Why I’ve got the junior kindergarten jitters

cursiveWe registered our son for junior kindergarten next September. I’m far more nervous about it than he is. In fact, he’s quite excited at the prospect of going to “big kid school” and points it out every time we walk by. On the other hand, I feel quite apprehensive. My concerns are more academic than emotional. Though I’m reluctant to imagine him being gone all day, unsupervised by me, my biggest concern is what he’ll be learning and how he’ll be learning it.

I’m very old-fashioned in my approach to education. Influenced by my parents’ lifestyle and my homeschooled background, I am strongly anti-technology when it comes to teaching small children. The early years of school, I believe, are the time to be reading books, drawing pictures, memorizing poems, singing songs, telling stories, and counting objects. It is not the time to be sitting them down in front of computer screens and smart boards and causing their curious little eyes to glaze over as they manipulate the mouse and learn their lessons from a digitalized voice emanating from speakers, instead of listening to human intonation. OK, maybe this is an oversimplification that will create some controversy among you readers, but these are my deep, dark feelings. Regardless, I keep my kid far away from my computer; he doesn’t know how to do anything on it and I’m happy to keep it that way for as long as possible.

I don’t want to be “that parent” who causes a whole pile of trouble for the overworked kindergarten teachers, but this is my kid’s brain we’re talking about and I take that pretty seriously. That’s why, when my husband and I walked into the registration, we questioned the teacher on technology use in the classroom.

“It’s minimal, only about half an hour a week that they’re on the computers. And it’s all educational,” she assured us.

We didn’t sign the internet release form. I’m just not comfortable with signed any internet release form for my four-year-old, no matter how educational the website may be. “What if he just went into the corner to read a book while his friends are on the computer?”

The teacher looked surprised. “Well, of course you can do that, but he’d be the only one.” Frankly, I’m less concerned with him ‘joining the herd’ than what’s filling his mind.

Then the teacher told us about the smart boards that have replaced blackboards in the classroom. “They’re like a giant iPad. The kids can manipulate images and text to create story boards. It’s basically the same as writing and drawing stores on paper, except it’s on the smart board.”

But it’s not the same thing! I wanted to protest. Manipulating a pencil on paper seems much more developmentally challenging than dragging images around on a smart board.

I talked about my concerns with a friend, who informed me that she read in the paper that schools will stop teaching cursive handwriting in order to make more time to teach computers. I was horrified. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not against computers. I make my living by working online, day in and day out, and I love my job. But I never learned computers at school. Computers do not require special class time hours, in my opinion. Kids get enough exposure to computers in after-school hours not to require it to be taught specifically, which I think is a waste of time. Rather, I’d prefer my kid to work on drilling grammar, memorizing times tables, expanding vocabulary, working his way through the classics of Western literature throughout the years of his education, learning to craft a critical essay with effective paragraph construction, become comfortable with public speaking. These are the skills that will really get my kid somewhere in life.

Well-Trained MindMy parents were so fed up with the education system that they pulled me out of school in grade six. After much research, they found a book called “A Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home” by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Its curriculum included the usual school subjects, with the addition of less common subjects such as formal logic, classical Greek, Latin, vocabulary roots, grammar, and classical literature, with a strong emphasis on history. I knew I wanted to attend university, and that would require maintaining a high academic standard and work ethic at home.

Our day began early, when my sister and I lit the woodstove to heat our schoolhouse. We had to be at our desks by 7:30 a.m. We worked independently until lunchtime on various subjects, thanks to the special textbooks written for homeschoolers that enabled self-direction. (My sister and I were very happy not to have our mother hovering over us.) Afternoons were flexible; sometimes I’d take my books and head by canoe to a sunny rock face on the other side of the lake. In the evenings, Mom marked our work and set our to-do list for the next day; Dad answered any questions relating to math and science. Once a week, we attended music lessons, and had classes with our classical Greek and French tutors.

It was intense, but it was pure education. Our house was steeped in learning, with piles of fascinating, diverse books piled on every available surface. I swear my mom single-handedly supported the local library with the overdue fines she accumulated. We were told to read, read, read, and to discuss everything that we read. We had a computer at home, but no internet connection. I appreciated that computer most of all during our paragraph-writing unit, when my mom made me write and rewrite my paragraphs a hundred times over till I’d perfected them. Other than that, it mostly sat unused.

In his tremendously influential book, “Last Child in the Woods,” author Richard Louv cites a ten-year study showing that computers shouldn’t be introduced into classrooms till high school. One quote I love and hate simultaneously: “Public education is enamored of, even mesmerized by, what might be called silicon faith: a myopic focus on high technology as salvation.”

This strikes fear into my heart. Why? Because I’m afraid I’ll be so disillusioned with the school system-style of education that I’ll pull the plug and agree to homeschool my kids, which I don’t want to! I’m so eager to have my own time and space to pursue my writing dreams that the idea of homeschooling is completely depressing. But if I disagree entirely with how and what my kids are being taught, and I’m still at home, what choice do I have? At least no decisions have to be made yet. We’ll give school our best shot and fingers crossed it goes well.

photo: takingnote.learningmatters.tv
photo: takingnote.learningmatters.tv

Related posts: On Nature-Deficit Disorder: book review
How Being Homeschooled Has Served Me Well

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19 thoughts on “Why I’ve got the junior kindergarten jitters

  1. My feelings on technology are similar to yours in that I don’t want my kid to go to school and learn how to do everything on a computer. On the other hand, technology is so much more pervasive now than it was when we were children that it becomes almost impractical to keep our kids away from it. I remember having computer class in grade school for about an hour or two every week where we learned how to use the internet to find information and write documents on a word processor. It’s important for kids to learn how to use technology as a tool, not a subject. You’re absolutely right about using pencil and paper not being the same thing as writing or drawing on a smart board. I don’t think four-year olds should be using technology in school at all. What do four-year olds need to go onto the internet for? I wouldn’t sign that release form for my kids either, but then I’d have to worry about my kid feeling left out for being the only one who can’t go on the computers while all his classmates do. There’s no winning.

    1. Pervasive, it certainly is! But that’s why I’m motivated to limit my children’s exposure to technology as much as I can, simply because it is all over the place. I know my kid will probably feel left out at times, and I’m not planning on being obsessively hard-nosed about refusing to let him use it, but hopefully we’ll have open family discussions about technology’s role in our life and the importance of viewing it as a fortunate aid to education, not the focal point of education. You’re totally on the mark when you say “tool, not subject.” Good luck in trying to strike that balance with your kids!

  2. Change is in everything, it is the nature of things. Some skills die out with the time. Although there are some that are long lasting perhaps pencil and paper are not one of them. How concerned are you that you cannot use a slide ruler (I’m assuming you can’t use a slide ruler)? How disturbed are you that mathematics students do not have to actually look up their logarithmic values on sheets of printed data (its all on a calculator now)? Perhaps these things are less elementary but the fact remains that we live in a different time than we grew up in and many of the skills we value and that helped us are no longer applicable in the work world. Computers are a big part of our life, and I think learning to use them (early!) can vastly improve prospects in real life, particularly in the job world.

    Also, to a certain extent fitting in, and learning to fit in (two different things) with the ‘herd’ is just as important to your son’s brain as learning other basic. Its all a balance of course.

    1. Hi P,
      Thanks for your comments. I agree wholeheartedly that change is inevitable and that we must be open to it. That does not mean passively accepting all changes as good ones, because not all of them are. Technology has wonderful things to offer us; look at my career options that have opened up as a result of having the internet at home. But it’s when computer classes at the elementary school level begin to take away time from what I consider to be the real educational foundations that I get concerned.
      Computer knowledge is now commonplace, yet that’s not what gets our kids good jobs. It’s leadership skills, extrovertism and dynamism, an ability to communicate effectively, to think on one’s feet, to analyze critically. Anyone these days can use Excel or Photoshop (or learn very quickly), but unless communication and logic are taught from an early age, that can’t get taught in a crash course. Think of when you receive an email from someone that’s full of spelling errors: how does that make you feel? Would you still want to hire someone who can barely write but is a talented gamer? Of course, it depends on what the job description is, but I’m speaking generically. For me, there’s no greater turn-off than misuse of a comma or apostrophe 🙂
      Calculators are a necessity when the math requires and thank god for them. I used them a lot in high school and university – but that’s when I really need them, not for doing grade 1 math. (A teacher friend just confirmed that grade 1 students DO use calculators for addition. That’s negligent education.)

      1. Perhaps computer knowledge is now commonplace because it has been learned in schools. I know some people of an older generation who do not know how to use excel for example and who have a very difficult time learning (they are not unintelligent). It causes them to have a harder time in the workplace and even with their peers.

        Of course all the other skills you mentioned are important in job search\life in general. I’m not saying they are not important. Learning with a computer for a appropriate time during the day does not necessarilty take away from that learning. Haven’t you ever felt that members of your parents generation emphasize skills that are no longer relevant? You of course do not need a calculator for anything, as is proved by the mathematicians of the past, and yet their abundance and ease of access in society negates (to some extent!) the skills needed for not having them, so why not learn how to use a calculator instead (and other technology in the general case).

        Asside:
        Its actually pretty funny that I used a comma splice in my previous post.

      2. I agree with everything except the part about memorizing poems. (That is considered cruel and unusual punishment in my books.) I agree with your general point though; kids should learn the basics by hand, and technological shortcuts later.

  3. I really believe that computers at school in this early age makes the lifes of teacher easy in class, but this does not mean that it is good for the kids. If kids do not learn to write and draw in these early ages then when? It is the same as buying bread from the store and bake it at home putting your hands in the dough. The second seems more satisfying procedure that make you feel also more indepentant and free spirit.

    1. I agree, and that’s why it’s all the more awesome that E. has a mom like you to help him in those activities. It’s so important for the home life to foster the well-rounded education that we want for our kids if the school system isn’t providing it.

  4. “It is not the time to be sitting them down in front of computer screens and smart boards and causing their curious little eyes to glaze over as they manipulate the mouse and learn their lessons from a digitalized voice emanating from speakers, instead of listening to human intonation.”

    I wouldn’t worry about their eyes glazing over – kids are enraptured by computers, if anything I’d be worried they are too engaged. Also kids programs today typically use voice actors because they are so much more engaging than robotic voices.

    The average kid may get enough exposure to computers after-hours, but there are still families that can’t afford computers/internet (or choose not to expose their kids). Computer skills are essential to most people’s daily lives. For self-study in particular the internet is invaluable.

    Why do you think learning cursive writing is valuable?

    I think that by having your children sit out during computer time, you are not only socially isolating them, but teaching them that computers are bad and should be avoided. Even if it were true that the computer activities they did in school are not developmentally appropriate, its simply not true that computers can’t be develpmentally helpful. For example it was long thought that first-person-shooter games were a waste of time (developmentally), and now we’re learning that they enhance working memory, visual-scene comprehension, hand-eye co-ordination, team-work, planning, problem solving, etc. http://www.ted.com/talks/daphne_bavelier_your_brain_on_video_games.html

    Smart boards are an awful waste of money because you can do the same thing with a projector and a wii mote, but I enjoyed using them in school. Some skills I learned in school which I probably wouldn’t have learned on my own: programming (JAVA), HTML, AutoCAD, Photoshop, statistics in Excel, GarageBand, Finale, Windows Movie Maker, … And computers were still fairly new, I think my school got internet when I was in grade 5 – I image that computer education has improved substantially.

    Why not let your children participate, and ask them what they’re doing in computer class? At least then you’ll know what you may be depriving them of,

    1. Hello A,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response to my post. You’ve raised some good and valid points that I’ll try my best to address. First of all, I’m not against computers at all. I’m not out to prove to my kid that they’re wrong or bad. I believe that there is a time and place for computers, and it’s not in an elementary school classroom. We have up-to-date computer technology at home that my son will use under monitored conditions. He will learn to use the internet for research purposes and limited entertainment. He loves watching the occasional Youtube video even now, or sometimes sees his dad playing computer games. We treat computers with respect at home, discussing their many benefits but also emphasizing the importance of knowing when to turn them off and interact in person.

      You’re right that computer skills are essential to most people’s daily lives, but I bet all those programming skills you listed were learned in later years at school; am I correct in guessing that? I’m all for adding a computer class in high school, once kids have established a solid foundation in knowing how to handwrite, print, spell, speak eloquently in public, argue and debate effectively, and use proper grammar. I guess I take issue with the fact that computers make learning too easy for certain kids, i.e. spell checking, grammar checking, etc. How is a kid supposed to learn these things if not getting them drilled in by hand?

      That leads to my belief in the importance of handwriting. By writing or printing by hand — at least in my experience — it’s easier to imprint information onto my brain. I put away my laptop after 1st year of university because I didn’t remember nearly as much from lectures as I did when I handwrote my notes. The aforementioned spelling and grammar lessons are more effective when done by hand. Plus, it’s simply makes a kid more versatile — they’re not dependent on having a computer around in order to communicate. Being able to write letters and thank you notes and grocery lists has become a rarer skill nowadays, and that’s sad.

      As for the positive effect of video games, I’ll check out the link you posted. My husband used to be a huge gamer and still loves it in moderation. I don’t have a problem with the games so much as the obsession they can become. If games are enjoyed once in a while, by all means, that’s fun. If it starts eating into time for reading and play and school work, then that’s problematic.

      Hopefully that clarifies my stance a bit more!

  5. I’ve always been of the opinion that until high school, learning should primarily take place at home. School is for developing social skills. For that reason, I don’t much care what’s taught or how it’s taught. Until high school, that is.

    1. That’s a very interesting take on it, Scott, and I do see your point. At-home learning is crucial, for sure, no matter how high the standard of education is at school. Parents often become too complacent, leaving it up to teachers to do what they should really be doing at home. So in that regard, I agree. But childhood is also the time to teach kids to love formal learning, and if that gets neglected, you could end up with high school students who don’t care a hoot for academics.

  6. I wasn’t sure how to reply to your concern. You and your sister were lucky to be able to self-learn. I personally wouldn’t have made it and one of my sons, I know for sure, wouldn’t be able to self-learn. I agree that the school system isn’t perfect. In the Fifties, we sat down and learned the times table wrote out the alphabet for penmanship (the penmanship didn’t help me at all, since my co-workers asked me always to type my notes to them). It also frustrates me when I hand out the correct coinage and a large bill to a retail person (such as Tim Horton’s), so I would receive a paper change. and the cashier says that I gave her too much money. unfortunately, due to larger students in classes, the teachers are limited. Maybe the parents (who are able to) need to teach our children what the system is lacking. Is home schooling, or a private school the answer? One son went to our High school that taught self-learning and did exceptionally well. But our other son went to a regular High school and graduated almost with honours. I would think parents need to be vigilant of what the school system is doing. Volunteer at the school or join the parents teachers association, this way maybe you could stay in touch. Good Luck.

  7. I agree with what you’ve said. It *seems* that Ally’s kindergarten class only uses their two computers during free time, and that most of the time other kids beat her to it. I don’t let her use the computer at home, and it was EXTREMELY evident when she got to play with the school computer during my parent/teacher interview and didn’t know how to operate the mouse.
    I want my children to learn reading and writing, cursive, proper spelling and grammar; everything that they should know, and I want them to exceed my knowledge in it. There was never a big focus on schoolwork when I was growing up, so I really want to teach my children to love learning and constantly challenge themselves intellectually.

    1. I’m sure that your kids will love learning simply by virtue of having a parent who cares about that and acknowledges its importance. That’s the first step.

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