Hawani Negussie, University of Massachusetts
Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to email@example.com.
Why do we children have to go to school? – Vanessa C., 10, Gilbert, Arizona
Children go to school for many reasons. Where and when depends on their age, location, parental preference and local policies. Parents send their children to school to expose them to experiences different from their own at home and in their communities. Schools are designed to provide spaces for exploration, self-awareness and connection with other children. Teachers encourage children to strengthen the skills they have and help them learn new ones as they progress from year to year.
I have spent the past 20 years studying and working with children from birth to 21 in a variety of settings. I often think about how to create the best learning environment for children, starting with preschool. For me, this means ensuring that all children have the opportunity to be in a school that can support their learning needs as well as their physical, social and emotional well-being at all stages of their lives. .
About 61% of 3- to 5-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in some type of preschool. Because these are critical years for brain development, following a high-quality learning program is essential.
What makes a good program for young children? Since children learn through play, it is important that play is central to most activities. It is also essential that teachers interact with their young students and meet the needs of each child.
During this important developmental stage, children also form a sense of self. For example, they might start thinking of themselves as a big brother or sister if there is another child at home. They also begin to connect more deeply with others, learn to communicate their feelings, practice sharing, and more. When schools include children’s identity, cultural norms and traditions in the classroom, students feel a sense of belonging and inclusion. This helps children form associations that are important for learning.
Children entering kindergarten at age 5 or 6 may experience many different feelings, including nervousness and excitement about this new experience. Children may have heard adults say that starting kindergarten is the start of “real learning.” But this is not the case; children learn from the day they are born.
With the transition to kindergarten, children begin to work on personal and social skills, such as managing their behaviors and reactions, problem solving, and logical thinking. Children’s early experiences broaden their ideas of how the world works. And as they mature, they become more capable of understanding more complex thought processes, like reversibility, or water turning to ice and then to water. Another concept they might start exploring is how matter takes shape from the space it occupies, like sand filling a star-shaped container, and why this happens.
As students progress through elementary school, their reading and comprehension skills improve and they are able to use different resources – from reading books and watching documentaries to visiting museums – to help them understand the ideas they encounter inside and outside the classroom. The education that students receive in school is based more on these experiences.
During the middle school years, when students are typically between the ages of 10 and 13, children and parents begin to interact with school in different ways. Teachers are increasingly giving students more responsibility and they are doing their best to personalize what happens in the classroom according to students’ talents and strengths.
As students become more independent, parents often give them more school-related responsibilities. Students feel capable and competent when their environment supports them and encourages them to apply their existing skills at all levels, but especially in middle school.
Understanding all the challenges children face – like fitting in, maintaining friendships, puberty and more – can be overwhelming. But college also offers students the opportunity to hone their skills and talents. Some schools may offer music, drama, or robotics and other new opportunities to learn, play, and grow alongside their daily studies.
High school is an exciting time for most students as it is the final gateway to adulthood. Students can take on a heavier academic and extracurricular load in order to prepare for higher education. In high school, students can choose from a range of courses that may include journalism, biology, an advanced foreign language course, or world history. At the same time, students may begin to engage in specialized activities like volunteering or overseas trips that might expose them to areas they would like to study if they choose to continue their college education.
The fundamental principle of education is to enable students to become kind, generous, and contributing members of their community and the world. Although not all students have the opportunity to attend great schools due to unequal circumstances, it is essential that all children have the benefit of an education, at home or at school, public or private. Schools are a proven place where children learn new skills and knowledge that they will continue to use and develop for the rest of their lives.
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Hawani Negussie, President and Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, UMass Global, University of Massachusetts
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.