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Enjoying the Journey

Leo couldn’t do anything right. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t write. He couldn’t draw. He was a sloppy eater. And, he never said a word.

“What’s the matter with Leo?” asked Leo’s father. “Nothing,” said Leo’s mother. “Leo is just a late bloomer.”

-Robert Kraus

In my nearly fifteen years in education, I’ve come across some fantastic children’s books. Leo the Late Bloomer is one of those books. Leo needs nothing different from his parents or teachers to make him read, write or speak. He is seen on the pages running, playing, and chasing a rabbit. But in his own time, he does these things and more. When I read to children the story about Leo, I am reminding them about the power of yet. You might not be able to read yet, but, in time, you will.

Usually, however, it is not the children who need reminding. It is the adults who worry most when a child isn’t doing something they have decided the child should be doing. From that worry, the adults create plans, push, and test.

The current world of public education stresses standards-focused instruction. This means everything that occurs in the walls of a classroom must be driving students toward mastery of academic benchmarks, end goals of each grade level. Teachers, parents and administrators are asking—how will students meet these standards? For Kindergarten, some students’ first experience with a school setting, the benchmarks include the ability to independently read up to a “level D/4” that includes sentences with 8-10 words, non-decodable words (meaning you can’t “sound them out”), and inflectional endings (-s, -ed, -ing). The benchmark level more than triples at the end of first grade.

The dog runs up the hill and into the trees, too. Fox can see the river. Fox runs down the hill and into the river.

-Clever Fox, level D/4

Developmentally, not every child is ready for this end benchmark. So, for young students five and six years old to read at this level by the end of their Kindergarten year, teachers need to use most of the instructional time to push lessons and practice that will result in reading. Workbooks are introduced. Flashcards. Leveled readers. It becomes imperative that students sit still and passively retain information. It leaves little other time to learn how to problem solve with another student, or to figure out why and how something works, or grow language through talk and play.

At the Verdi EcoSchool, the new Journeys program stands as a stark contrast to the hard push for children to demonstrate abilities for which they are not ready. With standards-focused instruction, there is only room for the standards. The focus of Journeys is rather on the child. The question is shifted from “How will the students meet these standards?” to questions like “What does this child need?” “What interests and motivates this child to learn?” and “What experiences will enable this child to continue to grow?”

When you walk through Highland House, the home of the Journeys program, you will see children actively learning and playing. You will see children inspired to create spiders out of sticks and wooden pieces because they saw a new, interesting spider in the backyard and noticed it had eight legs and spines on its back after having just listened to a read aloud of Sophie’s Masterpiece about a spider who knit blankets for a family with her many spider arms. If you looked closely enough, you would see that one child might be using two different materials to make the legs, and he is deciding how many of one material to use and how many of the other, as he grows in his number sense. Or you might notice two students pretending to be the family in the read aloud, trying out how the characters might act in new situations, using the language just heard and discussed in the book. Or maybe playing something totally new and different while their teacher makes notes of what interests them to focus on next. Maybe you’ll see a problem being solved, an argument between two children that turns into a learning experience that keeps each member of the classroom family feeling safe and heard. There is no push to meet an end goal that must be met in the school year to move on to; no workbooks, tests, flashcards. Instead you will see children growing and learning together as a community from each other and the world around them—whether they are late bloomers like Leo or small prodigies from birth.

See, standards-focused instruction focuses solely on the end goal: meeting the benchmarks. But when you take away a focus purely on the destination, you are freed to enjoy the journey. Isn’t that what life is about?

Lorelei Barna is a Brevard County native, Educator, and literacy specialist. For the past eight years, she has served Brevard Public Schools as a early childhood educator before serving as a literacy specialist and teacher trainer. She graduated from the University of Central with a degree in Elementary Education with endorsements in Reading and ESOL. She is currently working towards a graduate degree with a focus in Reading Education. Lorelei is passionate about working with children to ensure that school is a safe, happy, and engaging experience to learn and grow. With a student-centered approach to learning, she fosters a love of learning while incorporating a focus on growing in social and emotional skills. When not with her school family, she loves spending time with her husband and young son, reading, and practicing yoga.

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