design. And, it is with 5 year olds in mind that we wrote the piece. Let’s envision the P-TECH experience begins in Kindergarten. Truly, Kindergarten should be a garden for children. And with the current knowledge about learning, we can make it a more robust garden with varied species of experiences that engage students as excited co-learners, discoverers, and problem solvers. Too many of our youngest classrooms have become and/or are becoming academically focused, testing preparation grounds, instead of learning focused and aligned with the developmental needs of the children. The P-TECH focus and the opportunities that accompany a STEM learning environment reinforce the notion that children need to explore, to experience alive, dynamic environments, to learn at the juncture of play and and to feel the joy of learning before they become scholars.

Science, technology, engineering, and math have a place in Kindergarten. In fact, they are already there. Classrooms of children plant actual gardens, plant seeds, care for the watering and tending with watchful eyes as seeds break open to allowing new life to appear. The same with hatching eggs, examining owl pellets, using tablets to record findings or to engage in a learning game, engineering with blocks, Legos, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. They learn to count seedlings, items found in the pellets, and blocks. They listen and read stories about farmers and markets, families and food, and other builders. These are already P-TECH and STEM beginnings. Little ones are natural problem solvers with imaginations that haven’t yet been constrained or directed. Here the creative exploration allows them to see themselves as anything: not the IBM entry level worker as our reader inferred, but the astronaut, the musician, the doctor, the president. It is here, at five years old that dreams are built or crushed. Kindergarten teachers introduce children to what school means and the children arrive ready in whatever way they can. What they all bring is a future yet to be formed.

If we take a look at the skills and knowledge needed to enter a 9th grade P-TECH or STEM environment and map those skills backwards to Kindergarten, a consequence can be the closing of the achievement gap that grows through the years. This focus on P-TECH and STEM can become a welcomed gift, offering the opportunities to reinforce that which teachers of young children know...learning by doing is the key to strengthening all students’ capacity to learn. It truly turns everything on its head. Actually, learning by doing needs to permeate the elementary, middle, and high school years. It can be called P-Tech or STEM since those subjects bring such rich capacity for projects and invite connections easily to other subjects.

What if a Kindergarten Philosophy Existed In Every Grade Level?
This reader makes us consider what if a Kindergarten philosophy existed in every grade level. We contend that as children go into higher grades they find those who drift to teaching by telling and disconnected subject areas. Why shouldn’t every classroom in every year be a child’s garden? It is now, in the beginning, that there exists opportunity to re-think the K-12 path as a developmental journey that engages students to be active, problem solving, collaborating learners, even as they grow through the more rigorous academic challenges.

Then, years later, IBM can find its workers, competent and energized...so too can hospitals, schools, the financial world, the agricultural and building industry and everyone else. So, too, can families with meaningfully employed adults and healthy, happy little ones find satisfaction and appreciate a Thanksgiving begun years ago in a Kindergarten classroom, somewhere in our country, where the teacher held this future picture in mind.

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