So what is a Developmentally Appropriate, Hands-On Philosophy?

…and why does the Adventure Center staff believe so strongly about the related benefits for children?

Preschool teachers are often asked about their learning and educational programs. There is sometimes an adult desire to see children doing “work” in an orderly fashion; preferably work that involves paper and pencils.

Current research and trends lend support to what the early childhood child development professionals have been telling us for years. That is that children younger than 6 years old (some even say 8 years old) learn best in a program that offers many hands-on-activities. These classrooms are noisier and less orderly than first grade, where children sit at desks. Teachers in these classrooms are facilitators rather than controllers. There is much time spent on helping children gain social skills. Young children do not inherently know how to share or how to negotiate a disagreement. Yet these skills are imperative to a child’s future success. Additionally, the recent brain research strongly supports the types of activities offered in a hands-on developmentally appropriate program.

The past decade has seen some reversion to overly academic preschools and kindergartens. One reason is the concern in our country that our youth are graduating from high school without the skills and knowledge necessary. It was assumed that if we push academics at an earlier age, the problem could be solved. This plan overlooked one major issue: developmental readiness.

We know that children develop both physical and cognitive skills in predictable stages. To expect a 4 or 5 year old to perform as a 6 year old is like expecting a baby to walk at 6 months instead of at a year.

In a developmentally inappropriate classroom, young children are denied the opportunity to grow and develop optimally. Some children develop behavior problems. Other children lose their enthusiasm for learning. Although children generally can learn the mechanics of reading, for instance, at an early age, any acceleration is leveled by the third grade. Also, those children generally show less interest in reading. Please note that there are children who learn to read before kindergarten. In a sound play-based preschool, there are many opportunities for language arts: story time, stories and tapes for example. If a child begins to read on her/his own, this will be encouraged and facilitated.

In some schools, people sensing the need of young children for additional challenge have moved toward formal reading readiness programs, and sometimes even reading programs for four and five year olds. I am convinced that this is not the kind of challenge that will meet the real intellectual needs of young children who can be taught to read, but at what cost? This is a skill they will acquire much more easily later when they have greater maturity and more experiences to bring to the process of mastering abstract symbols. The principle of efficiency in learning alone would say to us: why work twice as hard at a task now that can be mastered more easily later?

~Kenneth Wann~

We’d like to see kindergarten run much more along nursery school lines than it often is. We’d like to wait for beginning instruction in reading until the child is really ready. For some boys this age may well be eight or nine years. Most reading failures and disabilities could be prevented if children were not started in reading until they were fully ready for such instruction.

~Dr. Louise Ames~

Premature instruction is the most common factor in reading problems.

~Dr. Doll~

When they entered first grade, all the superior achievers were older (six years five months, or above) than the failing readers and slow starters, thus apparently confirming Hall’s and Ilg and Ame’s findings of generally better achievement among over age pupils than among under age ones… In summary, these findings, as well as clinical experience, support our position that there is indeed a close link between a child’s maturational status at kindergarten age and his reading and spelling achievement years later.

~De Hirsh~

All educators need to become more informed about neuro-maturation. The development of the child’s nervous system is closely related to his ability to perceive ideas and perform abstract tasks. Since reading is a complex neurological process as well as a physical and social process, educators NEED to study carefully the complete growth pattern of each child to determine the type of abstract learning for which he is ready…While a few five year olds may be ready for abstract learning, all children profit greatly from an environment which is rich in many kinds of firsthand experiences. Time devoted to such a program is more profitable in later grades where learning tasks become more concentrated and abstract.

~Dr. Shelby Districk~

Some learning simply cannot be comprehended until children have reached a certain level in their development. It does not pay to introduce such learning before this stage has been reached. In fact, the feelings of failure and disinterest that accompany premature exposure to certain learning situations often stay with the child. Later, at a time when he would ordinarily be ready for this particular learning, these feelings must be overcome before learning can proceed effectively.

~Lucille Lindberg and Mary W. Moffitt~