In Defense of Five Year Olds

My mother and I have been going through a bunch of her old papers – trying to scan what’s useful into the computers, and recycling what’s not.

Mom was an elementary school teacher, and is well-read in early childhood education, as well as child development.

As we were going through her papers, we found an article distributed by Frederick J. Moffit, Chief Bureau of Instructional Supervision, New York Department of Education. It was taken from the Association for Childhood Education in February 1946.

Sounds a little outdated, sure – but I agree with the viewpoint. Since I looked all over the web to find a link to this article, or book that contained this article, or ANYTHING, but found nothing, I figure I’ll post the whole article it it’s entirety – with accurate, and hopefully sufficient credit to the publisher – and if someone has a problem, I’m sure they’ll email me and tell me to take it down. Otherwise, I find this piece of writing to be very valuable, and I think more people should read it!


Studies of children show us that three basic needs of each individual are to be competent, secure and active. Experience which meet these needs for a two-year-old would not be satisfactory in terms of specific situations for five-year-olds, not would the five-year-old experiences satisfy children of ten, although for all ages the general basic needs remain constant. This is not to say that children should be considered in terms of age levels, because in some respects a five-year-old may behave like a child of three, of five or of eight years of age. There are, however, certain general experiences that five-year-olds must have if their basic needs are to be met. These needs are fundamental considerations in planning their educational program

FIVE YEAR OLDS SHOULD HAVE PLENT OF OPPORTUNITY TO climb, to run and to carry on group construction projects outdoors with large boxes, kegs, boards and the like. These activities will contribute to the development of large muscle coordination. At the same time, these children like to experiment with small muscle activity in the use of paint, clay or crayons. But such activities as sewing, reading and writing demand too concentrated use of eyes and small muscles, which often results in tensions and impairments.

THESE CHILDREN SHOULD HAVE ALTERNATE PERIODS of quiet and active work and should not be expected to sit still for long periods of time. Nor should they all be expected to do the same thing at the same time, especially when the thing undertaken has no meaning to them, does not meet their fundamental needs and is entirely teacher initiated and directed. The fives are exposed to such harmful situations when they are placed in first grades as usually organized or when they are expected to do first grade work in so-called pre-primary classes. They are not ready for these experiences in their muscles, their minds or their feelings. Superimposing the academic pattern upon them gives them experience with failure and frustration early in their school career. There is no surer way of making hostile, aggressive, with-drawn or tense children. All of these behavior manifestations characterize the maladjusted, incompetent,  insecure child and adult.

Five-year-olds have a wide-ranging curiousity about the world of things and of people in which and with whom they live. To discover the ways materials behave and feel and to learn the skills in controlling them is an exciting challenge to these children. To find ways of playing with one another, to try out each other’s abilities and qualities, to learn success and to make mistakes as individuals and as groups through dramatic play are all vital daily experiences for five-year-old children.

In the traditional first grade such interests are taboo, frowned upon and sternly eliminated. So the child’s curiosity soon vanishes to be utilized only out of school. The give and take with his peers without which social development cannot take place is impossible in a classroom where contacts with other children are prohibited by the furniture, the teacher, and the kind of work to be done. He is again rendered insecure and incompetent with no opportunity for or guidance in gaining skill in satisfying his curiosity or in getting along with others. In addition, where contacts are with the teacher only and not with other children, warped ways of getting on with adults develop. Individual children vie with one another for adult attention and approval, and tattling, fighting, slyness, shrinking timidity and similar harmful behavior appears. The “teacher’s pet” characterizes every classroom as is often snowballed or pounced upon as soon as the school grounds are left behind.

TODAY WE FACE A SERIOUS PROBLEM affecting the five-year-olds. The pressures of administrative convenience, the lure of newly appropriated funds, and the widespread public demand for educational opportunities for the five-year-olds are precipitating the environment appropriate for them. The time has come for the teachers and parents to band together to stop this disastrous practice if the five-year-olds are to have safe, happy and active lives at school.


I think that I have nearly been sucked into thinking that my three year old should have these kinds of “academic” experiences! No! He needs to run and play and construct, and learn to interact FREELY with other children, without having me interfere and initiate and run his education.

The thing about little children is that they learn what’s in front of them. You don’t need to do a lot of “teaching” – which is nice, because they probably won’t sit still long enough anyway! So we need to simply let them learn.

It’s great to surround them with things to learn – for example, I used to take V to the aquarium all the time – once a month, at least! He has learned all sorts of fascinating things about ocean and marine life. Without having to ever sit in a desk and listen to a teacher.

He has learned a lot about plants, animals, the outdoors – without ever having to do a worksheet, or even read a book.

We experience life. We learn through play.

And that’s what this blog is about – learning through play.

I hope you will join me on this adventure as I learn with my children – and especially as I learn how to play again!



About Becca

Becca is just a woman, mother, daughter of God, trying to figure things out. She blogs at My Soul Delighteth and Real Intent.
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