Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Baby Students...

I am feeling sad this morning after reading a post on the Sonlighter Club Forums from a mom with a 19 month old. She says that she started "Your Baby Can Read" with him when he was 3 months old and he had mastered the program by his first birthday. Now he has been working on letter names, shapes, colors and working on identifying the United States. She wants to know if he is ready for a kindergarten program.

What? I want to shake her and wonder what she is thinking? What is the purpose of this? Do we want him to be able to read War and Peace when he is six? Does she want him to go off to work with his little brief case when he is 12? Does she just like to have her son perform for Grandma and the neighbors?

When did we get to be a people who put so much emphasis on academics and so little on play and relationships and using imaginations? I heard a NPR story a couple of weeks ago about a country [Sweden?] which mandates full day school for children as young as 2! They interviewed some parents and they thought it was great that their children are getting professional teaching at that young age.

One mom cooed over her child who could spout off nursery rhymes by memory--as if that is a reason to send your 2 year old away for 35+ hours a week! The "professionals" and I use that term lightly, have convinced parents that they cannot possibly parent a child the right way. They need to pack Johnny off while still in diapers so he can be properly socialized and educated. You wonder how civilization managed to produce functioning citizens all these thousands of years when we didn't have preschool and 10 month olds who can read!

I know this lady is not alone. I have spoken to others like her--in fact I once spoke to a woman who was pregnant with her first child and was looking for curricula for that child because she knew this child was going to be very gifted. Not much pressure there. :) Honestly, I thought when most people are pregnant they were praying for a healthy baby and wondering what type of car seat to buy. It never occurred to me that they were planning academics and they were convinced their child would be gifted. That is a LOT of pressure.

I grieve for the children who lose their childhood to academics. I grieve for the pressure, the scheduled lives, the push, push, push to do better, learn more and the message that academics is IT. Where is the joy, the play, the snuggling on the couch, the imagining?

I love what the advice one mom gave to the mom of the 19 month old, "Also, keep in mind that academics aren't the end all of education. If you are not doing so already, you need to take things like fine motor skills (drawing, picking up tiny objects, using scissors) and following multi-step directions into consideration. Large motor skills (kicking, throwing, climbing stairs) are equally important, as are social skills such as speaking to adults, using polite words, and so on."

I wanted to stand up a cheer! YES! Academics aren't the end all of education or of child rearing! Imagine that. Before children can read they are very visual and notice everything. Did you ever notice how a child will say things like, "Oh, his car has the same hub caps as our car," and he is right? And you think, "Who looks at hubcaps?" Kids notice things. They can't read, so they pay way more attention to details and visual clues than we do. That is why when my nephew was 4 he could beat me in a concentration-type matching game 2 games out of every 3. He was more visual--I was more written word oriented. It is why I need words to figure out what burner to turn on my stove, not pictures. [And that is a whole 'nuther subject!]

I am not a language research scientist, but there has to be consequences with children learning to read before they have time to fully develop their visual observation skills. Surely God designed them to be so observant and to have such great visual skills to figure out their world for a reason. It has got to be a necessary foundation for higher level learning and if you short-circuit that in order to have bragging rights to the smartest child in town--what long range damage is being done?

While teaching children is admirable, I really think we should reconsider what to teach. How about sharing and getting along? How about compassion and loving your neighbor as yourself? How about doing acts of service within the family? How about developing the imagination by sandbox and outdoor play?

When did we get to the place that we think that children are like little pets that we should teach to do tricks so that we can amaze our friends? Maybe that is not what is going on here, but it grieves me to think that somewhere along the line we have failed new parents by letting them think that reading and academics is more important than relationships and imagination.

Take care,

You might want to read Play is Work or look at the side of my blog where the directory is, and click on play or playing, to read more along this line.

Photos are of my son Cris and granddaughter Elinor, and my daughter in law Jen with Elinor.

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