Gesell Institute Affirms Developmental Approach

At Immanuel Christian School, our curriculum is based on the developmental approach to teach students at all levels to be independent learners who can think critically and problem solve. A recent article published by the Gesell Institute of Child Development highlights the varying views on testing, and how the developmental approach serves students best in the long run. The following post is published on February 9, 2014 on the Gesell Institute website:

‘Whole Child Development’ – the key to raising test scores the right way
Two articles arrived at my desk last week.  The first one, uses research to position Kindergarten curriculum as not being challenging enough for five year olds. The second one is the polar opposite.

Recent research by Gesell Institute revealed that children are not developing any faster, nor reaching the major cognitive milestones any sooner, than they were 100 years ago when Dr. Arnold Gesell first started collecting data. So why do we think children should be “learning” more information sooner? Just because some children can memorize a few math facts or learn to read does not mean that all five years should be doing that. There are so many things that children at this pre-logical, pre-operational age should be learning instead. Five year olds need to be learning curiosity, how to explore, creativity, persistence, social skills, problem solving, self-control, and negotiating—all the elements that make up the foundations of their executive functioning skills.  As James Heckman promulgates, these are the soft characteristics or behaviors that will foster academic success and adult productivity later. As one commentator to the first article said, we need only to look to Finland’s play-based preK and K programs to see that waiting until age 7 for the academics pays off in the long run.

I am so sad and tired of studies that only look at math and literacy scores to justify a curriculum, or lack of curriculum, in preK programs and Kindergartens. As Gesell said, “A child is more than a score.”  Furthermore, a child is more than math and literacy too.  Research confirms that social/emotional development is perhaps more important than academics, especially during the early years. Whole child development—social, emotional, physical and cognitive development—is the key to raising test scores the right way. Another interesting fact about Finland and other European countries is that they only test children two or maybe three times in the child’s academic career—not every year starting in K as many American schools do.

My hunch is that what the researchers in the first study were looking at is whether kids can “remember” math facts. Sure, kids can memorize, but why should they waste their time? Rote memorization without meaning is not learning. Memorization is very different than real learning. Neuro science shows us that neurons are making important connections and adding to the architecture of the brain when children are really learning. Five year olds need to be building a strong developmentally appropriate cognitive foundation, which includes executive functioning, during the early years. This is done through concrete interactions with the environment and other people, which in turn, will allow them to make sense of the abstract things that will come later. To sum it all up, earlier is not better and, most likely, is detrimental to learning the appropriate skills at the appropriate time.

To read this article and see related articles from the Gesell Institute, click here.