on school and learning

Read this. I know it is long, but go ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got coffee. I can wait.

. . .

. . .

Are you crying? Well, I am.

I see The Kidling in this frustrated, insecure face, and it breaks my heart. Even something far less dramatic than the testing described here–the everyday work of kindergarten–has affected my dear girl. She has a phenomenal teacher, but she feels so much pressure from somewhere. Her peers? Herself? I don’t know, but I do know that she meant it when she asked if she could retire from kindergarten a few weeks ago. Being six is, it seems, just too hard these days.

Perhaps this is revisionist history, but I don’t recall feeling this way as a child. And no, it is not because I am so damn old. You see, I do recall walking to afternoon kindergarten with my childhood best friend. I recall social angst and trying to figure out how to navigate friendships. I recall being asked to stop talking by my ever-so-patient teacher. I recall forgetting that I didn’t have to raise my hand to use the restroom and waiting, wiggly and anxious, to be called on rather than just tiptoeing away.

But I do not recall requesting early retirement.

Perhaps the pressure is due, in part, to the fact that it never seems to end. The fact that she is in school all day. The fact that we have to wake her every morning and she doesn’t get quite enough sleep. The fact that, as a dual-income family, we get home, eat dinner, bathe, read a story, and head straight to bed (see above re: sleep). She has a great after school  program that allows her to play and discover organically, but this has been a rough winter, and an outdoorsy kidling needs to get her skinny little bum outside to be happy.

So where does this leave parents?

I want The Kidling to succeed, but what does that even mean? It’s not like she isn’t going to learn to read eventually. Why is it such a big deal that it happen at a particular time or in a particular way? I do know that, when presented with constructive learning activities, she relishes the discovery process. Her face lights up with joy when she comes to a conclusion independently. She listens intently as we talk about engineers and dinosaurs. She labors with quiet joy on elaborate drawings that detail a fantasy world beyond any adult’s imagination.

But my book lover shies away from stories when I ask her to read with me. And it breaks my heart just a little.

I don’t have an answer, dear readers. I won’t even pretend to. But let’s think about this, okay? There has to be a better way.

About The Mamahttp://kidlingville.comProfessional talker, editor, emailer, problem solver, adjunct lecturer, blogger, and mother to the brilliantly absurd Kidling.

19 thoughts on “on school and learning

  1. I left teaching because I felt that the pressure to teach to the curriculum trumped the greater objective of teaching kids to love learning. I don’t know the answers, but I know that the Kidling will succeed. She’s got amazing parents in her corner.

    • Thanks, Mimi. Intellectually, I know that The Kidling will succeed and likely thrive. Eventually. It is the interim struggle that hurts my heart. While I sincerely believe that fighting for success is a good thing, I see her fighting with what I perceive to be the wrong thing. She fights for the love of learning, rather than for the skills and knowledge to fill her lust for new information. And that, Mimi, is what is hard to see.

  2. i am a full day kindy teacher, (4s and 5s) and i believe that play-based, hands-on, explorative kindergarten is right thing and age appropriate for the kinders, including the 6’s. schools feel pressure from the top down to make it more academic, what 1st grade used to be, and it is a constant struggle and balance to keep it child friendly. they are developing, and just need some time to experience things a bit before the pressure of so much planned learning. social emotional learning is what is so important at this stage. how to play, how to be friend, to negotiate, to share, to compromise, to take turns, to feel the emotions – joy, disappointment, discovery, surprise, all of it. your child will go through days like this, make it play based and free as much as possible when home. they seem to adjust to full day quite well, even at a young age, but like us, sometimes it all just gets to be a bit too much and we express ourselves about needing just a little break. best, beth

    • I thought about you when I read the story that prompted this post.

      I agree wholeheartedly, Beth. When The Kidling discovers or learns organically, it is a joy. She feels fulfilled, proud, clever… the way a child should feel when she discovers the answer to her own questions. I simply cannot stand to watch her give up. I am trying my very, very best to help the home portion be fun, but with busy lives and schedules, it is hard. Really hard. I should do better, though.

  3. I’m so glad you reposted this article. Standardized testing taken to the extreme, as it is now, is just incredibly bad in so many ways. My sister is homeschooling largely because of the stress it caused for her kids (they’re in Texas, which is of course where NCLB began). My husband, in working with special ed kids, had to seriously harm his relationships with his students by forcing them to take tests with no modifications, as per regulations, and by not being able to assist them as he normally would. The trust he’d built with them was ruined. Our own kids had no problems with test anxiety but serious problems with all the time spent in class preparing for standardized testing and learning how to take standardized tests. Thankfully we were able to pull out their IEPs for gifted ed and get administration to exempt them from some of that completely useless class time, in favor of something that actually worked toward their academic needs. It’s a very broken system, created by people who truly do not understand kids or the real issues in education.
    -Amy at http://www.momgoeson.wordpress.com

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Amy. The Kidling is fortunate to live in a state whee she doesn’t have to test as a baby learner: she has a few more years of school before she has to face that task. But I read that story and I pictured her in that sweet little girl’s face: frustrated, determined, tired… and I worry. It is, after all, in the job description.

  4. Oh how I love this. I have a 3 year old with SPD & enrolled him in the Headstart Program this year. Everyone told me that he NEEDED it and that I was depriving him by not sending. My Mother was his Number 1 School advocate! He goes but by force, cries every single day and pleads with me to let him stay home. It’s heartbreaking and while I of course want the best for him, I question is it really the best. You are so right, being little never used to be as hard as it today.

    • Oh! Poor boy. Is there a separation anxiety piece to this? At three, I imagine so many levels of duress could be present in leaving Mama and going to pre-school. We went through that phase as well, and The Kidling fought through it. Even now, when she tells me that school is too much work and not enough play, she is still glad to go to school. I hope that part of her experience will hold true for your son. Best of luck to you. To both of you.

      • There is absolutely extreme separation anxiety. Part of his Sensory Disorder is that he doesn’t interact well with others. It’s so difficult to leave him knowing he’s so fearful but on the other hand it’s one of the reasons why I think it may be important.

  5. Oh this made me so sad. I’m a high school English teacher in NZ. We introduced standardized testing into our Primary school system a few years ago (to the disgust and horror of primary school teachers nationwide) and when you read stories like this, it just seems so wrong!
    Like you, I don’t remember any testing or stress in early primary (aside from a few tear-stained evenings when my parents tried to teach me long division – but I’m pretty sure I would cry if they tried to do it now too). Poor kids should not be concerned with where they sit on the bell curve. They should be able to learn and discover in an organic way. There will be plenty of time for tests and pressure in high school (not that that’s necessarily good either, but at least they are better equipped to deal with it by then).

    • Can you imagine what your students will look like in a few years when they began as kindergartners struggling through a test that was not designed to assess the things that happened in their particular classrooms? Will they be burned out? Smarter? Jaded? Motivated? I have such a hard time seeing the benefit in an endeavor like the one described in the article I linked to. Best of luck to your kiwi kidlings.

  6. This is so tough to read. Like you, I remember going to kindergarten vividly, and while there were certainly things that stymied me from time to time (why can’t I deliver everyone’s carton of milk to their napping mat EVERY day?!), I never wanted to retire.

    There will be pressures in school soon enough–I just don’t understand the thought process in stressing these little ones so early. The love of learning is going to carry them much farther down the road than being able to discern if an object is divided into three equal parts at the tender age of 5. I don’t know how we fix the system, but something is most definitely broken…

  7. We pulled my son out of kindergarten a few years back after being horrified by exactly what you are referring to, with the intention of homeschooling… Because of some amazingly lucky circumstances we have been able to enroll him in an incredible little montessori school nearby that will go through middle school, and no, they are not bound to state rules on standardized testing. My friends think I’m a little batty to be obsessing about high school already, but I can’t help it! I feel very strongly in my opinions about traditional schooling, and we are seriously considering sending both of our children to the Sudbury School in Framingham Ma. It’s pretty radical, but all of my experience so far has led to me to belive that children thrive best in that type of environment. And this comes from a mother of two elementary aged children who was also once a public school kindergarten teacher’s assistant…

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