BANGOR – More than 20 years ago, internationally known child development expert David Elkind preached that children were being pushed to grow up and denied the time they need to simply “go out and play.”
“The same thing is going on today, if not more so,” the professor of child development at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., said Thursday during a telephone interview.
“Parents are under a lot of pressure now. There’s the war on terror, the changing economy – it’s so difficult for parents to know how to raise kids. They can’t do it the way their parents did because it’s a different world,” said Elkind.
Perhaps best known for his book “The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon,” Elkind, a psychologist and researcher, will speak Saturday at Eastern Maine Community College’s Rangeley Hall during the annual child care symposium sponsored by the Penquis CAP Resource Development Center and the Child Care Training Coalition. The event is sold out.
Elkind said he plans to talk about the importance of play in children’s growth and development and how electronic toys and organized sports prevent them from creating their own games and learning through their own experiences.
Parents should limit the time children spend in front of the television and computer, and instead make sure children “go out and play, experiment with nature, and see the real world instead of the virtual world.”
It’s harder to be a parent today, according to Elkind, because the community support isn’t there the way it used to be.
“In the past, many schools and the media supported healthy parenting,” he said. “Now they don’t and parents have to fight against some things schools and the media are doing.”
Children often are seen as consumers and are “sold things that aren’t in their best interests,” said Elkind, referring to the soft drinks, sugary snack foods and unhealthy school lunches that contribute to obesity.
Elkind said No Child Left Behind, the federal education reform law that calls for annual testing, not only denies children the play time they need, but stifles teachers’ creativity and imagination.
“The whole focus on testing deprives teachers of the opportunity to be creative and fun. It works against a healthy education where teachers have to be innovative. Now they can’t because they have to prepare kids to take tests.”
Elkind said the best preschool programs focus on play, are geared to children’s learning and emotional and social abilities, and steer clear of academics.
Many preschool programs ask children to “do academic stuff they’re not prepared to do,” he said.
Children can learn the alphabet, but trying to teach them reading or math doesn’t make sense because it’s beyond their developmental ability, Elkind said.
“If you try to teach kids something they can’t learn, they get frustrated and turned off to learning.”
He added, “We don’t teach high school curriculum at junior high or junior high curriculum in elementary school. Why should we teach elementary curriculum at a preschool? It’s exactly the same principal.”