Monday, July 11, 2011

Suck it Sylvan

I've been driving around town lately noticing a lot of signs up on the corners of intersections advertising various learning centers. The signs ask a question that insights fear in the heart of parents. It asks if parents are worried about summertime learning loss.

You know, when I was a wee, new parent, shit like this would completely throw me. I'd break down in a cold sweat wondering if my child would be the last to walk, talk, potty train, etc. Would he be adequate? Was I doing enough to make him extraordinary? The whole thing made me batshit. Now that I work in early childhood education and I see a variety of children from birth to age 5 all making their own ways, I've mellowed out -- a lot. Each child progresses in his or her own time. Some will be brilliant at math and science. Some will be extraordinary in music or sports. None of them will be stone cold awesome in everything. And a parent that loves her child and cares for him or her and is able to provide basic needs like food, shelter and clothing is 150,000 steps ahead of a child who doesn't know where her next meal is coming from, or if they'll be evicted from their home.

So, you know, I try not to dwell on the idea that keeping my son out of his very expensive pre-school for the summer before kindergarten might put him on a backwards roll when it comes to learning, want to know why? Because either through genetic destiny, having two information hounds as parents or because of wonderful teachers, X-man is a freaking learning sponge. Since the end of school I've had a loose lesson plan made up every day of things we were going to do and items we'd review and learn. A lot of times the planning would give me focus for the day so neither of us got bored. But when I see those signs, I think, "Yeah, so maybe X-man isn't sitting on a space on a carpet or in a chair at a table doing traditional school work... but I think what we've been doing is better than that."

The other day, we had play date in the park with one of his school friends. His friend brought X-man a tag reader Bakugan book to share. Then they sat down and played with it and listened to the story before they played on all the gym equipment making up Bakugan stories, which often involved input from the moms that were present. Then they raced around and one of them asked how far across the park was. I told him to take steps and to count them. So the two of them set off and both got 40 steps across Noel park. "Hey, Mom! It measures 40!" Fabulous. Look at that measuring through counting and gross body work. Wonderful. Not to mention the reading comprehension that was going on with the Bakugan obsession, and the socialization that was occurring as they interacted.

We did some sparklers the other night. MacTroll told X-man all about the chemical reactions happening on the metal wand to make the sparkler sparkle. Science... We made that crazy watermelon cake.

I got him a nature card series for his tag reader from National Geographic on sea life and birds. He flipped through them, memorizing a lot of them and then asked his Aunt Melissa and I all kinds of questions regarding the life around the beach in Chicago. We sequence numbers in chalk in the front yard. We create chalk superhero and "bad guy" homes and create and interact with stories. We garden. We watch construction. We do simple addition and subtraction using fish crackers or berries as counters during snack time.

Kids free bowling has been keeping ups doing simple subtraction from the number 10. The summer reading club at the Tolono Public Library has me reading to him and him reading to me from the Dick and Jane series and a million other books.

He's working on writing his full name for school as well as his phone number, but he finally has down our address. We take nature walks and collect items and then sit back to back and try to describe an item so that the other person can look in his or her bag for the matching item and guess which thing the other is looking at. We periodically take trips through Sonic for soft drinks, where X-man likes to see what colors are made when he blends a blue Powerade slush with  colored shots of various flavors. (So far orange and blue slush look the least appetizing, FYI).

We investigate, explore, observe and try new things -- and we talk about how important it is to make mistakes and figure things out. It's okay that people aren't perfect, what's important is that you know better for next time. It's also okay for people to be different. You don't have to like what others do. You might not even like spending time with a person at all -- but you do have to figure out a way to work together and be respectful and civil.

What I'm saying here is that he's not sitting in a dark room letting summer (or time away from school) rot his brain. Like a lot of other kids, I would assume, he's having all kinds of summer adventures. He's learning new things all the time, and I resent any education-based company that takes a statistic from studies about kids "losing knowledge" during the summer and using it to market their materials using a campaign based on parental fear. It also always occurs to me that those studies may never include things that kids are learning out of school that they would never learn in a traditional school setting -- like how to swim or ride a bike or how fire cooks a s'more or how to play t-ball or how big the Grand Canyon really is or what the Mona Lisa really looks like or what a toad feels like when it pees in your hands. :-) School, particularly where we live, would never take a field trip to a beach or to larger urban areas for museums. At least not at this age. In the summer time, a lot of kids -- get around: museums, water parks, national parks, lessons from grandparents, cousins, nature, camp, etc.

Tonight, we read a book from the library called, "The Boy Who was Raised by Librarians." If you get a chance check it out. It's an extraordinarily sweet story about a boy and his very special relationship with three librarians at his local library. And no, he doesn't actually live with them at the library... :-)

It's a story about a child's intellectual curiosity and how three librarians respond to his thirst for knowledge and how his interest in life helped him to become a life-long learner. In the end, as a parent, when it comes to education, that's what I'm shooting for. I want X-man to go to school and work hard and be respectful, but truthfully, if he's wild about learning about the world around him and about making good and kind choices to help that world succeed -- I could care less about traditional knowledge summer learning loss. We're all about curiosity around here, and I'm insulted that the signs seem to implicate that parents are not otherwise able to provide summer time learning opportunities for their children through spending time with them, family adventures, vacations and summer camp experiences. So rather than leech onto the whole fear issue of having what kids might be forgetting for 6-12 weeks without sitting in a school desk, maybe the company could have instead offer parents a course on more creatively inspired curriculums that they might integrate into their summer vacations for parents that aren't as whacked out and overly planned as I am, but would like to focus more on the intention of education in the every day, awesome learning experience that is summer?

P.S. I am all for using services like Sylvan, Enopi and Kumon when kids are interested or parents find that school-aged kids need extra help or some kick butt challenge to keep their super smart brains working. I really am, but I'm hopelessly tired of people feeding me fear -- of every kind -- but mostly the parent-based, school-related kind. And in motherhood, it's like there's this whole magnifying glass that the success of your parenting depends on the "success" and "happiness" of your child. How can those things possibly be measured against each other? Are they measured by Ivy league status? How much money the kid makes? How many times a day they smile? If they're in therapy complaining about their parents? If they find a significant other? Fame? They're human. Their experience is supposed to be filled with great moments and extraordinarily sucky ones.

Who made this parenting thing some kind of competition and evaluation of self-worth? I'm not a violent person by nature, but I'd like to kick their asses.


The Fearless Freak said...

Have you seen the Sylvan commercial on TV? The kid jumps out of the pool, shakes his head to get the water out of his ears and you see facts just pouring out of his head.

It has always annoyed me, so I'm glad that I'm not the only one.

We are doing our normal summer stuff but the kids are also doing school at home. C is practicing typing and Liz is working on sight words. We had whole lesson plans that took an hour each day but I hated it as much as they did so we dropped some of the stuff off and streamlined it to what they really needed to work on.

ibteachin said...

Sylvan etc. in the summer is for parents who don't have the time or don't want to be bothered doing what you do. There are plenty of those parents around.

Lindsay said...

I completely agree with you, and envy all you've been able to engage X-Man's brain and body in this summer. To me, that's the best kind of learning.

On the other hand, not every parent, even those who do care, are involved and do want to engage their children in teaching through life's experiences and adventures (insert: me me me me me)has that luxury. Do I try every minute that I'm with my munchkins to do exactly that? Of course.

Can I afford to put my job on hold for the summer, or quit it all together, and experience those learning adventures with the boys. Unfortunately, no.

While right now I don't need Sylvan, someday if the school year has brought to light some academic struggle and I've done all I can to supplement teaching at home, I just may.

I guess I see it as a resource rather than a threat.

Just my two cents :).