I believe structure is killing our children. We offer them so much structured learning and play time that they are never put into a situation where they have to be inventive and brave. They NEVER have to learn to figure things out for themselves. Yes, in order to get a child to do what you want when you want, the best way is to create a schedule for them. Structure the basics like meals, potty and sleep so as to structure them from the inside out. This way it is easy to get them used to your schedule and way of doing things. And I agree with this type of structure. It offers a subconscious security and confidence in their environment. The structure I believe is killing our children, or entitling them to the point of weakness, is the structured play and "modeling" that all day-cares and schools have incorporated into their required daily activities.
First off I'm going to admit, right away, that I do not believe in daycare. I believe in pre-school for four-year-olds but not daycare. That is why I waited tables until my son was eight-years-old, so I could spend all day with him, only missing a couple of hours in the evening before his bed time. Yes, in terms of my career, it has held me back but I would not change it for the world. I never missed a step, word, coo or climb and that is priceless to me.
When full time school started -- in our town that is first grade (age six) -- I decided I had to make changes to my schedule in order to adapt to his. That is why, two years later, I went back to school to finish my degree and, or at least I hoped, open more doors for myself.
Now, This anti-daycare belief opens doors to so many controversial topics that I am happy to delve into but in the comment area -- not preemptively in this blog. Secondly let me say that my best friend and my mother are both daycare professionals, so I say this at high personal risk as well because I do not wish to insult the integrity and hard work of people I love. Still, I can't help but notice what I do, and though daycares are safe and happy environments for children, it does something to them that is integrally bad for their future autonomy:
It socializes children before it civilizes them.
What is more is it provides so much structure it never allows the child to develop their own individuality "muscles" -- the kind you get from playing in the mud and making dolls out of stickers and crayons and writing your own stories or climbing trees in your backyard. This is the sort of play that has been destroyed by daycare. Not necessarily because daycare workers want it this way, but because of parents who would sue if they found out their children were climbing trees want it that way and so that is the red tape daycare workers are tied down by.
Imagine, if you gave your child a walker or crutches since they were 1-year-old: how strong would their legs grow to be? That physical atrophy is analogous to this atrophy of autonomy; what external structure would do to bones and muscles it is exactly what this excessive structure does to a child's autonomy. They are never allowed to develop that intrepidatious attitude required if we are to truly be individuals. In intending to do something healthy for our children, something that keeps them safe and makes us feel like they are learning, we are doing too much and therefore ruining them.
Children in daycare have so many fabulous toys and other children to constantly play with as well as two or more teachers per class room to watch over them and design activities for their whole day. And the children who sit at home are pitied. I believe it is the other way around. Because the children who sit at home by themselves or with one or two siblings are not over inundated with activities. They are put to the task of making monsters out of shadows to fight pretend battles against and toys out of sticks to create shows with. They are forced to make something out of nothing and in doing so, develop parts of their brain that get ignored in a highly structured environment.
What is more, they are not socialized too soon. This is something that most people will think I'm crazy for thinking because daycare and preschool programs have been constantly praised by teachers for preparing children to work together in a class environment. But I argue that children who are raised in classrooms, many from infancy, grow so dependent upon their peers that they become unable to think for themselves, contain themselves, or identify themselves separately from their peers. More and more I see children so involved in what other children are doing they can not focus on their own affairs. We are teaching our children to adapt to a social environment before we've allowed them to become aware of themselves. That is so unwise. It would be like teaching a ballerina how to leap before we've taught them first position.
In other words, we are setting them up for a fall, for future injury. The foundation of humanity is the individual. The foundation of a solid community is a solid individual. One must develop the individual before developing the community. In socializing children from infancy or toddlerhood in daycare, we teach them to be constantly dependent upon each other for entertainment, ideas and security and never force them to development any independence. So even though children are entering kindergarten aware of how to play with other children, they are not aware of how to contain themselves or motivate themselves. They've never gotten the chance for those skills to develop. In combination with the incessant structure around their activities we never give our children the chance to develop as sense of independence.
Then, by high school, we are wondering why they are so inept at scheduling and organizing or doing anything but socializing. It is because we are raising them this way. Adolescents will always be socially curious. It is in their physiological nature to be so. But it has not gone unnoticed that over the last twenty years of this excessive structure and helicoptering, this "socialized" idea of child rearing has raised quite possibly the laziest and most entitled generation of children we have ever seen. In other words, it isn't working. Our good intentions have paved us a smooth road to hell and now our children are college aged and completely unable to live without structure, think for themselves, or exist independently. We're ruining our kids.
I've noticed that in the curriculum of all the elementary schools I've taught in, this concept called "modeling" is now a staple. What "modeling" really does is does the figuring for the child. They are not required to READ instructions and figure what the instructions mean for themselves (even if that means making some mistakes). No. Now, instead of this the entire exercise is "modeled" for them so that word for word they are fed the way to solve the problem and present the answer. Nobody has to figure out how to solve the problem for themselves. I do not model anything for my students. I require they figure out the instructions for themselves. If they fail, they try again. If they get frustrated, I encourage them, help them regroup and try it again. Failure isn't final. It's the bumpy and uncomfortable road to success. And success leads to the high ground away from hell.
Why are we so afraid to allow our children to be wrong? Why do we protect them from their own mistakes when it's those mistakes that teach them the best? This is why when I am assigned to teach in the middle schools I still have to explain, word for word, the directions of an assignment to 13-year-olds! They were never required to figure out what the words on the paper mean and self-apply them. And this behavior is across the board. Black/white/Hispanic children, rich and poor children alike are all being ruined by this overly structured, excessively social, and horribly sheltered structure of learning we are building around them. And it's ruining our children.
Many parents have to put their children into daycare. I understand better then anyone the financial demands of the times, but if we give up our litigiousness and fear, then maybe those daycare workers could take the kids out for walks and mud-play and tree climbing, like we would be doing if we were at home with them. Maybe they could allow more free play with basic toys, like boxes and wooden blocks instead of structured play and activities which, though preparing them to be academic, never require them to be creative or adaptable.
Why do we think we are doing children a favor by teaching them their ABC's when they haven't learned how to self-soothe or create? You can push all sorts of information into the minds of young children, but whether or not they learn how to use it productively has more to do with them developing autonomously then socially. The truth is you are not a healthy part of society if you can not contain yourself, if you are constantly looking to other people to help define you.
No wonder so many kids are killing themselves.
It's not that bullying is something new. What is new is this idea that being "social" and "peer approval" is what their safety and happiness depends on. It is the structure we first introduce our children to now a days and so they have no faith in their own person. Without peer approval they literally don't even feel safe because that's all we've given them since their early daycare days. Children who grew up forced to play with the socks their moms were folding or sticks in their backyard, all by themselves, with no peer support would not care as much. Yes, being made fun of would still hurt them, especially in the naturally social years of adolescence, but it would not threaten their safety, or feelings of well being or existence because they would have the knowledge from their early experience that they can exist and be safe on their own, without peer support or approval.
We are killing our children.
We have grown too arrogant in our belief in academics, grades and test scores. We have grown entitled with the concept of constant positivity and "niceness." If we continue to raise our children this way, we will continue to have generations of people incapable of making up their own minds or adapting to new situations. Structure is making us weak. We are not insects. We were built to be structured internally not externally. By allowing our children to develop a sense of independence, a sense of individuality and intrepidatiousness we allow them to develop autonomy and self control (internal structure). If we continue to support them externally we are forever making them dependent upon the world out side of them, like cold blooded creatures that are incapable of adapting to different circumstances. Are we raising humans or bugs?
It's kind of scary to ask but I think it's necessary. Humans were not designed to live in hives. We were designed to live in groups and the only way to do that well is to be strong individuals, not drones. Clearly the concepts forced down our throats over the last twenty years have been wrong. The child-centric world we now live in just DOESN'T WORK and the old school was FAR BETTER at preparing our young to be individuals. To me it's simple -- but I realize the change will not be easy.
Photo Credit: sassoftware.
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