What is childhood? When you look up childhood in a dictionary, you get the following definitions:
“The time when a person is a child ” (Cambridge)
“The state or period of being a child” (Merriam-Webster)
Both definitions are equally frustrating due to the insertion of the word “child” into the definition. As a seminar, we decided that childhood is a period of innocence. Innocence in the sense that a child still has that curiosity and desire for play. It is when dress-up isn’t about looking perfect or wearing make-up so your crush will notice you; It is about pretending to be a princess or a pirate lost at sea.
The real questions are– Is childhood becoming shorter or longer? Are our children forced to grow up too fast?
Children are forced to grow up as soon as they enter a formal education. In school, students are no longer encouraged to explore, be creative, to play. They are not praised, rather ignored or shunned for asking too many questions. There is no more experimentation. It is all about structure, which is ingrained into the children. Vanessa Feltz explains that children are sent “off to school when [they're] barely out of [diapers] and [left] there for 10 arduous hours” (Feltz). The child is required to sit at a desk and listen to a teacher lecture. Today’s children are forced to take standardized tests, to listen to dull historical lectures, and to sit back and watch while the teacher shows them a video of the science experiment. As Ostroff explains, “fear of not measuring up, of making mistakes, or of being embarrassed discourages children from taking chanced intellectually” (Ostroff 21). School causes children to become less inquisitive.
Even cartoonist Bill Watterson was able to accurately depict the struggles of children dealing with formal education. While meant to be a cartoon and funny, this strip shows the underlying problems of the United State’s current education system. The constant memorization does not allow for students to learn to their full potential.
Children are also treated similarly in a social setting. In order to keep busy and stay out of trouble, children’s parents send them to piano lessons on Monday, soccer on Tuesday, reading clubs on Wednesday, ballet on Thursday, and Bible school on Sunday. Parents will schedule many clubs, lessons, and after school programs for their children. These extracurricular activities act as a blockade for mischievous activities outside of school. While these activities are meant for good, they are also creating a stoppage in children’s free time: a time in which children are able to interact with each other on their own time and own imaginations.
David Elkind’s video shows a young girl acting out the pressures of a world that makes children mature quickly and move at a fast pace without stopping. While a bit exaggerated, it is an accurate depiction of what is happening to today’s children.
In order to combat the restrictions of formal education and society’s desire to mature our children faster, teachers should implement ways of keeping classrooms interactive and lessons interesting. Professor Wendy Ostroff succinctly explains in the introduction to her book Understanding How Young Children Learn, “Children are not passive recipients of information, waiting to be filled like empty vessels. Right from the start they are active, exploratory and involved in the creation of their own knowledge” (Ostroff 2).
The first step to eliminate the negativity of a formal education is a capable teacher. Teachers are the people children spend the most time with. They are with them for many hours in a day, sometimes seeing their teachers more than their own parents. David DeSteno reiterates the importance of teachers in a child’s life by explaining that “perhaps the most astonishing finding of all is that trust in teachers not only determines whether you’ll ask them for information and believe what they tell you, but also whether you’ll remember it later” (DeSteno). Once a child is able to trust his or her teacher, that child can feel comfortable to ask questions and reveal his or her critical thinking skills comfortably. The child can be unafraid of judgment or criticism. When teachers encourage questions it can lead to the student’s curiosity outside the classroom.
Research by Tuan Mastura Tuan Soh and Tamby Subahan Mohd Meerah show how important acceptance of children’s curiosity really is.
“By nature, a child has a very high level of curiosity, therefore, the learning process should take into account their
experiences and activities that can allow the children to explore and carry out their own research. This nature of
curiosity is the reason why children ask so many “why” questions about a situation. They will continue
questioning until they receive a satisfactory answer. This kind of attitude should not be restricted; it should be
encouraged and developed to promote science literacy.” (Outdoor Education)
Once the child is able to trust the teacher, the fun stuff can begin. In order to keep children awake with eyes wide open, lessons must be interactive, allowing for inclusion of many learning styles. The senses must be activated. Infants need that stimulation in order to stay focused. Ostroff demonstrates that importance and explains, “Passive viewing does not engage the infants’ sensory systems in the manner that actively exploring the world does” (Ostroff 30). The same can be applied to young children all the way through adulthood. A computer screen is not always enough to keep a group of students aware and ready to learn.
Lisa Johnson at Weeke Primary School is able to keep her young students interested by using music in her math class. She makes her lessons fun, but also a learning experience. The children don’t sit and listen to her lecture; they are up on their feet ready to learn. She not only makes the lesson fun, but she also makes sure that each student understands the material of the day.
These strategies can be implemented in the upper grade levels as well as the elementary grade levels. The video below demonstrates Chandralekha Singh’s teaching style. She creates an environment for her students to truly understand material and be involved in their own learning. It’s not always about memorization, it is also about understanding and appreciation of concepts.
“Childhood.” Dictionary.cambridge.org. Cambridge UP, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/american-english/childhood?q=childhood>.
“Childhood.” Def. 1. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/childhood>.
DeSteno, David. “Why Trust in Teachers Is Central to a Child’s Academic Success.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-desteno/why-trust-early-childhood-education_b_4738206.html>.
Feltz, Vanessa. “No Wonder Children Today Are Depressed.” Daily Express Columnists RSS. Northern and Shell Media Publications, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2014. <http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/vanessa-feltz/459063/No-wonder-children-today-are-depressed>.
Ostroff, Wendy L. “Introduction to Learning, Teaching, and Developmental Science.”Understanding How Young Children Learn: Bringing the Science of Child Development to the Classroom. Alexandria: ASCD, 2012. 1-6. Print.
Ostroff, Wendy L. “Understanding Children’s Motivation.” Understanding How Young Children Learn: Bringing the Science of Child Development to the Classroom. Alexandria: ASCD, 2012. 7-53. Print.
Soh, Tuan Mastura Tuan, and Tamby Subahan Mohd Meerah. “Outdoor Education: An Alternative Approach in Teaching and Learning Science.” Asian Social Science 9.16 (2013): n. pag. Print.
Watterson, Bill. “Calvin and Hobbes.” Comic strip. GoComics. Universal UClick, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2014/01/30#.Uvm-XPldWSo>.