Monday, February 27, 2006

How to Teach kids- How to Burn Them Out

Los Angeles Times: My kid, a burnout at 5

I work with short people and I can attest to the truth of this. Reading Riting and Rithmetic are the norm- teachers fight this in their own ways, though. Our class has centre time and field trips, but we also go full days. Where I am from this is unusual. Kids work is play. Social skills are lacking and we wonder why. Well- I think it is because we expect so much academically, that we forget that we are social beings first. If we do not have that social context, we will be bright but stupid. And sometimes just plain mean. Kids should LOVE kindergarten, and they should be excited to play and run and sing and dance- not just sit sit sit sit- In the words of Dr. Suess.

Stories shouldn't have to have a reason to fit into the curriculum. The stupidest books out there are the reading books for kids this age. They are devoid of imagination, and are boring as hell. Whoevev made these things must hate to read themselves. I am so angry when kids are forced to read crappy books or literature just because it is curricular. When I do my small group is when we PLAy with books and stories and songs and language.

Parents need to read to their kids too. The more parents read, the better example they set for their children and the more literate they are. When my kids were little we read EVERYTHING- Suess, Sendak, Munsch- and I adapted the stories to fit the kids. I WAS SO MAD and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE were favorites. SO was an Usborne book called DUCK ON HOLIDAY- I hated the book, but my son loved it. It was an everynighter. We would read four or five books, sing songs, finish with the MOON SONG, and tuck in. It took an hour but all three kids are avid readers. We went to the library, we played puppets and dress up and had a room for crafts- glue and glitter were everywhere. We marched around the living room playing our instruments (imaginary of course) to SEVENTY SIX TROMBONES from the Music Man. There were oodles of neighbourhood kids over daily. The Tooth Fairy was attacked by the cat one day- the evidence was the glitter on the floor and the red (lipstick ) on the cats. (Mommy had do change and had to come up with a good reason why the Tooth Fairy had not come) We sang into broccoli while cooking dinner. We had Easter Trees and Christmas Eggs. We fished in the pond for crawly things- and Mommy fell in.... We talk about this stuff still, and my kids are old now. Way past childhood.

I dunno- get involved and bitch if kindergarten is tough on your kids, and do what you can at home. A couple of bucks and a big imagination can take your kids further than learning to print their names properly.

My kid, a burnout at 5
When did kindergarten become a full-time job for children?
By L.J. Williamson
L.J. WILLIAMSON is a writer living in Granada Hills.

February 27, 2006

MY SON ALREADY hates school, and he's just halfway through kindergarten.

It's not because his family isn't pro-school. Daddy has a PhD and is a professor, just like Grandpa was; Grandma has a master's of science degree, and because Mom is a writer, you can bet little Ricky knew his ABCs well before the first day of class.

We were excited when school began and confident, given his advance preparation and egghead background, that our son would do well.

It took three days before the bad reports started coming in.

"You need to teach your son how to write his name," the teacher said.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, sure she had my son confused with some other child. "He knows how to write his name."

"Yes, but he's writing it in capital letters. He needs to write it in upper and lower case."

That was when I first noticed that things had changed since I was 5.

The extent of the changes didn't sink in until after Halloween, when our son brought home an enchanting book he'd made, full of paintings of pumpkins. Yet instead of viewing it with pleasure, it left us feeling depressed. My husband pointed out that school had been in session for more than two months and these were the first pieces of art he'd brought home. Until that point, everything else had been worksheets filled with letters and numbers.

When I was in kindergarten, there were ABCs, finger painting, a nap, and mommy picked you up at noon. Now kindergarten is a 30-hour-a-week job. There's nightly homework; finger painting is a rare treat; and as for naps, there just isn't time.

Have the needs of 5-year-olds really changed that much? Not according to Ricky. When I asked him what he liked most about school, he said, "Recess."

I pressed for something positive. "Don't you like rug time?" His answer: "No, because I have to just do nothing but sit for a long time."

"What about seatwork time?" "No, I don't like it because I have to just work so fast."

During a talk at our son's preschool, visiting kindergarten teachers talked up the benefits of having children wait until age 6 to begin kindergarten, rather than enrolling them as soon as they become eligible at 5. "They'll be really ready, they'll have the advantage of being the oldest in the class, and when they get to high school, they'll be the first ones to drive." And in response to my queries about the rigorous academics we found in kindergarten, my son's teacher explained that the current kindergarten curriculum was, until five years ago, the first-grade curriculum.

So if we are being advised to wait until age 6 to begin school, and the first-grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten, the kindergarten I once knew has effectively been eliminated. No wonder there is a drive for universal preschool. Preschool is the new kindergarten.

The reason schools have pushed down the curriculum to younger students? Higher test scores mean more cash, because the state pegs teacher bonuses to academic performance index improvements. So now children are being prodded to work at a level above what may be developmentally appropriate — especially for those children with "late birthdays" who actually start kindergarten at 4 — so the schools can earn bonuses for improving performance. But at what cost to the kids?

It seems that advocates of universal preschool believe the solution to problems in our schools is to simply add more school. Yet if the funds proposed to create universal preschool were used to boost teacher salaries and hire more classroom aides, it could make a big dent overnight in the so-called teacher shortage.

Teachers need to spend less time chasing bonuses and more time considering the problems inherent in pressuring children to read a year earlier than they used to, before the existence of API scores and the cookie-cutter Open Court reading program.

If school is drudgery from the start, it's no wonder that the Los Angeles Unified School District has a high dropout rate. I'm hopeful that kindergarten will one day be a hazy memory for my son, but I'm fearful that it will set the tone for the remainder of his school years.


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