School days should still have room for fun and celebration

April 30, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years | with 0 Comments

It used to be all we ever really needed to know we learned in kindergarten, at least according to author Robert Fulghum. His famous essay (entitled, “All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”) outlines some of those lessons, such as “Live a balanced life; learn some and think some; and draw and paint and sing and dance; and play and work every day some.”

But it now appears that, for nearly three decades, we may have been misled by Fulghum’s words – that is, if we are to believe educators at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, N.Y.

The school canceled the kindergarten show that one parent describes as a “school tradition and milestone … where children and families come together to celebrate a year of growth and success.”

A letter to parents from the interim principal and four kindergarten teachers explains why: “The reason for eliminating the kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”

In the teachers’ defense, Elwood kindergarten is half-day, which means students are in school for 2-1/2 hours. As the letter asserts, New York’s learning standards have gotten more rigorous. There is a lot to accomplish in school these days. “What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world,” states the letter. (Read the full text of the letter.)

But we don’t really think that answer is “simple.” We think it borders on absurd.

A love of learning makes all those educational demands a whole lot more interesting. And what better way to foster a love of learning than by sharing what you’ve learned through a performance?

Despite the public criticism levied at the school, the administration is standing by its decision.

But perhaps the decision makers at Hadley Elementary School should have looked at some of the statistics about how performing arts enhance education. They might have realized that the kindergarten show could be both fun and address those rigorous educational requirements. They could have adapted the “script” to meet their educational needs. They would have realized that putting on a “show” teaches incredibly valuable lifelong skills, such as public speaking, confidence, reading a script, creativity and collaboration, among others.

The folks at the American Alliance for Theater and Education (AATE), a non-profit arts education organization based in Bethesda, Md., would probably support our theory as well. Their website shares some interesting information about theater-related education. For example, research shows drama activities improve reading comprehension as well as both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Research also indicates that drama can improve skills and academic performance in children and youth with learning disabilities. Moreover, a 2005 Harris Poll revealed that 93 percent of the public believes that arts, including theater, are vital to a well-rounded education.

You can read more details about these statistics at the AATE website.

We’d like to think that we have not been misled all these years by Fulghum’s words. We get that curriculum is important, and we understand the demands the new Common Core Learning Standards have placed on students and teachers.

But we also believe that if we don’t promote important issues in kindergarten – like playing fair, saying you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, and that education can be FUN – curriculum won’t matter. We’ll be looking at chaos.

Fulghum concludes his essay/poem this way: “Be aware of wonder.”

That’s what kindergarten students should develop: a sense of awe and amazement at all there is to learn. That’s the magic of education.

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