When I think back to my days in preschool (decades ago), I remember a lot of play. Climbing on playground equipment, hands-on activities and learning through movement are a few things that come to mind.
This is still a part of preschool today, but there’s an underlying message that kids are given in structured school — and even at home — that is unrealistic to expect from any school-aged child (and, frankly, adults, too).
Our brains can only process so much information to store into short term memory. Over-inundating children, especially very young kids, with new learning while they sit still doesn’t benefit them long term.
In fact, engaging multiple intelligences — which contribute to a person’s IQ — helps students learn more effectively and retain information, according to Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University.
Gardner's multiple intelligences theory "suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited," according to the American Institute for Learning and Human Development. Instead, the eight different intelligences — verbal, logical, visual, musical, naturalistic, kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal — account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults, he said.
Now, that's not to say learning proper social skills — such as sitting still and listening — isn't important for kids. It is. Teaching those skills in proper context is important, but you shouldn’t be worried if your preschooler struggles to sit still during circle time or quiet time.
When my daughter was in preschool, I would ask the teacher quite often how she was doing in class. Her teacher told me that sometimes she had a hard time listening and being silent. At 3 or 4 years old, most kids would struggle with this.
Putting unrealistic expectations on kids to spend a large portion of their school day in silent compliance takes the interaction out of learning. Scaffolding those expectations by teaching kids how to be quiet in certain situations — for example, whispering in the library, being quiet or close to silent while others are napping — can start in preschool, but at this young age, they are not ready to sit with mouths closed and without movement for extended periods of time.
I recently presented during a staff development meeting for teachers. During my presentation, I notice these adults couldn't sit still and silent for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time. I can’t either! I want to interact with my colleagues, talk about what I am learning and even move around. It’s different when adults are sitting at a computer or working alone, focused on work.
But as an instructor, I try to build in interaction, movement and conversation into lessons for adult learners. I do the same for my seventh grade students. Even more time should be spent letting our little learners move around.
Let’s face it! We are social beings. We’ve always been this way, and it’s important to recognize that whether you’re hanging out with your 3-year-old or your spouse.
Don’t worry if your preschooler isn’t ready to sit through an entire movie or listen to a 20-minute reading lesson. Even adults benefit from movement and socialization throughout most of their work day. Preschoolers aren’t mini-adults, so we have to give them even more time to learn and take cues on when to be quiet and still, which shouldn’t be very often.
Jen Schneider is a local middle school teacher and mom to two children.