By Edith Morgan
We give a lot of lip-service to the preciousness of our children, and are forever trying to improve their educational experiences. And now there is much talk about pre-school education, with the hope that here at last is the magic pill that will prepare every child to succeed in the test-crazed environment of our schools.
I am a fervent believer in early childhood education, and if done right, it can be a very beautiful and enlightening experience. My parents, who never even left us with a baby sitter, had enough faith in the public schools to let me attend free public pre-school in 1934 – in Paris, France. Though I have a terrible memory, I still vividly remember one hands-on experience, “dissecting” an orange, and admiring the wonderful structure containing the tiny “juice containers” in each slice – which you can see if you carefully peel back the skin and push out the inside. Try it sometime! Of course we were read to, sang songs, learned rhymes, and were taught many valuable lessons in how to cooperate, take turns, follow directions, etc.
If the idea is merely to prepare toddlers earlier to learn letters and sounds (which takes so long at this age, and is so quick and easy at age 7) it is not worth the money and time… Just stretching an already bad curriculum down two years will simply produce more learning-disabled children, more turned off by school earlier, more disinterested in academics. Save your money and your children if that is the plan.
But if we are serious about really helping our young to be competent, creative, full-fledged human beings, giving them all a good start is worth the money and effort. There are models of what great early education looks like, and they have been around a long time. But are we willing to hire and pay for the best-trained, most experienced early-childhood teachers, give them the environment and supplies they need, and get out of their way? Are we ready to understand that PLAY is the work of young children, and expanding their vocabularies via great literature, poetry, music, and art is job #1?
Too many of our children today come to school with tiny vocabularies, and have to compete with others who have 10 times as many words, and who live in a home where every day they build more ideas and concepts. There is NO way that even the greatest teacher, best school, most wonderful books and music can make up for the daily advantage of a good home. But at the very least, we should do our best to level the playing field a little – not with more testing, more phonics, more drills, but with well-structured experiences that will enable them to start on the road to becoming more than job-seeking drones and eternal consumers. How sad that the richest nation in the world is unwilling to offer its children that great experience, which I had almost 80 years ago in another country.