Friday, June 5, 2009

The value of early childhood education

Okay, if this is completely disjointed, its because I am blasting some very nostalgic music. When music and memories get ahold of me, well, I get a little preoccupied. But I'll do my best here.

This blog is about 6 months in the making. At Christmas I was having a conversation with one of my husband's aunts. She asked me what budget cuts she thought needed to be made to pull us out of this recession mess. I told her I really wasn't sure, but thought they could cut back some on space research because, seriously, who cares what is out there? Not me and not most people. We need to spend money within our own borders, not to mention our own planet! Anyway...as you can see I am already getting sidetracked.

After giving my answer, she told me that she thinks cuts need to be made in early childhood education. This came as a total shock to me, since she is a retired teacher, so I asked her why she felt that is where cuts needed to be made. She told me that she felt it was a parent's responsibility to teach their kids what they need to know going into kindergarten, and that the government shouldn't be shelling out money to equip kids for school. Again, I was rather surprised. She told me that if I thought about it after going home, I may change my position. Clearly, she doesn't know me as well as she probably thinks she does, because when it comes to my own opinions and convictions, I am pretty unbendable. But nevertheless I have thought about it some over the past few months, and no, my position hasn't changed.

In a perfect world, sure, all mothers would stay home with their children and devotedly teach their kids the skills necessary going into kindergarten. But sadly, not many mothers financially can, or choose to, stay home and raise their kids. And I don't think its worth breaking the bank or requiring a mother who doesn't want to be a SAHM to be one. That just causes strain and resentment, and who ultimately suffers? The child(ren).

Secondly, even for those parents who do stay home, they (like me) are juggling a million other things, and the structured time spent teaching their kids these things just isn't there. 4 years ago, I started Seth in preschool with much trepidation, and had it not been a Christian preschool probably wouldn't have at all. What I realized not long into his first year was that there was so much he was getting there that he just couldn't get here at home from me. There, he was learning not only the academics, but also peer-related skills, such as sharing, working out disagreements, following another adult's authority, following classroom directions, etc. His only interaction at home during the day was with me and Joy, who at the time was a toddler. That just wasn't nearly as adequate as being around a group of kids his own age. We did play groups, but free play as opposed to structured play-learning is a bit different.

I am not saying everyone can or should put their kids in preschool, but for me, with both Seth and Joy, it was a great thing! Both are way ahead of the curve for their respective grades. I'm not saying preschool had everything to do with that, but it definitely gave them a huge leg up, in my opinion.

I have noticed, as have a number of my friends, that the expectations coming into kindergarten have been raised. Whereas when I was in school we learned to write our names and recognize letters in kindergarten, kids are now expected to have these skills coming into kindergarten. By the end of kindergarten, kids are expected to be able to write 2 -3 sentence journal entries, sound out words, and read simple sentences. With raised expectations, those kids who don't have preschool or parents who work on these pre-k skills with them regularly are labeled as "behind," and put into special programs through the school to help them "catch up." I'm not stereotyping here, just stating a fact, but the vast majority of kids in these programs are from lower-income families; familes who can't afford to pay for early childhood education, so their kids don't come into school equipped.

I am of the mindset that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In my opinion, Head Start and other programs like it, absolutely shouldn't have funding cut! The kids in those programs are exactly the ones who need the leg up coming into kindergarten. Their parents aren't in a position educationally, financially, or otherwise (and some don't have adequate English-speaking skills), to provide early childhood educational skills to their kids. And honestly, paying for Head Start is much cheaper in the long run than paying the public schools to "catch the kid up" the rest of his/her education.

Having worked briefly in a childcare center that worked in conjuncture with Head Start, I saw many of the kids come into the center knowing very little about how to interact with others, and with little to no academic skills, blossom into bright, well-equipped individuals. Maybe I am just an idealist, but I think given the right nurturing, any and every kid has the potential and intelligence to succeed.

I have also seen more and more kids who are "behind" cross into my dad's class over the years. My dad is a special education teacher. While he used to work more with kids with actual disabilities, now he is working more with kids that have behavioral problems or are simply "playing catch up." And while my dad loves these kids and does his best with them, it takes a lot of his time, and I am sure the school's money, to have him work with kids that, had they been given a leg up from the beginning, probably wouldn't need so much, if any, of his help.

Again, in a perfect world, all mothers would be able to stay home with, and have the skills and time necessary to teach their kids all they need to know in their early years. But sadly that isn't the case. So if the government's programs can help these kids, who certainly can't help themselves with these things, then I am all for it.

Cut space research instead. Clearly, our kids need the money more than the moon does! ;) That's my vote!

1 comment:

Beth said...

I agree. I attended a course at UC Davis on this exact subject not three weeks ago!

The Instructor stated that MOST, not all, child who turned 5 before Christmas of the year they started Kindergarten, usually at some point in their school years, whether it be early on or later in high school or even college, they had troubles. They were also labelled as being "behind" and needed to 'Catch up". The dates to start kindergarten are too broad. You dont want young 5 year olds competing academically with older 5 year olds. The difference between them is a year! Thats the difference earlier on from a baby crawling and a toddler walking. How does a child "catch up" when th other children are constantly aging??! That child is not going to catch up because he is younger and his mind isnt as developed as the child who is merely one year older. So you start these children out to fail. And then parents put them in reading programs and special after-school programs, etc all because they chose to start them in school when they were BARELY 5 years old. I do believe what this class instructor taught. I have a son now who has a speech delay and a slight physical development delay. The year he turns 5 he can start Kindergarten. His birthday is in August. Will I start him in Kindergarten that year? No way. If he has the delays then that he is showing now, I wouldnt do that to him. Kindergarten isnt mandatory in California. So why not wait the year to when your child is an older 5 or even 6 and start them? Atleast they'd be the older child and the one ahead (most likely in a typical situation) rather than the child who will never keep up.

Preschool is a good thing and an excellent pre-req to Kindergarten. And its unfortunate that Headstart doesnt allow children to attend over the age of 5 because not all children should go to kindergarten just because they turned 5 years old, as I stated above. :)