Kids These Days

by Ellen Galinsky

At a lunchtime discussion group at the Iowa early childhood conference this week, the teachers were talking about the kids they know and teach. Actually, they were worrying about kids these days.

Okay, educators have always worried about kids–for as long as I have been in the field and much longer still. Their comments have been frequently focused on things like kids are entitled, selfish, or demanding.

The comments I have been hearing lately from early childhood educators are different.

For example: “I asked the children to draw pictures of houses but they wanted me to draw the houses for them.” Why? “They didn’t want to get them wrong.”

Or: “We were talking about what things float and one of the objects was a sieve. I asked if a sieve could float and a child said ‘no.’ And then he looked at me and said, ‘it could.” Why. He didn’t want to make a mistake.

Or: “The children were drawing and one child asked, ‘Is this going to be in the grade book?'”

These comments are sadly typical. I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last week and a grandmother told of taking her grandson to kindergarten. He was beside himself with excitement to start school. A few weeks later that excitement had waned. She asked him what he was learning in kindergarten. He told her that he was learning to take tests.

These are educators who are trying to change things in their own classrooms because they know learning involves making mistakes and that our future is going to depend on children’s ability to retain their creativity, engagement in learning, and thinking outside the box. They often feel that they are swimming upstream because, in their words:

  • There is too much pressure on performing for the test, at home and at school.
  • Tests tend to have one right answer.
  • Kids are in narrow age groupings in school so they don’t see a lot of differences among children. That reinforces the one-size-fits-all concept.
  • Children are always supervised. Even in Iowa, there is a lot less of “going out to play.’
  • Toys are single purpose. There tends to be only one thing to do with them–not like playing with real household objects that you can use in so many ways.
  • There is less time for physical exercise–recess has been cut back.
  • There are so many demands on children’s attention, especially because of technology. They jump from thing to thing.
  • Adults (parents and teachers) are frazzled and addicted to technology too. They aren’t listening to and having conversations with children.

I usually write about studies, not conversations but this conversation in Iowa (where our political discussions begin too) raises two critically important questions for me:

  1. What ARE you seeing in kids these days?
  2. What do you WANT to see in kids–what kinds of young people do we want to raise?