Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pre-school. PRE-SCHOOL?

What film was it years ago, in which the couple moves to NY city and the neighbors start asking about which pre-school they'll be sending their kids to?  Then we see the mad rush to get the kids into the 'best' pre-school, which is the guarantee to get them into the best grammar school, which will get them into the best high school... You see where this is going.

Schools are institutions, and somehow we've come to believe that what happens inside those four walls will be much more important than what happens in the world.  Please don't institutionalize your child too soon!

My kids were born in the mid-80's, which today makes them 20-somethings.  We participated in a play group, organized by the local tech college as a class, open to the general community.  It wasn't for credit and no grades were awarded.  Moms with toddlers showed up, watched the interaction with the kids on different kinds of play equipment each week, then a couple of us would watch all the kids while the rest of the moms had some discussion time on a parenting topic with an early childhood expert for about 30 minutes.  It was a nice time to compare notes with each other and talk about fussy eaters, fussy dressers, sibling rivalry and potty training.  We learned our kids were normal, that we were doing fine, and we taught each other the finer points of frugal living and shopping with stay-at-home moms and limited incomes.  The kids played hard with each other for 90 minutes, had a snack and went home and took a nap.  It was really a time for parents as much as the kids.

But what is pre-school?

It really doesn't make sense to start kids to school much before they are cognitively ready to read.  If you do, all you really accomplish is to get them to line up and follow each other to the rest room, drinking fountain, and bus to go home.  Or as my daughter answered after she finished kindergarten "We learned to sit in a circle with our feet crossed and our hands folded in our laps."  And I thought, at the time, that she had a pretty good kindergarten teacher whom she enjoyed.  That answer was unsolicited and caught me by surprise.  It was one of the things that led to my rebellion about public education.

What if we just started school later, like eight years old when almost all kids are able to learn to read easily?  Would we really be losing valuable time?

At the community college where I teach we have classes for adults that begin with 1-2-3 and A-B-C.  It takes us about two years to get the completely illiterate adult through an 8th grade education, and about two more years to get them through a high school education.  Then we plop them into college level classes, and they perform.

So why would we want to spend more of our public funds on pre-school, when we could just wait and do it later in a short amount of time?  Very, very few 3-year olds will learn to read.  I haven't seen any data that suggests that kids who learn to read at 3 and kids who learn to read at 7 are very different from each other by age 12.

And if a parent can't handle the pre-school curriculum, then perhaps we should be educating the parents and not the children!

Pre-school has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with education.  The pre-school movement is about placating the consciences of parents who choose their careers over their children.  Even assuming for ONE moment that the parents MUST work to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of their kids, our education dollars would be better spent teaching these parents to get a better job rather than teaching their kids to sit in a circle with their feet crossed and their hands folded in their laps.

Kids need their parents to be their parents during their early years.  Rather than sitting in a circle, take your kids for a walk.  Read a book together.  Visit the grandparents and get their stories.  Bake some cookies or a pie and take them to your neighbor as an excuse to get to know them.  Make mudpies in the dirt.  Rub leaves through newsprint with a crayon and look at all the different patterns.  Google "what to do with a pre-schooler" and see what comes up.