November 6, 2011

Balloons, Sticks and Magic

I love the preschool I chose for Henry.  All of his teachers are very knowledgeable and nurture each child entrusted to their care. It is a very safe place to learn, play and build wonderful friendships.

I can't think of anything more important than finding just the right school for my children.  I'm currently wrestling with the decision of where to send the boys for their elementary education.  It is an unbelievably complicated one due in part to the housing market and Henry's--well, shall we say, precociousness.  For now, though, I couldn't be more pleased with the setting in which they are being educated.

...except for the overemphasis on phonics.  Although it is a private school, I suspect that the teachers have been asked to align their curriculum with the local public school district.  For two weeks in a row, students in Henry's class were tested on letter identification.  Tested.  Um, they're four years old.  They will be tested from now until they bubble in the last item on the MCAT, GRE or LSAT.  Twenty years of testing and being a data point on some institution's graph.  Twenty years of being compared to others, to being judged not as an entire person but as a numerical score.*  I did not give birth to educational statistics.

Of course I understand the importance of a benchmark assessment.  Criterion-referenced progress information is invaluable to educators and parents alike.   But do we have to say the "T" word when we're talking about prekindergarten?  And what did the test tell us?  According to last month's newsletter:  most [of the children] are having trouble with b, d, p, and q.    Seriously?  Well,  I certainly hope so.  Each one of those lowercase letters is a balloon with a stick attached to it.  And the kids are four.   F-O-U-R.

Maybe this isn't so much a rant about testing as it is a concern about early reading instruction in the United States.  And that, my friends, is another post.  Hey, it's probably another blog.  But I'll leave you with this:  if you have been entrusted with the care of a child under the age of five, the best thing you can do (for both of you) is to read Mem Fox's Reading Magic.  I guarantee you'll never look at bedtime stories the same way.

*Again, this is not happening to my children right now, thank goodness.  But the writing is on the wall and keeps this mom/teacher up at night.


  1. I am definitely going to look up and read this Reading Magic. I know my concerns with Tate going to pre-school next year are not along the same lines since he's so much younger, but I do not get/like the idea that some of these private pre-schools have 'tests' for the children. I can't even fathom what my 3 year old will have to do alone in a room with a stranger. Sigh.

  2. The question I have is if so many of us agree about this why isn't anything changing?! Sam is not quite four yet, and next year he'll be in a 4K program. I haven't decided yet where he will go... mainly because the Catholic pre-school he attends now is so convenient to my whereas the free public school near where we live (20 minutes away) is just that: free. And all his friends from THIS preschool will be at the same school next year whereas all his friends from our neighborhood will be at the school by our house. I know lots of moms that are weighing these schooling decisions heavily, but to be honest my decisions are probably always going to be made based on convenience and cost... unless something appears that shows me a clear learning advantage for my children. At this point, I'm taking it 6 months at a time, but it sounds like it will soon get much more complicated. Thanks for book recommendation. I clicked the link and ordered it. Can't wait to read it. We're a 3-to-5-books-before-bedtime household, and just recently I started thinking about HOW children learn to read. Phonics? Visual recognition? Looks like the timing of this book recommendation could be just what I'm looking for.

  3. I also had a real problem with all the testing before school even started. Then, they keep the results of the tests forEVER. I'm no thrilled about the fact that some computer somewhere is keeping a record of my kids' progress from age 4 to adulthood. AND that they can connect it to my child - so it's not just some random number put in for statistics. UGH. We've created a monster.

  4. As you know, I chose a private Montessori elementary school for my son and there are no tests. Part of the Montessori concept that all children learn at their own paces and speeds and not only is that respected, it is put into practice. So check into's a really great option!

  5. It really is sad and ridiculous testing letters at such a young age! As for the "T" word, we have in Hebrew a relatively new word used for the lower grades instead of the word "test". The idea behind is that the younger ages [and I'm talking about 1st, 2nd graders...] shouldn't be tested but just checked. Might be a good idea, but everybody knows that "mivdak" means a test...
    Oh and let me tell you another ridiculously - it has become very popular for kids in the last year of kindergarten [a side note: school here begins at 1st grade] to take lessons [after kindergarten hours] in preparation for the 1st grade! Why on earth does a 5 year old need to prepare himself for the first grade?? {and I'm not talking about trying to get into a private or special school, rather for a normal public school)