Last night at the grocery store, I bumped into a woman I worked with at the preschool. She and all the other women there are very nurturing and have the best intentions, but after our conversation I left feeling very sad. She was telling me about how she and her co-teacher already have their class of 4 and 5 years olds at kindergarten level, they know their kindergarten sight words … and I can’t even recall what other kindergarten level skills they know because my heart was just racing at the thought of these kids being pushed academically. I mean, I understand what they are trying to accomplish, but I just don’t think it’s necessary. I know these ladies, I know the preschool, I know the Director, so I know that the kids are not being pushed too, too hard; it’s not all work and no play and the work they do is done in a manner that is fun and interesting, but even so, it bothers me each and every time I hear a teacher saying that the she’s teaching certain skills this year because they will need to know them next year. A year in the life of a child is a very long time. Perhaps they are not ready to acquire those skills a whole year ahead of time. Some children are not even ready for it at the age that formal education deems appropriate. I’m not saying that it is harmful to expose children to a variety of advanced skills, but I do believe it can be harmful to some children to be forced to acquire skills before they are ready.
Mostly though, I don’t think that preschoolers need to have their time so scheduled. I believe they benefit from having access to all the art supplies, colorful costumes, puzzles, manipulative toys and all the other interesting items available at the preschool, but they should be free to pick and choose what activity they want to explore each day. If they are destined for public or private school or even some homeschooling scenarios, they will have plenty of years ahead of them with their time scheduled out with academics as a main focus. It seriously does not need to begin at such a young age. They don’t really need to learn to walk in a straight line at two years old, or sit still for extended periods of time at three years old, or to write all the letters of the alphabet at 4 years old.
I know my friends at my old workplace would be so hurt to know my true feelings. They would feel insulted and they would think that my opinions are wrong. I guess it’s a good thing I do this blog anonymously, because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. If they do ever happen across this blog, I’ll apologize just in case. Debra, Carol, Shannon, and actually, any other teachers who may read this and feel upset by my words, but who truly love their students and want the best for them, I am sorry for hurting your feelings. I don’t think all teachers put academics before emotional health, but I know they have objectives to meet, red tape to deal with and administrators breathing down their necks and sometimes even the most well meaning teacher can ignore a child’s needs.
I like to advocate for the child; they usually don’t have a voice in their educational upbringing and often their parents and teachers take such a strict academic approach without consideration for the readiness of the child. More power to the parents who listen to that inner voice telling them to choose a path less taken because they feel that it is what their child needs. This might be the parents who decide not to send their child to preschool even though everyone they know considers it a must or maybe they delay kindergarten a year. Or the parent who lets their child take college classes at a young age because they need that higher level to fulfill their interests. Or the family who decides to homeschool even though they have no qualms with their traditional schooling experience; they just want to spend more time with their children. Whatever the case, if you know your child is not ready for something, don’t push it on them. Accolades to the teachers who take the time to really get to know their students and find ways to help them with their readiness when they see that it is affecting their ability to learn. What lucky children who have parents and teachers who really listen to them.
Children can learn all they need to know to be ready for kindergarten through playing and being read to and having conversations with their parents. They learn without knowing that they are learning, just like they learned how to walk and talk with minimal instruction from their parents, children will learn colors and shapes just by you conversing with them and pointing out colors and shapes. Learning comes naturally, it really does. People tend to forget this.
My daughter is a kindergarten teacher and she told me that she’d rather have a happy stress free kid who doesn’t know his letters and numbers than a child who has emotional problems yet already knows how to read. Well, of course, who wouldn’t? The thing is, kids don’t come in just those two styles, they come in every shape, size and variety of combinations of skills and emotional states. Academic skills will be learned when/if a person realizes the need for them. Emotional well being is the trickier one to get right. All that talk of nature vs. nurture and quantity vs. quality is just talk, it’s nature and nurture, it’s quantity and quality. What our children need is for us to be there for them when they need us and you never really know when that is going to be. They need to know that they can come to us, they need to feel comfortable talking to us, they need to feel loved, they need us to trust them, they need to know we trust them, they need to be able to trust us, they need us to set a good example for them …
At this point in time, our society seems to be failing at helping the youngest in our midst develop a healthy emotional state. When we have to worry about kids shooting other kids in schools, yep, I’d say we are failing at it. When we have kids under the age of six on psychotropic drugs at the rate that the CDC estimates, yes, we are failing at it. When we hear of a teen arrested for encouraging her friend to commit suicide, oh my God, please help us stop failing our children. They deserve better.
Here’s an example of fostering emotional well-being in a child:
Situation – Mom to child, “We’re going to K-mart to get your picture taken. You can choose what to wear and what picture background you want.”
Doesn’t this just shout out, “I’m confident, I’m smart, I’m fun-loving and you need to take me seriously!”?
This 7 year old is now a confident, smart, fun loving, yet serious 24 year old Drilling Engineer who was homeschooled, more realistically unschooled from kindergarten to 4th grade, went to public school in the 5th because he wanted to try school, unschooled 6th through 8th grades, went to high school because his twin sister wanted to go to high school and he didn’t want her to go alone, yet when she quit in the 11th grade to go to community college he stayed in school because he wanted to finish what he started. He graduated from high school with 31 college credit hours so he went off to college as a sophomore, paid for his own college with student loans, graduated with a mechanical engineering degree after 3.5 yrs of college and a had a job waiting for him.
And the only credit I want to take being his parent and homeschool teacher is that I didn’t hinder his curiosity, I didn’t do damage to his emotional well-being, and I did read many, many books to him. I won’t take credit for teaching him his ABCs and 123s. He learned those somewhere along the way. Seriously, in that picture, I don’t even know if he could read yet. He had not really expressed an interest in learning to read. His twin sister had started showing an interest in letters around the age of 3 and I would call him over and he would listen in for a bit and then wander off to go play. I would always include him, but allow him to choose whether or not to participate and more often than not he chose not to. At age 8.5 he did know how to read, but I only know this because one day he came to me as I was typing an email and asked me to read him a chapter in The Sword of Shannara. I told him I was busy and that I would read to him later. Thirty to forty-five minutes went by and he came back and asked again. I was still answering emails, but feeling guilty about putting him off, so, I told him that if he could read the email to me (not really expecting him to be able to), I would stop and read to him. Well, lo and behold, he recited the whole email. I stopped what I was doing and read not one, but two chapters to him, well I’m not really sure if I read him two chapters, but I hope I did.
The point is, humans are born with a natural curiosity and we need to not squash it. We need to nourish it. We need to consider what we do and what we say and how it affects their developing emotional state. Our children are our future. That may be a cliche, but it is the truth.