Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Education Obsession (Are Children Being Taught Too Much?)

I recently spoke with a friend of mine who told me how her three year old son was being sent home from preschool with homework each week.  Homework!  While not mandatory, the teacher relented, the top of each page said "Return by Friday".  I didn't think to ask what sort of homework might be required of a three year old, but I began to imagine what sort of work my own three year old might be capable of, being a bright child in my opinion, but pretty much on par with most kids his age.  Perhaps it was an animal coloring sheet, or one with shapes, or maybe even something meant for self-expression.  But if I gave my three year old schoolwork to do, I'd expect some exuberant scribbles, a few folds and tearing of the paper and maybe a couple peanut butter and jelly smears for extra credit.

Our society seems to be currently immersed in an education obsession (or an "education bubble", as my economically-minded husband would say).  Perhaps this shift is the result of an era of mindless television programming that went on for a good couple of decades (mostly throughout my childhood, I'll add);  the kind of nonsense that would rot one's brain.  Now children's television is bathed in a slathering of education as Dora chants out key words in Spanish and translates them into English.  Little Einsteins save the world once again with their skippy little songs and rhymes and Word Girl decodes another 4th grade level vocabulary word to render the villainous perpetrator harmless. (Villainous and perpetrator being advanced fourth grade words, of course!)

One needn't look past the typical toy box in today's modern home to see the effect this education focus has weaved into our lives.  I'll use my home as an example.  Our small toybox in the living room is meant to contain toys primarily for the 3 and under crowd in our house.  I expect my older children to keep their "junk" in their own bedrooms for their personal enjoyment, and ultimately so I don't have to trip over even more items on my way to the kitchen!  Yet, off of the top of my head, I can think of many "learning enhancing" toys that are specifically for babies and toddlers.  There is a soft, cloth covered caterpillar toy decorated with the primary colors and multiple buttons on each hump of his body.  Press the buttons and you have the option to hear colors, numbers, ABC's, and music by some of the most famous classical composers.  It's like a sugar coated dose of culture all in a cuddly little buddy with a dozen or so dangley, cute little caterpillar feet.  We also have one of those musical drums that allows you to hear in English - or French! - ABC's, and helps you to recognise patterns by letting you copy and play recorded beats.  There's another cute little spider creature whose belly is made of a plastic screen.  Touch the spider's tummy and she'll spin a magical web of letters, numbers and shapes!

It's fantastic really - these toys would have seemed too good to be true when I was a baby, let alone back when my parents were children.  They would sound like space-age, futuristic inventions that were made exclusively for the rich and famous.  Yet, we have all of that and more for just 20 or 30 dollars!

While we're on the topic of educating the very young, I can remember coming across an advertisement of a CD set for the unborn baby.  This curriculum, per se, was designed specifically to enhance your baby's brain development and promote exceptional learning and stimulate potential, all while the baby rested cosily in his mother's womb!  A smiling, smartly dressed, responsible looking mother was shown with a discreetly exposed pregnant belly that had oversized earphones hooked up to it, allowing the sound to be transmitted into the baby's cozy world.

I'm not disputing the fact that good music and exposure to quality literature and stimulating conversation isn't beneficial to young children, babies and perhaps even the unborn child, but isn't this picture looking a little bit obsessive?  At every turn, we are commended and even chided into pouring education into our children.  We compare their development to the charts and wonder what is age-appropriate and whether they are behind or advanced compared to other kids their age.  We look for schools that will expose them to MORE opportunities for MORE educational, cultural experiences so as not to limit their potential (and eventually their future career.)  We buy charts and flash cards, games and LeapPads, and especially movies which can qualify as both entertaining and educational so we can have an occasional break from the tedious, success driven stimulation of our children's most precious possession - their brains! 

I am concerned.  Whatever happened to letting children play?  Where is the opportunity for imaginative recreation - the kind where clothes become muddy and you are required to tend to the occasional scraped knee?

These are simply my observations, yet I've felt a turning in my perspective as I wade through the clutter of "educational toys" that fill my kids rooms and toyboxes.  There can be toys surrounding my 1 year old, and yet he goes back to the cupboard and finds a cup and it's lid and experiments by twisting and banging and maneuvering it every which way until he succeeds in connecting the two ends together properly so they stick.  He delights in such a simple, wholesome activity that required me to spend no money, prepare no lesson and consult no manual of the latest scientific, neurological research.

Should these kids spend their days playing with sticks and dirt????

Stay tuned, and we'll find out whether I'm brave enough to do the unthinkable and purge the unimaginative toys and media from our home...

1 comment:

mzdjo said...

Excellent Lisa. The same goes for putting them in too many lessons/sports etc. I would have been prone to do that, but my wise husband would not allow it. He wanted them to also have the time to enjoy just finding there own way, stopping to enjoy looking at clouds, all while being immersed in books and activities at home they chose and had the time for. We ended up playing a lot of games with our children.