In the above-linked article written by Bonnie Rochman on 3/8/13, Rochman discusses the controversial nature of the yet-to-be-created “universal preschool” program and what exactly universal preschool should entail: a focus on academics or social skills development.
Experts quoted in the article lean towards the latter, but there is no telling what the government will do with the power they have. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play and a professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University, says “We’ve gotten so focused on the academic part when we need to be focused on the social part.” Erika Christakis worried in her Time’s Ideas Blog last month that the academic focus in kindergarten will trickle down to preschool. The consensus is that kids need help developing “soft skills of success — persevering even when tasks are challenging, being able to focus, finding creative ways to solve problems, getting along with others, dealing with anger and frustration” that children need for the rigorous kindergarten classrooms of today, which look nothing like they did a generation ago.
The way I see it, the soft signs can be encouraged during the birth to 3 years, leaving preschool open to building on “soft skills” learned as infants and toddlers as well as preparing children for the rigorous Pre-K and kindergarten classrooms that United States educators seem hell-bent on designing. We already see clearly what happens to the children who do not get what they need from birth to 3: preschool and kindergarten teachers have to take time to focus on the “soft skills,” lest these children be left behind in the academic setting. This has already been happening for decades. No matter how hard educators have tried to make a difference in the academic performance of low and moderate-income children. these children continue to struggle and underperform. Without development of solid language, social, emotional and sensory skills in the infant-toddler years for a solid foundation in sharing, cooperating, trusting adults, sensory processing, waiting their turn, focusing and paying attention, and other “soft skills,” these children are unable to handle the rigors of the classroom. Time must be taken away from curricular lessons in order to emphasize these very important “pre-academic” skills, and typically all students in the classroom suffer as a result. As time is taken to teach these “soft/pre-academic” skills, children fall farther and farther behind in their academic skills compared to those who had a solid foundation in the first place.
I propose a whole new perspective on raising infants and toddlers to become students. Give them the language, social, emotional and sensory skills they need from birth to 3 and, barring any developmental disability, disorder or difficulty, children will be prepared for preschool and kindergarten, no matter if the emphasis is on academics or social development. They will have the crucial skills that will make them mostly successful in any classroom, regardless of learning materials, curriculum, classroom teacher, school administration, policy analysts/writers, or elected government officials.