Common Sense for the Common Core

Common Sense for the Common Core

By In Common Sense On February 16, 2015

Every day children are expected to learn new things. They need to reach important educational milestones like learning to read, write, and solve mathematical problems. However, adults do not always agree on how to get there and how soon. The blog post you are about to read from Marcy Guddemi and Erin Akers  from the Gesell Institute of Child Development suggest a common sense approach to the Common Core educational standards for young children. A flexible, age appropriate, and playful approach to education can easily be adopted within the standard. Teachers can even bring children outdoors to do reading, math, speaking, listening, and language activities.


Marcy Guddemi, PhD, Executive Director, Gesell Institute of Child Development

Erin Akers, M.Ed. Director of Gesell Institute National Lecture Staff

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is an educational initiative in the United States that details what K-12 students should know (content) and be able to do (processes) in mathematics and English language arts at the end of each grade level. The standards were conceived by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and development was funded by the Gates Foundation.  The CCSS were fashioned to provide a consistent educational standard across the states as well as ensure that students are either college-ready or job-ready. The standards emphasize critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.  The set of standards specifies what children should know but not how they should be taught. While forty-five of the fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia initially adopted CCSS sight unseen, the standards are not uniformly supported by all educators and parents. Thirteen states have since opted out, and some states are putting them on hold as they do more research and investigation.

Since the CCSS are currently a part of our educational system and affect teachers and children, the Gesell Institute of Child Development is calling for common sense–best practice–for the Common Core State Standards, or any set of learning standards. This means applying the principles of child development when teaching young children.  All early childhood programs for children from birth to age eight, whether they are publicly funded or private, Head Start, childcare, prestigious prep school, religiously oriented school or home-school learning programs, need to accept and embrace that standards are important in planning programs and curricula to prepare children for their role in a global society.  However, the ideologies behind standards for young children differ to a certain degree from standards for older children.

Standards for young children (birth to age 8 years) are more like guidelines, or an outline of how a child will develop the given set of skills and behaviors.  They are not lock-step, rigid benchmarks to be achieved by all children in the timeframe assigned by the standard.  Arnold Gesell, known as the Father of Child Development, was the first to document that all children pass through the same stages of development, but that each child does so at his or her own pace.  This first principle of child development, which is that children grow and develop at their own pace, should be applied to the Common Core State Standards.  Some children will not reach the kindergarten standards until Grade 1 or even Grade 2.  Similarly, some children will already reach the Grade 2 standards in kindergarten.  This is normal.  Each child is unique.  Children should not be punished, chastised, or belittled during these early years if they don’t meet some standards according to the timeframe.  It is not that the child “can’t” learn; it is rather “not yet.”  Child development cannot be mandated to happen in a certain year.  However, all children can be exposed to the skills and behaviors found in the Common Core Standards at their grade level in a developmentally appropriate way—which leads to another important principle for best practice.

The second principle of child development that should be applied to CCSS is that children learn best when taught in a developmentally appropriate way.  Developmentally appropriate activities are those that match the developmental age of the child (see principle 1 above).  Young children, birth to age 8, build knowledge through playful, hands-on, concrete, interactive activities with real world objects and people.  There is a lot of neuroscientific research to prove that children learn best through play.  Intentionally planned, playful activities actually help connect brain cells.

Quality, developmentally appropriate learning also takes place outdoors.  The playground should be seen as an extension of the classroom.  Look for many great examples of how standards can be met outdoors in The Smart Playground Teacher Guides.  The playground designs are inspired from three Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales: The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and the Tinderbox. For example, here is a CCSS-aligned lesson from the Tinderbox playground:

The Whole Alphabet

Cut out the letters from copy sheet 1 and direct pairs of children to place them on an object, person or a color beginning with that letter – e.g. a on “arm,” b on “blue,” c on “chest,” l on “lock,” p on “prison,” w on “witch,” etc.

The children then try to make sentences with the items on which the letters are hanging.  The sentences must relate to the fairy tale – e.g.:

– “The soldier’s arm is in the jacket.”

– “The sky was blue on the day the soldier met the witch.”

– “There was a chest full of coins in the tree.”

– “There was a lock on the prison door, so the soldier couldn’t get out.”

– “The soldier went to prison and was about to die.”

– “The soldier met a horrible witch on the high road.”

Note: Parts of this activity require the children to have a detailed knowledge of the fairy tale “The Tinder Box” – e.g. from KOMPAN’s free app “Fairy tale – Read & Listen.”

Some letters may be difficult to “find” on the equipment. If none of the children can find a word, set that letter aside. The most difficult letters (e.g. q, x and z) can be taken out before starting.

Photographs can be taken of the letters while they are hanging on the equipment. These can be used in an app to produce books with speech/writing and assembled into a fairy tale alphabet book.  If desired, the children could write the sentences they have constructed in the activity described above. The alphabet book could then be printed or displayed using an IWG (Interactive White Board).

CCSS Alignment: English

  • The names, shapes and sounds of the letters
  • Sentence building

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.2, 7



CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.2.1, 1a, 4, 6

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.2.1, 3, 4, 5, 5a, 6

The Gesell Institute strongly believes that the principles of child development must be used as the basis for all decision-making about young children.  In fact, the Institute recently conducted a national, demographically diverse study of children 3-6 years of age and found that children today are developing in much the same way as they always have since Dr. Gesell first started collecting data 100 years ago.  This comes as no surprise to most early childhood professionals.  Children are not developing faster and getting smarter sooner as a result of computers, educational television, and specialized learning games sold in toy stores or home parties across America.  (Look at our national test scores to prove this point.)  Children cannot be pushed to develop faster and sooner, yet many schools are promoting a “push-down” curriculum today making kindergartens across the country look more like first grade.  Child development and learning through play must be respected to ensure that children are ready for their role as adults in the 21st global society; and our best practice approach to the Common Core Standards is the only way to ensure that the goals will be reached.




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