Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When did it stop being fun?

When Samuel was in preschool we were blessed to find this really, awesome, amazing little church preschool.  Where the teachers really, truly LOVE all the kids, and were destined to be preschool teachers because the sheer volume of love and care they pout into those kids is almost something you can touch.   You can feel it so much you expect to be able to see it -- like a magic, sparkly fog floating in the air.    And not only are they loved, but the learn.  One of the more important lessons they learn is HOW to love learning.  They learn that learning is fun, and imaginative, and satisfies their natural curiosity and teaches them all kinds of things to be proud of.   They learn that effort is rewarded, and progress is championed. No on in preschool is stressing out about who knows what letters, or if they counted the bears fast enough.  Instead they spend their time focused on building up their confidence in the bears they can count, and encouraging them to keep trying on the letters they missed.  In preschool -- it seems they WANT to learn, and the goal is to learn how to do that -- how to learn.

Somewhere between preschool and the third grade it would appear that things change, and that is where we find ourselves now.  Samuel's tiny little hand-print may still be on the wall in gym (where all the graduating four year olds leave their mark forever on their final day of school) but the real Samuel is in third grade, where it appears any fostering of wanting kids to love to learn and be relaxed about it dies.  

Second grade was not like this and on back to school night we were warned "Third grade is hard" - and lot's of warnings about how they learn to be "sneaky", and "it's all so much work".  I'll be honest -- I wondered about it then.  Sure, each year the work gets a little bit harder, but in my mind if you've done well the year before, and were on target it should only get marginally harder.  After all -- we don't toss you into a 400 level class as son as you finish a 100 level class even in college.  How bad can it be?  Sure they'll be a little more homework, a little more academics in the day, and so on and so forth every year from hear on out.  That's the reality.  Right?  Yeah.... boy was I wrong. 

It seems that third grade IS like throwing you into a 400 course as soon as you've completed the first 100 level course.    Last year there was daily homework and a planner that came home so your parents could help you stay on top, make sure everything is being done, and tests studied for.   This year there is daily homework, more tests then your 30 some year old mother can keep track of, and all kinds of other assignments that aren't in the planner, but are somehow late all the time, or incomplete, and there is seemingly NEVER enough time to get anything actually finished in class.   To top all that off nothing that is completed seems to be able to keep up with the standard, ever.  Handwriting that was given good marks last year is barely a C this year, and everything is graded on it. (or so it feels like)  Third grade IS hard.   And I've had more tears about school this year from a frustrated, stressed out little boy then I have ever had all the other years combined.  

Here's the part where it seems maybe I don't think like I am supposed too.  Because I think I am supposed to see this and think "well we need to do better to make sure we are doing better, studying harder, etc etc.  But what I actually think is more like "what is the freaking hurry?"  WHY are we upping the ante so much so soon?  We're talking about 8 and 9 year old children here.  Yes, they need to be learning things and yes they need to be studying, and yes they are at a point where school is not always fun and sometimes its hard to learn the material.  But maybe the focus should be on encouraging them to actually learn it.  Not learn it fast, or with excellent handwriting if the test is on spelling, or perhaps - not even to learn it to "perfection" just yet.  Have you ever watched a roomful of third graders attempt to take timed tests?  There is a good number of them who are visibly so stressed out that even if they know the materials they are never getting it all done fast enough.  They're freezing up.  And those are't the ones second guessing every answer because are they are so desperate to not get it wrong.  Maybe the point of education shouldn't be to teach our kids it's not okay to get it wrong, but to teach them that they WILL get things wrong, and it's okay to to do so.  It's okay to need to take your time, and most importantly it is NOT okay to squash out a natural inquisitive nature, or the natural reward of knowledge that comes from relaxing enough to actually enjoy learning.  

What I do know is that I have a third grader who has loved school every single day of his life, since the first time his curly headed mop walked through the doors of Noah's Ark Preschool, and now cries nearly daily about it, gives himself stomach aches, and migraine headaches.  A third grader with a mom, who has shed more then a tear over school work, spends precious time trying to calm the worries of a kid far to young to dread school.   

There is such a thing as too much too soon, and if third grade is somehow the new threshold of when its acceptable to teach kids that school is something you stress out over maybe we need to rethink the way education works. 

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