The following article was published in the Wapakoneta Daily News on Saturday January 4. 2020
By LAUREN SMETZER
A generational and cultural shift has created some challenges for Wapakoneta preschoolers and preschool staff. However,
there are some ways parents can help prepare their child for preschool and navigate these new challenges. Students currently entering preschool are a part of Generation Alpha, the children of Millenials. Generation Alpha are the most technological-infused demographic to date and because the last of them won't stop being born until 2026, behavior issues brought into preschool aren't likely to go away anytime soon, but there are ways to positively work at those issues. Carrie Knoch, Director of Student Achievement for Wapakoneta City Schools, one of the most general challenges they're seeing in preschool is surrounding independence. "Part of independence is letting them do things that they can do for themselves," said Knoch. Opening doors and getting supplies on their own, as well as eating properly with utensils are issues preschool staff are seeing because parents are doing a lot of those things for their children.
Another part of independence is self-regulation, which refers to the extent to which people control their own behavior. In children, self-regulation looks like: being able to focus their attention on a task, regulating emotions, controlling impulses, and learning how to get along with others. Self-regulation is necessary for the social and, later, academic part of their lives. However, the generational and cultural changes with technology can stymy this part of brain maturation as now parents and children alike rely on phones, tablets, etc. for entertainment at all times. "Self-regulation is very rough with this group because they've never been bored," said Knoch. "What adults may see as boredom is actually when a child has the opportunity to imagine, ponder and plan instead of acting out" Knoch added one of the first ways children learn to self-regulate is through sleep, but now more and more of them are going to bed with a screen in their hands. This makes undivided attention, necessary for school lessons, an issue for children: "They don't sit and listen, they don't follow directions like they should because they don't know to regulate their attention."
Knoch said children also appear to be missing out on play. "Traditionally, preschoolers weren't enrolled in classes or organized sports" that took away from playtime, said Knoch. "But we now have structured preschool to the nth degree." According to Knoch, too much structure "takes away from the critical thinking and imagination you would have been building with play." Play also teaches children negotiation, conversation, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and empathy. If child takes a toy away from one of their peers, both children learn crucial lessons - how it feels to have something taken from them and they shouldn't do that to others. "We want them to be amazing, but we're taking away skills by not letting them play or be bored," Knoch said.
Among this generational and cultural shift, Knoch said more preschoolers are coming to school with more trauma. That trauma can stem from abuse, neglect, influence of drugs, or other adverse childhood experiences. "The truth of the matter is they've been through traumas we haven't seen," said Knoch. "It would be unusual to not have a child in your classroom that hasn't had an [adverse childhood experience]." In Wapakoneta's school district, Knoch said there is an upswing of children in foster care which impact how those students deal with adversity and self-regulation; it's much harder to develop self-regulation behaviors in unstable environments, or having just come out of one. All of these factors - lack of independence, self-regulation, and play, combined with trauma - can lead up to negative behavior in the classroom - aggression towards authority figures, refusal to cooperate, more risk-taking, and project abandonment.
While Knoch said these are the most challenging classes she's seen in over 20 years, the issues themselves aren't relatively new, it's simply the volume of students with these issues. "It doesn't mean public schools are broken," said Knoch. They'll still teach what they need to teach in preschool, "we just have to find another way to do it. If society is changing, why wouldn't schools change too?"
To help parents prepare their children for preschool and navigate these challenges, Knoch will preparing articles with topics on play and self-regulation. These articles will be published each week in the newspaper with an updated schedule to follow.