Monday, June 6, 2011

What do we prepare our children for?

If we go on for a bit on the subject of young children’s education, I’ve heard a kindergarten teacher tell me that daycare is good for children because it “serves as good preparation for kindergarten”. Kindergarten, in its turn, is supposed to serve as preparation for school, while school is meant to prepare us for real life. But does it succeed? Does it really? For how many children, does school really broaden their horizons? How many succeed thanks to school, and how many despite it?  

I’m not sure if you get my line of thinking, but to me it seems as though I’m told “they’ll be herded and segregated into neat little age groups anyway, so it’s better to begin while they’re young”.

Yes, of course if a child grew up freely at home for the first three, four, five years of his or her life, it will probably be more of an adjustment for him or her to get used to the structured environment of school. The question is, how much structure is really good for the little child (my opinion: not much) and how much of it is the default option because no school can ever provide enough of the much needed one-on-one time with each child? For how many children, it would have been far better to grow up at home with their parents until a much later age than is considered “normal” nowadays?

Around here, most babies are entered at daycare centers at the age of just a few months (maternity leave is 3 months), and it’s considered highly unusual to keep a child at home beyond infancy. But just a generation ago, it was common for children to remain at home until the age of three. And generations before that, children were brought up at home until much later. Then some of them eventually entered into structured schooling, and some didn’t.

There isn’t one answer. There isn’t a one and only possible way to learn, to grow, to become an accomplished adult. I’ve been accused of trying to vilify schools, which is the last thing I intended to do. I know many school teachers I have a high respect for, but schools have many shortcomings, the chief of which, in my opinion, is wasting of time – much precious time, which has to do mainly with the size of classes. You essentially cannot conduct a lesson to a group of 30 children without a lot of time being wasted on discipline problems and irrelevant questions, and that’s a great pity, because the younger a child is, the shorter is his/her attention span.

This in its turn leads to boredom, wandering of attention, and ineffective learning. Often, children are so put off by their lesson subjects that they develop a lifelong aversion to fascinating discoveries and wonderful world-renowned authors. I, for instance, love Chekhov, but there were a few stories by him that I could never bring myself to re-read, and didn’t understand why, until I remembered those were the ones they presented to us in school.

I suppose this has to do with the way of presenting the material, and this can improve, but somehow it seems to me that when learning in a large group at a young age, we are often destined for mediocrity, because schools have it as their goal (perhaps must have it as their goal) that everybody learns at least something, which makes it more difficult to attend to those who learn more quickly (and thus soon begin fidgeting in their chairs from boredom) or more slowly (and thus soon begin to feel stupid for remaining behind).

I’ve heard school teachers proudly tell that their school has become a mini-university, but in my opinion, this is a matter where we should be very cautious. Four-graders don’t need a university; they need a lot of time for individual learning, developing their imaginations, and getting to know themselves as persons – and just being healthily and freely active out of doors.

So, again, I have no answers yet. Perhaps I never will. But I’m trying to think outside the box, step by step, as I walk hand in hand with my little children and enjoy every moment of their amazing development. So far, I have seen that home can be a vibrant, friendly, and professionally speaking, very stimulating learning place. 


Alison At BrocanteHome said...

I just want to say a huge big thank you for this post. My little boy has been suffering round peg in a square hole syndrome for three years now and I have finally decided to takethe plunge and move him to a more progressive school with tiny class sizes so I can be sure that he will both be heard and be stimulated instead of being shuffled from one activity to the next without ever really capturing his imagination...

Though we are both nervous I am trying to think of this move as the greatest gift I can give to him, and hope he will understand the value of it in the future...

Mrs. Hyde said...

Thank you for continuing to write about this topic. When I encounter people who are against homeschooling, I sometimes forget the real reasons why it is healthier and more productive for the child, and this post helped me remember the important points. Public school was so counterproductive to my style of learning (slow learner) that it was a horrific time of insecurity and feeling "stupid." I do not want my son to go through that as well. Thank you for your post!

Mary said...

You are right on target. From my perspective, we have lost sight of the fact that children are individual's who learn in different ways. There has also crept in a mentality that education is "best left to the experts". I love and respect teachers. My mother was a teacher for 36 years as were many of her friends. I have had teachers who I value for how they taught.

The homeschooled children I know are highly socialized and, on average, are able to concentrate on the subjects of most interest to them as well as finish the standard high school curriculum early. The cost to homeschool is affordable especially given the cost of daycare/pre-school ($800-$1500 a month depending on in-home or center care), and given that most women here get 6 weeks paid maternity leave (if they are lucky). Homeschooling is the best way to allow children to learn in a natural way suited to their temprament and one in concert with the families values. Children will have more than enough time to deal with regimentation and the values, worries and challenges of their society.

Public schools around here teach to the state mandated tests including focusing kindergarten and first grade students on learning to fill in the holes on test sheets neatly. The private schools run the gamut of structured college prep to unstructured, but families may or may not be able to afford the tuition.

You are making the right choices for your family.

Michelle Therese said...

So true: there isn't just one way to do things. And I think that is why our society has stagnated ~ we are stuck in this collective mindset that there is only one way to do anything, be it iwth kids or with our own lives. Upon graduation: college and career for women, daycare and institutionalized school for kids.

But why live such a cookie-cutter life when there are so many other options to fit all of the different types of people?

Anonymous said...

I loved primary and elementary school as a child. My parents helped make the experience an important and worthwhile childhood activity.

Both parents were public school teachers. My mother began her teaching career in an all-grades school in New Hampshire, after graduating teachers college, then, she served in the Air Force. After discharge she continued to work toward an M.S. with kindergartens as the subject of her thesis.

My father attended university on the G.I. Bill, met my mother, married and began his career as a junior high school teacher in science and physical education.

I had many siblings. Each of us was a favored child. We were involved in many, many enriching activities during our early years. We were encouraged to participate, excel and grow spiritually, physically, and intellectually. One brother was a state champion in running and skiing; another brother an excellent sportsman in different areas, and one sister on the school diving team. Our interests were respected; one sister was a mountain climber; another a nurse, and two sisters became nuns.

We had no T.V., but my father was a ham radio operator and developed his own photos. Father borrowed a school movie projector once a month, and checked out movies from the library for our Family Film Club. We watched many quite different and memorable movies, viewed on a bedsheet affixed to the wall.

We rode to school with Father every morning if we rose early enough as he took turns carpooling with another teacher. We got to ride home on the school bus. I still remember songs on the bus led by the kids on the back of the bus. Little kids sat in the front. I even still remember school bus drivers, gruff Mr. Ramsey and Mrs. Kamholtz. We knew the school custodian Mr. Bergstrom and his wife. They were important people in the school, as much as the principal, secretary, teachers, and school nurse.

When we arrived to school early we could help shelve library books (or read them), draw pictures on the chalkboard, and even (carefully) use science equipment. I was fascinated with the brass scale and weighed items over and over.

In my foreign husband's childhood, school was a childhood and community-bonding activity. Children learned to care for each other and their learning environment. Music learning was an important aspect along with exercise and social skills. My husband's music appreciation and abilities forged in school, still carry to this day nearly 55 years ago, as he did not study music after.

I tried to bring my childhood excitement to the experiences of my children in public school with daily involvement and encouragement. They were taught to read, write and understand music early on when interested. When my first child was little I walked to school with him. We made regular trips to the public library for all books on any fascinating topic discussed, often ones developed on morning jaunts.

It was not an easy path. A lot of work was involved. We did not focus our lives on what we did not have and gaining a tangible possession, but measured worth in what was achieved. We slept restfully at night!

At about 9th grade, temperamental changes in teens was a major factor in a change of attitude by my children (and myself). School was no longer 'fun' nor 'interesting'; more of a hard-scrabble competition among our peers, although we all continued to gain in knowledge and experience.

Many parents find themselves alienated from public school when they do not take an active role in ensuring and quantifying the educational resources of their children. I remember many times my father would remark that it was not right that a public school was expected to perform parenting functions in society. I heard many people admired my father as a teacher, and when I visited my brother and sister-in-law, both public school teachers, I felt proud to hear of their regard in the same respectful and appreciative tones as my father.

Anonymous said...

i really think that all schools (from K-12) would benefit from a "university" approach to learning. what i mean by that is at uni, you have, say, english for 2 hrs 3 times a week (or 2.5 hrs 2 times a week) and, at least in my case, the prof was able to keep things interesting enough and talk about different things that related to the lesson he was trying to teach, that no one was bored. maybe this wont work for young ones, but as the current system isn't that great, it may be time to try.

Leah Brand-Burks said...

Anna, reading this post made me think of a video from RSAnimate that was very intriguing. Here is the link, if you get a chance to watch.

TanyaL said...

Mrs. Anna T, for your readers outside of Israel--I live in the US--can you write a bit about homeschooling laws in Israel, and how homeschooling is viewed in society? My impression is that US homeschooling has changed quite a bit in the past 20 years and it would be fascinating to hear about the status and trends of homeschooling in Israel.


asnipofgoodness said...

I Love that you are thinking "outside the box", you are thinking right!

Analytical Adam said...

I hate to say it but the "structure" is for the lazy adult teachers that use taxpayers money and unions (who have a very violent history if other less spoiled workers want to replace strikers which sadly a President in the early 1900's allowed this) to get paid for doing less and less. It is classic double talk.
That is the case here in the United States of America. Public Schools are 100% socialized more so then some segments of the old USSR from what I understand.

I was reading now how the teachers want smaller class side for the "benefit of the student". Anything over 15 doesn't make that much of a difference but really teachers should be paid less if they have less students as they are provided LESS OF A SERVICE TO LESS PEOPLE. That is how it works in the private sector. But not with the Public schools. Less students but the same pay which makes their job less strenuous if there are less students.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Tanya, homeschooling in Israel is legal but very very uncommon. We haven't researched all the laws yet, as we are still a couple of years ahead of having to ask for official authorization to do this with our older child.

Katy M. said...

Adam, please don't comment on things that you have not actually experienced. I am a teacher who instructs students with disabilities ranging from mental retardation (now ID) to emotional disturbance. Some of my students have come from homes where they are physically abused or just outright neglected. My fellow teachers bring clothes and school supplies for these children and often feed them if the parents have been too lazy to sign them up for free and reduced lunch or breakfast. The fact that education is sadly downplayed in the homes of many of my children is the least of their problems! We tutor these children before and after school on our own time because we love them, and want to see them succeed. We pull small groups throughout the day to instruct children with similar learning styles. We deal with threats from dangerous non-custodial parents. We deal with physical abuse from students who come from homes where abuse is the norm. We love the children and that is the ONLY thing that keeps us going each day.

Anonymous said...

I have 5 grown up children, three were full time with me at home until starting school age 5. Two went to a playgroup but only 2 mornings a week from age 3. There was no difference in how they all settled into school at age 5. I think below the age of 5 the majority of the time should be with the mother and below age 3 practically all the time with the mother. This makes for secure children and speaking personally, fulfilled and happy mothers. Most modern societies still have women looking after infants, but usually it is a non family member who is doing it for money rather than the child's own mother doing it for love. There must be a difference.