Friday, January 19, 2007

Too much pressure, too early

This article from Newsweek explains one of the myriad of reasons we began homeschooling. We had a boy who was late maturing and just not ready for the high-stakes testing and competitive atmosphere of our local Kindergarden.
"In the last decade, the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and more like SAT prep. Thirty years ago first grade was for learning how to read. Now, reading lessons start in kindergarten and kids who don't crack the code by the middle of the first grade get extra help. Instead of story time, finger painting, tracing letters and snack, first graders are spending hours doing math work sheets and sounding out words in reading groups. In some places, recess, music, art and even social studies are being replaced by writing exercises and spelling quizzes. Kids as young as 6 are tested, and tested again—some every 10 days or so—to ensure they're making sufficient progress. After school, there's homework, and for some, educational videos, more workbooks and tutoring, to help give them an edge."
At the beginning of second grade Will was slowly reading one-word-at-a-time with my finger under each word in his reader. It amazes me how slowly it took the child of two voracious readers to get to that moment where everything clicks together. Now he reads real chapter books and enjoys the experience.
I can only imagine what would have happened if we had stuck him in public school. Instead of an active boy who enjoys creating a rocket ship with "bomebay doors and regulr doors" out of a waterheater box he procured from the neighbor, I might have a sulky, tired, drugged little boy who hates learning because he doesn't care to spend all day doing writing exercises and taking spelling quizzes. Once we finish our required daily schoolwork the kids have the rest of the day to play outside, make stuff, do puzzles, play games, and read. Today they are making play mats for cars out of long rolls of paper, complete with roads, buildings, train tracks, and parking lots. It is urban design at its most simplistic.
"Lately, some experts have begun to question whether our current emphasis on early learning may be going too far. 'Early education, is not just about teaching letters but about turning curious kids into lifelong learners. It's critical that all kids know how to read, but that is only one aspect of a child's education. Are we pushing our children too far, too fast? Could all this pressure be bad for our kids?'"
Yes. Enough said.
"First grade is like literacy boot camp. Music, dance, art, phys ed—even social studies and science—take a back seat to reading and writing. Kids are tested every eight weeks to see if they are hitting school, district and statewide benchmarks. If they aren't, they get remedial help, one-on-one tutoring and more instruction. The regular school day starts at 7:45 a.m. and ends at 2:05 p.m.; about a fifth of the students go to an after-school program until 5:30, where they get even more instruction: tutoring, reading group and homework help."
When the children were little and we were living on-base in Italy, Tim would drive by the daycare every morning and evening. He told me that he was so grateful I stayed home with the children when he saw toddlers dropped off at 6am in their jammies, some still asleep. Now I feel sorry for children who are awakened by an alarm clock to get ready to catch the bus. These poor kids have the rest of their lives to be dictated to by a clock.
"What early-childhood experts know is that for children between the ages of 5 and 7, social and emotional development are every bit as important as learning the ABCs. Testing kids before third grade gives you a snapshot of what they know at that moment but is a poor predictor of how they will perform later on. Not all children learn the same way. Teachers need to vary instruction and give kids opportunities to work in small groups and one on one. Children need hands-on experiences so that they can discover things on their own. "If you push kids too hard, they get frustrated," says Dominic Gullo, a professor of early education at Queens College in New York. "Those are the kids who are likely to act out, and who teachers can perceive as having attention-span or behavior problems.'"
I am such a believer in the connection between sleep deprivation, electronic stimulation and hyperactivity. I also know that if I push Will to finish all his given work when he starts late, is tired, or for too long he gets cranky and doesn't learn much. It is far better to work for 2 hours with a good attitude than to be miserable just to say we checked off everything in the lesson book. Kids learn so much with a blend of work and fun in their day, just as we all do.
"There are signs that some parents and school boards are looking for a gentler, more kid-friendly way. In Chattanooga, Tenn., more than 100 parents camped out on the sidewalk last spring in hopes of getting their kids into one of the 16 coveted spots at the Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences (CSAS), a K-12 magnet program that champions a slowed-down approach to education. The school, which admits kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds, offers students plenty of skills and drills but also stresses a "whole-child approach." The emphasis is not on passing tests but on hands-on learning.
Two weeks ago newly minted kindergartners were spending the day learning about the color red. They wore red shirts, painted with bright red acrylic paint. During instructional time, they learned to spell RED. Every week each class meets for a seminar that encourages critical thinking. At CSAS, students are rarely held back, and in fourth grade—and in 12th grade—more than 90 percent of students passed the state's proficiency tests in reading last year."
This sounds like daily learning in the homes of many homeschoolers. Hopefully more public schools will develop programs like the one described above and reduce the obsession with pressuring children too early.

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