Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Elementary School: Too Much, Too Soon

Newsweek asks "Are Kids Getting Pushed Too Fast, Too Soon?"

The answer, I think, is yes and no. They are being pushed -- and tested -- way too early on "academics" like reading and math, but at the same time they're not being exposed to the kinds of things that will interest them in lifelong learning, like history, music, and art. Even quality literature is pushed aside in favor of dry "reading textbooks" which have had all the personality stripped out of them by committees afraid of running afoul of the P.C. police.

The article attempts to blame the No Child Left Behind Act, but I think the problem is actually not so much "standards" or "testing" -- it's the increasingly early ages the standards are expected to be met. Since school administrators haven't wised up to this commonsense idea, parents are often responding by starting their children in school a year later. And as the article notes accurately, "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."

The pressure on children from an early age is out of control -- and pointless. I remember well when a kindergarten teacher approached me with deep concern because one of my children didn't know four letter sounds and couldn't count all the way to 100, three months into kindergarten. Said child is now a few years older, reads just fine and is an excellent math student.

One mother in the article, whose child has had private tutoring in reading since the age of three, proudly says "It's paying off. In kindergarten, he was the only one who could read a book at age 5." And that matters why? Does she not realize that all children develop at wildly varying rates, and does she think all the other children won't be reading by, say, third grade? Will that child who was pressured with "tutoring" from age 3 really have a leg up on his peers a decade later? What matters much more is that he learn to love learning.

These kinds of issues are among several reasons we turned to homeschooling. At home my youngest child learned phonics in kindergarten, in a low-key way, but he also got to be a little boy! He learned world geography, for example, by going on "airplane trips" made from chairs in our living room (he even made a "passport" with his photo on it) to countries like "France," "Spain," and "Holland." He made Dutch canals out of clay, and together we read MADELINE and FERDINAND THE BULL. He painted his version of the Eiffel Tower. That kind of "exploratory play" has been pretty much eradicated from our local kindergarten classrooms. School plays, holiday parties, Social Studies, Art, and Music have all seen similar cuts as the focus has built on "teaching to the test." And yet children seem to be worse off educationally than in my (or my parents') generation, when reading waited till 1st grade and multiplication tables till 3rd or 4th grade.


Blogger Ugly Naked Guy said...

My gut tells me that you are absolutely right. Logic seems to point in that direction too. If you got better results when kids were given more time to be kids, and the results became worse when you pushed them to read at 5, then it seems pretty clear. I think I've said here before that I am willing to try not having kids in formal schooling until eight or nine. We have to try something.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

You know, the Waldorf method of schooling doesn't have kids read until about age 9...they spend all their time exploring nature and doing "experiential"/developmental type stuff. And those kids turn out just fine. It's not for every kid because they're so different --some children crave early reading while others aren't ready -- Waldorf would have been all wrong for two of my kids and perfect for one of them. (Not sure about the other.)

I've read some interesting studies that indicate an older, mature child can go through an entire elementary curriculum in under two years. Food for thought!

Best wishes, Laura

10:14 PM  

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