ANOTHER VOICE: Thriving families ensure children’s ‘readiness’

The lead story from Saturday, Aug. 17 News, “What’s the big picture for schools?”, describes the new Oregon Kindergarten Assessment program as a measurement of …“early literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation.”

Rep. Mark Johnson emphasizes the word readiness, “because readiness is essentially what OKA looks at.” And he asks us to keep an open mind on OKA, saying “it is an assessment to help us determine how we’re doing in that early pre-K(indergarten). We need to assess.”

As a child care provider of 23 years, I have to chuckle. How “we’re” doing? How are we doing? Why is it that when money is suddenly involved, “we” suddenly have to test young children?

In the field of early childhood education, assessment does not primarily mean testing; it means individual observation and evaluation over time. Testing is a cheap, barely effective way for policy makers to try to figure out how they can manipulate outcomes.

What outcome do “we” want? Young children who are all “ready to learn” when they get to kindergarten! What we don’t want is ever more pressure on child care providers and pre-schools to trade in valuable play time for inappropriate academics and canned curriculums.

Let me share the outcome I want: Each child should know that she is well loved. He should know that he is safe, that he can trust his instincts about people. She should know that her imagination is one of her most powerful allies. He should know his own interests and be engaged enough to follow them. She should know that the world is magical and so is she, brilliant, compassionate, wonderful, marvelous.

But each child should also know that love needs respect, safety needs some personal responsibility, imagination needs determination, personal interests also need cooperation, and magic needs humility. My outcome has nothing — and everything — to do with the alphabet and math. It isn’t so easily put on a test.

If we really want to know what policies will get the desired outcome, then why don’t we assess young families’ needs? Do families have enough income not to scramble for food and shelter? How about health care? Are there enough books in the household for everyday sharing? Quality art materials, real musical instruments and enough time left in the parent’s day to be creative together?

Enough time — now there is something to assess if you want real results! Families need more than one day a month squeezed in as family time out in Nature. Close relationships over the early years create optimal outcomes for learning.

Don’t get me wrong; I can applaud more official attention to the world of early child care. If Oregon wants to improve learning outcomes, then be willing to make policy changes where they most count: helping families with worker benefits — maternity leave, sick leave, vacation leave, child care subsidies — effective parent training, single-parent assistance, student debt relief.

One of the biggest advantages we can give children is a simple, carefree childhood. Children are born, “ready to learn”; let’s give families a better chance to nurture that spark.

Karen Harding lives in Mount Hood, where she and her husband operate StarShine ChildLife Habitat.

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