Friday, August 7, 2009

Educating in the "Pre-Grammar Stage"

I've always felt pretty strongly about kids being home with their mother for their early years. I understand a morning or two at a preschool at age 4 or 5 perhaps. But it makes me really sad to see a little one spending all day long in a day care setting while both of their parents work. Yes, some families desperately need the income. But I bet that if a lot of those families really analyzed their budgets and how much money they would save with the mom staying home (and other areas where they could cut), they could make it happen. An awful lot of the time, it's not about finances -- it's about priorities.

And I say that as a mom who is not a kid person. It was hard for me to be home with my kids when they were young. But I knew it was the best thing for them.

Since I've homeschooled, I've begun to feel similarly about the first couple years of "traditional" school. In the classical education model (which I'm partial to), they would call this the pre-Grammar stage. Kids are learning constantly at this age, but they're not quite ready for formal schooling.

Now, I'm a homeschool advocate -- but I definitely think that every child is different and you need to examine each child's specific needs on a yearly basis (thus Eastin's upcoming entry into public education). However, if I were to be dogmatic about homeschooling, it would be for the early years. I don't know a lot of 5 and 6 year olds with good parents and healthy home environments who are really better off for being pushed into a school environment that early.

There are a lot of social pressures in a classroom, even in kindergarten. In fact, I think the kids who spent the most time in day care and preschool before kindergarten are the biggest factors in that. Kids that young simply do not have the wherewithal to manage the social complexities of such a group setting. Even with the best of teachers and the best of programs in the best of neighborhoods in the best of towns . . school is harsh. We all know it. If I were to have another child (not happening), I would feel very strongly about homeschooling them until age 8 or so.

I say all this, actually, to preface an idea I read about recently -- in another book about how to radically fix a broken education system. The author talked about how much more effective good children's museums are in reaching kids than most classrooms are. They are geared to how young children learn--actively, kinesthetically, with bright colors and sounds. He recommends a hands-on, mentor-type children's museum program for all young kids.

Man the place with lots of knowledgable, kid-friendly folks who can guide the children into actually digesting and integrating the information there. Rotate the displays on a regular basis. Have the kids learn about history in mini-Living History exhibits. Have them learn about science by doing hands-on experiments in a science exhibit. The Franklin Institute in Philly has a giant walk-through model of a human heart -- one of Eastin's favorite places in the world. Fabulous learning tool! A parent can't do something like that at home; neither can a teacher do it in a classroom.

I always operated on the principle that there are two major goals for me when teaching my kids history and science at that age: 1) that they learn a few major facts about the topic that they can hang more information on later, and 2) that they come away thinking, "History is COOL!!! Science is AWESOME!!!"

I know, they won't be learning their three R's in such a setting. But most good parents are already teaching those to their kids at that age. And if activities at the museum employ those skills, the kids will have more motivation to want to learn them. Maybe attach a place like this to a library, with their story-times and such? I just see LOTS of possibilities here . . .

And lots of hang-ups, of course. There always are. Such as, what about the personal one-on-one interaction that young kids need? And what about the kids who don't have good parents who teach them the three R's at home? I know, we have to do something with them. Just brainstorming here. I really like this idea . . .


Rudy said...

Our current struggle has to do with reading. Jen is 12 now and didn't get the right encouragement and reading help growing up so now, because she isn't very good at it, she hates to read. Jen will spend as much time as we will allow on the computer or reading magazines (looking at pictures) but it's like pulling teeth to sit down and read with her. How can we turn the tide on that water already under the bridge? Is it reversible at 12?

GJK said...

Mmmm. Yeah, that's a tough one, Een. I've always wanted to study more about reading instruction just to be able to answer that question better. Maybe someone else here will have some input?

GJK said...

One thing I would say, though -- don't let concerns over her reading get in the way of her acquiring the knowledge he needs to know (find another way of "inputting", if necessary) or of her developing the skills she's really good at. She'll be more likely to want to work at the reading, I think, if she feels like a competent, smart person who has a chance of succeeding -- and she'll feel competent and smart if she knows things and knows in what areas she excels. :)