Monday, August 21, 2017

Getting Together

I attended a play-based kindergarten back in 1967. It wasn't called a "play-based" kindergarten, it was just called "kindergarten." We got together, played with blocks, dug in the sand, climbed the monkey bars, and ate snack. There was a short period of time each day during which we sat around tables and colored, we must have sung together, and there was a room into which I rarely went that had dolls, but the main thing we did was get together.

When I reflect on that year, I recognize I have unconsciously tried to recreate that experience for the children I teach at Woodland Park, a place where children get together to figure things out, through conflict and agreement, failure and success, but mostly through friendship and camaraderie. In 1967, we understood that this is the foundation upon which a life is built, not reading or ciphering or walking in straight lines. That could wait until later: first we had to work on the stuff that would make the rest of it worthwhile.

We all know that human contact is as important to a baby's development as food. Without it, we just roll over and die. This need for contact doesn't diminish as we get older any more than does the need for food, and it doesn't begin and end with parents. Humans are driven to get out there and mix it up, to seek out and create the kind of human contact that feeds our souls and psyches. And I would assert that the degree to which we have the opportunity to do that is the true measure of whether or not we grow up to have a "successful" life: not "grit" or "STEM skills" or reading.

According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, presenting her research to the American Psychological Association:

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need -- crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment . . . Yet an increasing portion of the US population now experiences isolation regularly."

According to Holt-Lunstad, over 42 million Americans over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness, a population that is growing, will continue to grow, and that may represent a public health risk greater than that of obesity. Many nations are calling it a "loneliness epidemic." The cure will never be found in reading, ciphering, or walking in straight lines, but rather in the social skills we learn when we get together the way we do in preschool; the way we used to do it in kindergarten and the way we should be doing it right through elementary school. The skills we learn through friendship and camaraderie are not just the antidote, they are the foundation of what makes life worth living in the first place.

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