I don’t remember how old I was, but I clearly remember a plastic toy that could make a tubular clown dance by pressing on the bottom plate. Doing so would slacken the strings that held the tubes together so the clown would slump into a heap. Releasing the bottom plate allowed a spring to pull the strings taught and the clown would pop back up into position.
I was at an age at which making a clown collapse and pop up repeatedly was not very interesting. What did fascinate me was the thought of what would happen if I pulled the plate off completely. Hiding behind the couch didn’t help when 80 tiny plastic tubes released the clown into cosmic chaos. This wasn’t a lesson in big bang theory or the physics of propulsion. I was only terrified of what I’d done and what punishment would fall upon me.
From an adult perspective, I was naughty. I hadn’t taken care of property properly. I hadn’t followed the intentions of the toy manufacturer. From a child’s perspective, it was the most natural thing to do. Pull off the plate and see what happens. As a compromise, adults have to vacuum up destroyed toys in exchange for letting a child learn to be a child. We will never understand because we can never go back.
The book “Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14”, (Wood 2007) reminds us of what a child’s world is and what is universal. It helps to know what to expect at what stage. A Lao and Latvian child of the same age are more similar than five and eight year-olds of the same culture. Physical, social-emotional and cognitive developments happen by the day and though the pace is different for every child, it’s unreasonable to ask a five year-old to sit for long hours and copy from a blackboard. It’s not about discipline or being a “good student”. It’s about child-nature.
The book describes what’s expected for children from 4 to 14 and for each age. There are humorous consistencies such as the proclivity for 5 year-olds to fall out of their chair sideways while at 6 it’s more common to fall out backwards. Likewise, perceptions of past, present and future are things that change and develop well as topics and activities that they like or dislike.
Understanding stages of development have strong implications for teaching practices, not only for class management and the sanity of the teacher, but for the overall mental, social, emotional and cognitive growth of the child. We know what food is appropriate to feed children at different ages. The same goes for what we feed children’s minds and spirits in schools.
It’s healthy to praise the child for the size of the bite they’re ready to chew. If they’re at the age where coloring within the lines is the thing to do, they’ll be happy with that accomplishment. At an earlier age, they need to be praised to be able to hold a crayon with a fist and scribble within the limits of the paper.
National agendas throughout the world are either stuffing more into the daily curriculum or cutting it down. The first comes from a concern that students are not learning enough. The later comes from a concern that children are burdened with too much schoolwork. The pendulum swings according to who signs the mandates, but child development will remain consistent. If an old dog can’t learn new tricks, look to the young child for the magic they can do.