I think I am missing something. I started feeling this ever since I have come into contact with education system for little kids here, and I am just not getting it. Not getting it at all. Both of my children attend/attended the same playgroup run by a very dedicated and I would say somewhat ambitious woman. She is set to make the kids in her playgroup completely ready for school, both emotionally and educationally. I have nothing against that philosophy and appreciate her dedication, but on several occasions our views and goals clashed. Because the most important thing for me in the playgroup – concerns for physical well being aside - is PLAY. Yes, educational element is nice, but we are talking about 2 and 3 year olds here. How much do they NEED to learn in that age?
So the biggest thing over which we clashed was my children’s ability to sit through a class. I got complaints about both of them. First about DD, three and a half at the time, that she couldn’t sit for a long time. DD was able to concentrate, that was not a problem, but she simply couldn’t physically sit as long as was expected of her. That was supposed to be a big problem later when she started school.
Then there was DS, at the time of complaint only a few weeks over two. This one couldn’t sit at all and had trouble concentrating on the material. While I was diplomatic listening about DD’s shortcomings and actually welcomed suggestions (after all, she was starting school in a few months and would have to comply with their expectations), I refused to accept any criticism when it came to DS. I told the woman, “Mrs. X, your concern is greatly appreciated, but as a parent I do not see a problem with a healthy and active 2 year old boy unable to sit for more than 10 minutes.” Her argument was that those were the expectations and all the other kids his age could. I muttered under my breath that those kids’ parents should be concerned, not me (and having experience with both personalities, I can honestly say I wasn’t facetious and, hands down, prefer active over placid), but out loud suggested revisiting this conversation in a few months.
I haven’t heard complaints yet, though I wouldn’t be surprised if DS is still unable to sit through some of the classes. For goodness sake, when I get his weekly learning updates, I have a hard time reading through them in one sitting. And this is coming from a person who has no problem reading through the pages and pages of the proper treatment and presentation of unconditional promises to give on the financial statements of not for profit organizations. WAKE UP! Are you asleep? Well, I am not, but I do fall asleep reading what those 2 and a few month olds are expected to learn and know.
And here’s what I really want to know: is there a value in teaching them alphabet, primary vs. secondary colors, numbers etc this early? I am not suggesting holding a curious and gifted child back, right now I am only addressing those average kids who normally do not have interest or ability to fully comprehend these things this early. Would it make them smarter? Better learners down the road? Improve their memories? Or would it stifle their imagination? Or make normal active children into couch potatoes?
From personal experience, I can say that early exposure does not guarantee lasting success. I was taught addition, subtraction and multiplication tables much earlier than my peers. Despite my early success in math, by the age of 12 all of a sudden I started failing miserably once the geometry was introduced to our curriculum. All the other “smart kids” were getting it, and I wasn’t, despite my teacher’s, friends’ and my own efforts. That’s when my love affair with math ended. However, that initial spark was rekindled when geometry was revisited in American high school, where this subject is introduced much later than in Russia. I seemed to be more ready somehow to get it, and what once before seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, all of a sudden turned into a fun brainteaser. I was in my element again, just later than 50% of my Russian peers.
Maybe my expectations are low, but what I want the most for my children is to be happy and healthy. And have love for learning new things. I wouldn’t mind if on most days their playgroup teacher would just bundle them up, lead them into the backyard and close the door behind until lunchtime. Because pretty soon those little munchkins will go to school and be tied to their desks for hours on end. So why start so early? Now is the time for them to play and be active. And with children’s obesity rates rising every year, could it be that maybe I am onto something and not that wrong?