When Did We Stop Letting Kids Be Kids?

kids be kids

I know I’m not the first person to have taken notice of how much the education system has changed over the past 10-20 years. Most people within my age bracket, who grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, can see a huge shift from how things were when they were little compared to how they are now. I can recall being in kindergarten in California very well. I got out at noon, and I learned how to tie my shoes. We took naps and played with clay. We got to have fun, be creative, and learn how to treat others. We were allowed to be normal five year olds. My question is, is that changing?

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no expert on the public school system at this current time. I do not have my children enrolled in the public school system so I can not rely on personal experiences. What I can rely on is observation of friends whose children are. So this isn’t written from any expert platform, but rather simply an opinion based on interactions with my parenting peers. It’s also not a dig at the public school system in particular. This is actually my concerns over public mindset nowadays. When did we stop allowing kids to be kids? And when did we start expecting more from children than they are developmentally capable of achieving?

Over the past five years or so, and since becoming a parent myself over seven years ago, I’ve noticed the concerns voiced of other mothers around me. I see their questions, their searching for camaraderie and advice, their fears over if they’re doing it right, doing right by their children, and making certain their child can measure up to the standards set by the tribe at large.

I see and hear conversations like:

“Does anyone know what my preschooler needs to know before they start school?”

“My daughter never went to pre-K! Is she going to be terribly far behind?!”

“Looking for a good learning app for my two year old. What do you recommend?”

“Is ABC Mouse worth the money per month?”

“What kind of books can I buy for my four year old to get him ready for school?”

“My five year old can’t read! What are we gonna do? Are they gonna hold her back?!”

“What’s the best pre-k program out there? Who do you recommend?”

“I can’t seem to get my daughter to do her homework!”

And you know the kid is five.

“My son can’t be still in class! I think he has ADHD!”

And you know the kid is five. Or six, for that matter.

I see so many concerns over reading fair projects (that the parent totally completes), mediocre grades, worries over too many sick days taken, and so much more. I see moms cry when their five year old gets on the school bus far too early, without enough sleep, for a nine hour day, that most of the time no longer allows a nap midday.

I see friends worried over their second grader’s math scores, and I wonder if we’re perhaps a bit too concerned? Now, I’m all about education. I hold a higher degree, and because of that I have chances in my career I would not have had otherwise. I love to read, and I think an extensive vocabulary and proper grammar is a positive attribute to hold. But I wonder if we’re taking it too far, too soon?

For example, in some westernized countries children do not begin formal education until age seven, and I can totally see why. Four, five, and six years olds are still deeply discovering the world around them. They’re learning to deal with their emotions and interact with others. They’re creating relational characteristics that will help lay the foundation for the kind of adult they will be. They don’t need adult stress; they have enough to deal with in the way of child stress. There are so many unknowns, lessons, and daily discoveries they are making. We really don’t need to impede on that too much.

For young children learning should be mostly about play. They should be seeing that learning is fun, that discovery is adventure, and that it’s not a race to achieve, a box to check, or a test to complete. Reading should be for pleasure, not a painstaking chore, and this is something I had to understand early on in the education of my own children at home.

All kids are different, and they learn differently. Young children like to move around, their attention spans are short, and the older child box we try to squeeze young learners into isn’t the best for their development in my humble opinion. We as a society shouldn’t be so stringently expecting three years olds to know all their ABCs and 1,2,3s, or requiring prerequisite goals to be met prior to kindergarten. I could be wrong, but to me it seems that five year olds must know much more in school than they did when I was five. My question is how much better is a child for having this knowledge sooner? Are their career opportunities really that much more available if they can read by five or six instead of seven or eight? And who made these new gold standards? Who decided little kids that barely reach their teacher’s waist should be doing homework pages after an already too lengthy day?!

Maybe I’m too relaxed. Maybe you think I’m off my rocker, or that my kids will end up making nothing of their lives. I guess I’m just wondering who decides what outcome is worthwhile? Perhaps every child won’t go to college, and that’s okay. Some children may become neurosurgeons, while others will prefer an apprenticeship in a technical field. Isn’t that ok too? Will sitting five years olds in a desk for eight hours to complete worksheet after worksheet really produce the best outcome for future academic excellence? I say, hogwash. I say, let them be kids.

I say, let them run. Let them stand, sit, jump, and play. Let them discover the world around them. Let them ask questions, and be available for the answers. Let them observe their surroundings and create conclusions. Gently guide those experiences. Let them nap! Let them sleep in! Let them do structured, sit-down work for short bursts of time, and throw away the homework! Let their brains absorb all they can, but then also allow them time to decompress and unwind. Allow them the time to process all the new things they’re taking in.

But most importantly, we need to check ourselves. We need to stop worrying if our preschooler is at the right reading level, or if they’re measuring up. They’re three and four years old, for goodness sake. They have the rest of their lives to worry about deadlines and schedules. We need to stop creating this invisible yardstick that our young children must measure up to, or we’re the absolute worst parent in the world! Who cares if Michelle’s precious daughter can read already?! She also eats her boogers and pushes other kids in line!

Here’s what your children under seven absolutely need to know to be successful in this life:

They need to know how to love others.

They need to understand compassion.

They need to see the hurting, and help those kids.

They need to treat others like they would want to be treated.

They need to understand there’s more to life than their own backyard, that they’re not the most important kid in the world, and that they will mess up. For that they’ll just need to fess-up, say they’re sorry, and learn from their mistakes.

They need to know that their parents love them, are proud of them, and that they are unique. That they’re not held to a state standard, a society standard, or an unrealistic standard.

Again, they’ll need some reinforcement to treat others well.

Perhaps if we focused more on these things at an early age and less on perfect phonics and addition then there would be a lot less bullying in schools. Maybe we’re focusing on all the wrong stuff. Have you ever watched little kids when you let them loose on a playground? Like when they’re around four or five? Sure, there may be some problems sharing, but more than that is this amazing ability to coexist. When my kids go somewhere in public they’ll quickly make friends with children they’ve never met, regardless of color or socioeconomic background. There’s no judgement. There’s no preconceived notions. There’s just pure, human interaction in its best form. All children are born that way. But we as parents and society beat that out of them. We show them that things that aren’t really that important are important. Then we teach them that the important things don’t really matter. It’s like we pick calculus over compassion, and we drain the passion and natural tendency to explore the world around them right out of our children. Most average seven years old will know how to read, but they’ll miss the words on the sign of the homeless man on the street corner.

What really happens when we take away the childhood of our children? We take away their childlike faith and compassion. Then we replace it with all A’s on their report card and a first place ribbon in the science fair.


This article originally appeared at BrieGowen.com.

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Brie Gowen
Brie is a thirty-something (sliding ever closer to forty-something) wife and mother. When she’s not loving on her hubby, chasing after the toddler, or playing princess with her four year old she enjoys cooking, reading, and writing down her thoughts to share with others. Brie is also a huge lover of Jesus. She finds immense joy in the peace a relationship with her Savior provides, and she might just tell you about it sometime. She'd love for you to check out her blog at BrieGowen.com.