Will School Engage Your 5-Year-Old?

Notebooks, 17 centsMy mom was a teacher. My mother-in-law was an elementary school principal. And I was valedictorian of my high school class.

I’ve been told that to homeschool is “anti-school,” but my background made me about as pro-school as could be when I was a young parent. My older children began their educational careers in school.

But this testing thing was already getting out of hand about two decades ago in North Carolina when we lived there. The EOGs, or End of Grade tests, that were instituted at my kids’ public school at that time were one of the reasons I decided to homeschool. Not only did the tests have a negative effect on many children, but the practice tests my own kids brought home were riddled with errors of logic and fact — and they didn’t even address the things I felt were important in education, like critical thinking, inquiry, logic, and creativity.

Today, we get this — “A Very Scary Headline About Kindergartners” — a WaPo article which discusses an op ed written by two top level education administrators in Oregon, who are lamenting the “sobering snapshot” provided by kindergarten test results.

This kind of thinking has our educational institutions pushing formal academics to younger and younger children.

Valerie Strauss, writing for The Washington Post, tells us:

Research shows that children learn best when they have hands-on learning experiences, engage in structured play, experience facts within meaningful contexts, invent their own problems to explore and solve, and share their own solutions. The current emphasis on standards and testing has led many schools to over-focus on assessment at the expense of meeting children’s developmental needs and teaching meaningful content. Play and activity-based learning have been disappearing from many early childhood classrooms, and – along with them – children’s natural motivation and love of learning.

Basically, our politically-directed school reform takes everything we know about how to engage young children–and then does the opposite.

Read the whole article for a look at the arguments for and against early formal academics for five year olds.

Some school reformers seem determined to squeeze out as many possibilities for engagement as possible, replacing them with testing, scripted teaching, and test prep, and then being surprised when children don’t perform well on tests that aren’t matched to their developmental stages.

Then they turn a blind eye to the staggering unintended negative consequences of a culture that emphasizes testing rather than authentic learning: children who are not engaged. 

As Strauss says:

It’s already been happening for years, and it appears to be getting worse. The end result will be kids who hate school even earlier than they do now.

Parents, children, and teachers know lack of engagement when they see it and feel it. Some schools find ways to compensate for the negative testing culture; some parents are becoming active in the opt-out movement; some children are not vulnerable, especially if they tend to have opportunities to become engaged outside of school, or if they happen to qualify for special programs or particular schools that allow them to escape complete immersion in the testing culture.

Seventeen years ago, when my oldest son was in his last year in public school, his teacher “snuck” the children outside for nature walks and exercise to “wake up their brains.” There are so many teachers who have good ideas like she did — reading wonderful children’s literature aloud in the classroom, having the kids make art and write their own stories in response – even in fourth grade.

But she had to sneak.

And my public school teacher friends today tell me they struggle with the tension between the expectations of them in a testing culture — and what they know about how children become engaged in learning. See this letter from a North Carolina teacher on Diane Ravitch’s blog, in a post titled “I Quit,” for a pretty good round-up of the challenges teachers face in this atmosphere.

Is your child ready for the impact of early formal academics in kindergarten or preschool?

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