School is supposed to be a place for academic learning, discovery, joy, and social development. Think about your elementary school experiences. It is likely that there was time for free play, music, recess, art, games, and pure enjoyment of learning. Today, pressures are high and many of these elementary experiences that we can fondly look back upon have fallen by the wayside. Students are expected to be “college and career” ready by the time they graduate high school, and the expectations start as early as kindergarten.
According to a recent New York Times article “Is Your First Grader College Ready?” by Laura Pappano, students as young as six years old are filling out mock college applications and kids who are only nine to twelve years old are touring college campuses on school field trips. As the bar continues to rise for students to be admitted into top universities, the appropriate time to start preparing becomes earlier and earlier. The pressure mounts for all of the building blocks to be perfectly stacked by twelfth grade, including academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, volunteer experience, and so on.
Stop a second. What are we doing to our kids? How much stress and anxiety will we cause for them with our extraordinary expectations? How much of their carefree childhood will we steal away? There is no reason why teachers and parents should not hold high expectations for their children. There is also nothing wrong with thinking about the future, having goals, and learning that it takes hard work and perseverance to get there. However, young students deserve time to learn about the world and themselves. They need time to explore their passions, which could change from day to day or month to month. It is important to keep the joy within the learning process, both academic and social, and to gain certain maturity before being ready to tackle big life questions.
It’s time to dial it down. As elementary students especially, children should be taught that they are in control of the outcomes of their actions. They should always work hard, do their best in any endeavor, and follow their passions. That should be enough to build a solid foundation on which to build once they are older and can go on to achieve their future goals.