Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Are we rushing kids?

Here’s a couple education-related items that are interesting to consider side by side:

The first is a YouTube video presentation “Shift Happens,” created by Karl Fisch, technology director at Arapahoe High School in Colorado (scroll down in the blog post to view the video). It looks at how radically our world is being transformed by computers, technology and globalization in general (plenty of eye-opening stats) – with the implication being that teachers of students today can’t even anticipate the problems their students will be facing and the job descriptions they’ll be filling and that their schooling must be focused on making them flexible, critical, creative and technologically literate thinkers.

Then there’s this article by Susan Johnson, a behavioral and developmental pediatrician in Colfax, California. Johnson considers how children’s brains develop and makes the argument that young kids are most effectively building their minds as future readers when they are doing things like jumping, running, engaging in imaginary play, skipping and walking on balance beams than when they are trying to learn to decode words and apply phonics rules before they are developmentally ready to master such skills. (It’s all about developing integration between the left and right hemispheres of the brain through physical movement -- an integration that eventually makes fluent reading possible).

In our rush to educate our kids for a changing and technologically driven world, maybe it makes sense to remember that we are first tactile, physical beings -- and that young, young kids still need playgrounds and free play more than desk-sitting, letters drilling and educational computer games.

What do you think? Are we pushing kids to read, write and use computers at too young of an age? Or do you feel the urgency to have your child practice those nuts and bolts of formal schooling as early as possible?


Grace said...

Since our child is 4, at this point we let her lead the way. We do LOTS of arts and crafts, hours of imaginative play, tons of outside time and nature walks, and some reading and math. SHE asks to read to her little sister many mornings and SHE asks to learn math and adding numbers. If we let them our children can help US figure out a good pace. Of course I'm not saying that as they mature they will not need more structured learning environments but if we want to raise children who WANT to learn then learning should be fun and when they show interest in learning something I think it best to indulge that.

Personally for us, there is no way I could keep my daughter from reading until she is 7 years old! She asks us when she doesn't know what sound a letter makes or when she doesn't know a word she wants to learn to read. But I also understand Johnson's point of view - running and bouncing and playing are an integral part of laying the foundation for learning.

After months of being on various email group lists (learning, homeschool, etc.) and being exposed to many different philosophies about learning I think the main thing I have taken from it is that there is not ONE BEST way to teach your child and there is not ONE BEST type of school. Children learn in different ways and at different paces. Finding the place and pace that works for your child and your family is the most important thing.

Grace said...

OK, one thing I forgot. This is a little off topic but something I read and hear about all the time. I think another major issue is overscheduling children in activities. Too much organized sports, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, art, music, or whatever seems to kill the desire to learn and participate in some children. I saw a child breakdown last year in a ballet class. Her mom said she was just tired because she had gymnastics the day before, dance on Tues, church on Wed, music on Thurs and something else on Friday!!! She was 4 years old! I was pooped just hearing about it. It is the same concept as trying to force a child to sit and learn math or learn to read -

Annie Addington said...

Great points in both of your comments, Grace. (Following your child's lead as a learner is key.) Here's an e-mail from another reader who tried to post a comment but had computer difficulties:

I just read your post from today about teaching kids too early. I have to admit that I was astonished when Joshua’s teacher at the daycare informed me that at age 3, Joshua would be learning to write his letters, and now after January will be learning how to write his first name. I couldn’t believe that they would teach them how to write at this early of an age. We’ve always encouraged learning to Joshua, and from day one incorporated learning numbers, shapes, and colors in play time. But I just couldn’t see my 3 year old sitting at a table and trying to write letters. I do have to admit, though that he is doing better at it than I thought he would – if he is able to trace the letter. He doesn’t do as well if he tries to write the letter by himself, so if they send practice work home with him, I don’t make him do it. I will work with him to trace the letters, but I don’t force him to sit there and write the letter himself if he is having difficulty doing it.

Karl Fisch said...

I think too often we are pushing our kids too fast. The pressure on schools to get them ready for "the tests," combined with well-educated, high achieving, well-meaning parents with plenty of income to spend on their kids and constant messages about their children needing to be "competitive" has created a culture where it's never too early to pressure your child. (And, unfortunately, Shift Happens has been used in that context more than once.)

There was a book quite a few years ago titled The Hurried Child (or something like that) - and I think things have gotten much worse since then. I think there's a difference between having your child exposed to and participating in lots of different learning activities that are developmentally appropriate for them and pushing them to "achieve and succeed." It is hard, because the kids pick it up from those around them and think they have to do all those things as well. We have a seven year old and are constantly trying to balance school and the activities that she wants to do.

I think that until we redefine school as a learning space that is designed to meet the needs of the students, as opposed to getting them ready to be successful and meet the needs of society, we're going to be in for a rough time.

Annie Addington said...

Thanks for writing in Karl. I hope it didn’t seem that I paired these two pieces – the video and the article -- as somehow opposing one another. In their very different ways (and as they address students of different ages), I thought they provided interesting food for thought about how some of our outdated but still standard practices of teaching kids primarily from textbooks, asking them to regurgitate facts and emphasizing skills and drills over creativity do a disservice to students of all ages – whether they’re in pre-school or high school. Glad you’ve prompted some discussion among educators on this one.

Karl Fisch said...

Annie - No, I wasn't thinking you had paired them that way. Yeah, it has started just a few more conversations than I had anticipated!