If you have children in school, you have undoubtedly noticed that they are learning more complex subjects than you did as a kid, and are encountering concepts earlier in life. The stuff I learned in college – organic chemistry, calculus and nuclear physics – are being covered in high school, and our middle school students are learning about math and physical science subjects that were high school-level classes just a couple decades ago.
It seems like on many fronts we’re accelerating the learning curve of our young people. Perhaps it’s to compete effectively with children in other technologically-advanced nations, or to try to prepare them for success in college, where admissions and curriculum can be highly competitive.
In her book The Importance of Being Little, Yale lecturer Erika Christakis bemoans the acceleration of childhood and observes that this phenomenon filters all the way back to the beginning. The foundations of learning are starting earlier – things that used to be required of first-graders are now de rigeur for kindergarten kids, making preschool no longer optional. School districts across the country are building or augmenting their early childhood education centers, bringing with it the regimentation, metrication and evaluation that kids historically haven’t been subjected to until later in elementary school. And over the last twenty years, the number of children attending public-school-based preschool has skyrocketed – an activity traditionally provided by church or community groups.
In the NPR story Kindergarten is the New First Grade, we learn the impact of the 2000-era No Child Left Behind program:
- There are pre-requisites for kindergarten: children are expected to know the alphabet and hold a pencil.
- Three out of four kindergarteners took standardized tests – some as often as monthly – unheard of before 2000.
- Daily music and art dropped by half.
- Exploration play opportunities – free-form science, nature and art – decreased substantially.
Fortunately, Scouting can help restore the childhood aspect of childhood. As school has increasingly become about structure, achievement and measurement, we can provide those free and creative opportunities that are so essential to well-rounded child development.
- The outdoors is a core mission of Scouting. We can help expose our kids to nature and the world outside that they can’t get sitting in a classroom.
- The Cub Scouting Adventure program is designed to help boys learn about a variety of subjects through hands-on experience and discovery, rather than through lectures and computer-interactive learning.
- The opportunity to be creative – to build things, to sing and make music, to play games – counters the cutbacks in these areas in school.
- Later on, Boy Scouting helps boys transition from being listeners to being leaders, giving them real experience leading each other and bringing lessons to life.
Too many of us approach Scouting as a teaching-learning experience. It’s too easy to cover a requirement with a handout or a worksheet. All too often, adult Boy Scout volunteers believe that their job is to teach Scouts directly, rather than helping them discover and experience self-directed learning. What’s true of adults – we’d rather play around than sit in a room and listen to a lecture – is true of kids as well. As class instruction, textbooks and worksheets increase, we can counteract the trend toward institutionalization in school with a program that can spark young people’s imaginations and provide experiences unavailable anywhere else.
Scouting isn’t school – it’s the antidote to school for the twenty-first century.
Addendum: As if by magic, the Boy Scouts of America chose the day after this post went up to announce the newest addition, the Lion program for kindergarten-age boys, illustrating that kindergarten is indeed the new first grade. A kindergarten program was first undertaken two or three years ago and has been under development as part of the Learning for Life program in a few pilot councils.
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