Yesterday was the first day of the state ELA test. I spent the morning in Pre-k with one 3rd grader who is opting out. Because of his struggles with attention, sitting still for two hours filling in multiple choice bubbles would have been torturous for him. Even so, he was a little embarrassed at first to have to hang out with the little kids while his peers were testing.
But that soon changed.
In pre-k, much of the day is spent in centers. Children choose what to do and who to play or work with and their options are multi-sensory, open ended and creative. Because of this, our pre-k classrooms are a learning wonderland. The kids are excited about everything- reading, building, sensory explorations, art, animals, singing, exploring shapes and counting at their “numberland” math center. Not only do they have agency over what and how they learn, but also, time in every day is devoted to cultivating valuable social-emotional skills. Which makes for some happy kids. So happy and motivated that they are veritable learning sponges- absorbing and practicing new skills at an amazing rate.
So what did this third grader choose to do in Pre-k? He helped some students build a tall tower and explained to them how to make it sturdy. Then, he observed bee and butterfly specimens and played with bug puppets. I listened as he played and overheard a pretty high level conversation about insect bodies and how pollination works, reminding me that young children need time to internalize new concepts through play.
When it was time to go back upstairs to third grade he left reluctantly and said, “I wish third grade was more like pre-k. ”
This is why we should all opt out. Because he’s right. 8 year olds also need play. They also need sensory experiences. They also need choice. They need so much more than we are giving them. All kids, not just 4 year olds, deserve to be happy, motivated and engaged in developmentally appropriate learning.