Pamela Brillante, Ed.D., author and assistant professor of special education
You know those colorful, plastic “bears”? We’re sure you do because they are in nearly every preschool classroom in the U.S. We think that’s a problem and we are about to tell you why. Be prepared to experience a flood of emotions about this topic – and then keep an open mind to see if you agree.
We think those “bears” are like the plastic-wrapped, cream-filled-sponge-cake snacks of the education world. Sure, kids like them, but they like junk food too and we don’t put that on the lunch menu. For children who are dual language learners, those “bears” offer no real vocabulary or content to learn and may be truly confusing since they have no obvious value. For children with cognitive or learning disabilities, the “bears” are a poor choice because they offer no context, no generalizability for any small bit of learning that might occur.
So what can you use in place of those “bears”?
Children’s learning time is just so valuable. We hate to see it being used for the least possible benefit. In the same few minutes a child is quietly sorting plastic junk into piles for unknown reasons, just think about how much more could be learned if he was classifying the building blocks to see if he had enough large blocks to make the base of his tower, or if she was counting the number of animals that fit in the barn to see if she needs to build a bigger barn. What if the children sorted the pretend foods in the kitchen area, or prioritized their favorite books in the library area? Would you hear more talking and more sophisticated vocabulary? Would you hear children recalling these activities in different areas of the classroom, on subsequent days and at home with their families? Have you ever heard a preschool conversation start with “Hey! Remember yesterday when I was putting those plastic things into piles again?”
Isn’t it really the purpose of high quality early childhood education to provide engaging, meaningful, content-rich experiences that all children can use in real life and in getting ready for school? All children, especially those who are dual language learners or who have disabilities, need the best experiences we can provide for them. We really can do better!