20 September 2010

Part 2 B: Early Childhood - Or how we talk about bananas

Education doesn't start in first grade, obviously. Much is made of what is called "early childhood education" - one can even get a degree in it, these days, I'm pretty sure.

But, like with cooking, and well, most things, the best education is had by experience.

Ada Brooks was in some sort of daycare/mothers morning out/preschool from the age of 6 weeks until the age of 4.9 years - always about from 15 - 20 hours a week. This was based on me being in school and/or working - not based on her needing to be there.

[And both of my boys are now in preschool/mothers morning out 9 hours a week, again, so I can work.]

I think those places taught her a couple of things - As a first child, she was able to go ahead and learn how to be one of many - sharing, waiting for turns, etc. They taught her how to play well and how to walk in a straight line.

[Which is not tongue in cheek - children need to know how to walk in a straight line. Not because lines matter, but because for the rest of their lives, there are going to be arbitrary rules that they need to follow, not buck. Rule followers with independent spirits and minds - a very, very hard balance to encourage in a child.

And a hard balance to find as an adult. =)]

Other than that, though... No one but Paul and me (with lots of help from the myriad of grandparents/godparents in ada's life) taught her to count, her colors, her letters and phonics. Why? Well, because most early childhood learning places aren't focused on that, and I would argue, shouldn't be. If you send your child to preschool, think of it as fun playtime, perhaps some craftiness that you wouldn't do at home. But please don't rely on them to teach your children jack.

Any profitable 'instruction' little people get will be one-on-one. One on ten won't work - really.

I promise. I've been on both ends.

Eason and Collins are little.

Collins is really little.

The way you educate 1 year olds is that you talk to them like they can understand you and read them a lot of little picture books. When my kids are 1, I'm saying a lot of things like: "Collins - can you say banana? There is one banana. It is yellow. This orange over here is orange. Isn't that funny? It is the same color as its name?"

When your one year old points at the banana and says, "buh", you don't ignore him, and you don't mimic him. You say, "Collins -that's right - that's a banana!" You get enthusiastic without reinforcing the mistake. Not that one year olds are supposed to say 'banana' perfectly, but that you are constantly encouraging correct verbal development.

Unless your four year old little girl says narble instead of marble and then you just make the decision to keep up that charade as long as you can.

And you are letting them know that what they say matters, and that they are being listened to.

But the biggest part of dealing with a 15 month old is obedience. You are trying to get him to learn to obey, so that when he's five, you don't have to worry about obedience, you can worry about phonics. That is the correct order of things. It was a lesson I learned a bit later than I ideally should have, but one I thankfully was taught.
Obedience comes before academics. Get obedience out of the way, so to speak, in the early years.

And then they get older. And the way I talk about bananas changes.

Eason is not quite as little as Collins - right now, he can recognize (and converse quite enthusiastically about) all of his colors, most of his numbers to 10 and about half of his letters. He can write his name, and add very basic things - 1 apple plus 2 apples.

By Christmas, I'd like him to be able to recognize all of his letters, but there is no formal process - just three or so days a week, I get out a white board and say "hey - you what is this?" and if he gets it right, say "good" and if he gets it wrong say "Eas - that's a B, not an M - you know that - B for...banana..."
This process never lasts more than 8 minutes.
He's little.
And bouncy.

And this process should cause neither of us stress. At all. If it does, we do not do it. Or more likely change the way we do it. He's little. Can I say that again? little


all together now?

I read to him a lot, and sometimes he listens when I do more formal stuff with Ada Brooks, but I never require that of him.

And we talk about bananas.

I say "Eas - how many bananas are in this bunch? Count them. Three, good! and how many in this bunch? two, that's right. So how many do we have all together? We don't know? Let's count and find out. Five - awesome! hey eas - what does banana start with? think about it. sound it out. it's a b."

This work with Eason is just based on his personality and where he is developmentally/knowledge-wise. Some kids know all their letters at 18 months, but kids don't have to know all their letters by the time they turn 4. Or 5. But the vast majority can do it, so why not? Unless it causes stress, like I said, and then, really, it's not a big deal.

My point is to give a picture of what I'd call "pre-education" around here - it involves a saturation with words, books, communication and a little bit of real-life math (counting bananas...).

And discipline. Really. The first grade teacher, whether that's at school or home or both, does not need to be trying to teach obedience....

Other than that, relax. Really.
Maybe I'm too relaxed... =)

Then comes Kindergarten. Some folks are opposed to Kindergarten. I'm not, but I could always be wrong.

Doing Kindergarten correctly, in my humble opinion =), means treating it as an in between year - after pre-education, but before formal education. I taught Ada Brooks Kindergarten at home last year - which involved about 1/1/2 - 2 hours of school a day, three to four days a week. Plus she went to Jackson Classical, a two day a week enrichment program for five hours each day.

It's not a lot. My goals for the year were to have ada brooks fluently reading and comprehending what she reads, knowing her math addition and subtraction facts for numbers up to 10 (9 + 7 =16). I didn't invent these goals. I called a bunch of area schools, when were deciding whether to teach her at home or enroll her in school, and found out what they do in Kindergarten: Phonics instruction and basic math instruction.

Why do kindergarten? It gives your child a year to 'prepare' for big school - to get used to completing work, learning in a more structured environment, etc.

Why hesitate about stringent kindergarten: Most kids, especially boys, are not ready to sit in a desk for four hours at the ripe old age of five. They are still bouncy, and forcing their attention spans to be exhausted will frustrate them.

The main goal of kindergarten is to create someone ready to read and loving to learn.

These days, I'm still talking bananas with ada brooks, but it goes more like this "Ada - read that banana muffin recipe to me - I only have a 1/2 tsp measuring spoon clean, but I need 2 tsps of baking powder - how many 1/2 tsps do I need? Four! Awesome! How many tsps would I have if I only had three of these 1/2 tsps? 1 1/2 ! Exactly! Now, can you spell banana?"

Now, if you aren't able to be laid back about bananas or need accountability or want guidance about age appropriate activities for teaching your child (all of which I COMPLETELY sympathize with!), buy this book. It's great.

Slow and Steady, Get me Ready:

It's great - and a great baby present as well. I've never used it rigidly, but it has some great ideas, and gives you an idea of age-appropriate developmental exercises. (Although, be careful, Ada Brooks read at four and tied her shoes at almost six; Eason will be the exact opposite... development is not uniform.....)

[My dear darling husband taught high school physical science and AP physics for a year here in Jackson. He had students who were pregnant and had babies while they had him as a teacher. He found used copies of this book for each of them. Does that make you want to cry? It should. He's the sweetest.]

So, to sum up:

Early childhood is uber-important, but structuring it, in my experience, is uber-nonproductive for the most part. Preschool programs are great - as long as view them for what they are - getting our child outside of his home-bubble, creating a good space for play time, making cute crafts, and time for Mama to recover her sanity (or work/school, etc.).
Talk, listen, ask questions of your children. By the time they get to kindergarten, they'll be just perfectly prepared for everything.

The key, I think, is to be intentional, without creating rules for yourself that will just frustrate everyone in the equation.

But, I could be wrong about it all...
No, really.

1 comment:

  1. thanks so much for the book rec-- been looking for something along these same lines lately, and there are far too many to choose from! i just ordered this on amazon, looking forward to it.