Here's why I'm pro-school:
"A growing body of research shows that quality early learning programs can have a rangeof benefits for children. These include improvements in reading, writing, math, creativity,social development, work habits, motor skills, and performance on standardized tests. Inthe long term, they have also been found to reduce costs in other social policy areas."
-- Expanding Early Learning In British Columbia For Children Age Three to Five: Early Learning Agency Report, April 2009
The other reason I'm pro-school is that Gwen is really, really smart.I am absolutely overjoyed that full-day kindergarten will be in effect all over our province by the time she starts school, and am crossing my fingers that the other recommendation made by the Early Learning Agency in their April 2009 report will come into effect soon enough for our family, as well. That would be the implementation of half- or full-day programs for three- and four-year-olds. Essentially: subsidized preschool.
When I say Gwen is really, really smart, that doesn't mean I think she's going to graduate high school at age thirteen. I'm not even concerned about academic performance at this stage - I've never been tempted to drill her with cue cards to teach her how to read. What I mean is that she is craving stimulation, all the time. She exudes the readiness to learn. She is intelligent, she is resourceful, she is persistent, she is thoughtful, she is clever, she is observant. She will pick up gestures and phrases and meanings faster than you could possibly expect.
I know some people are bristly at the thought of full-day kindergarten. I've heard other moms say they don't want to rush their kids into academic pursuits too soon. "Let kids be kids!" While I agree with the sentiment, I don't think three or four years old is too soon for some semi-structured group learning, and the research backs this up.
What brings this home to me more than anything is Gwen herself. She is two years old and knows her alphabet, her colours, her shapes, her numbers up to twelve (some days, fourteen), and the lyrics of countless songs. She could not possibly make it more obvious that she is ready to learn. Let kids be kids? Okay, but recognize that a kid's main job is to learn like crazy, to soak up everything he or she can. I think we have a responsibility to nurture that, to provide children with a stimulating environment and positive opportunities.
Yes, sure, there are lots of options out there for learning. Lots of kids get terrific, stimulating learning opportunities from their parents. They may take part in semi-structured group classes such as Gymboree, Kindermusik, or a host of others. They may attend the school district's excellent Strong Start program, a drop-in for kids under five and their parents in a high-quality learning environment. Or, you know, they might be SOL because both their parents work.
For those kids, there's preschool. That's where Gwen will be next spring when she turns three. It may not be government-subsidized by then, but I do appreciate the province's efforts to make these valuable learning opportunities - which, as stated above, go such a long way in determining the future course of a child's life - available to all children.
So, if Gwen already knows so damn much, what is she going to learn in a preschool anyway? Well, my own preference is that whatever preschool she goes to will have just as clear a focus on social learning as academic learning, if not more so. I want Gwen to learn what it's like to be part of a larger group of kids than the three or four she's with at daycare - all the social interactions and adjustments that go along with that. I want her to adapt to a somewhat structured day and to plant the beginning seeds of discipline and respect that come with the expectation she will listen and obey her teacher. I don't want kindergarten to be the first time any of that happens.
As I mentioned above, every family needs to make their own choice based on their own values and the needs of their child. I'm grateful that the government is making more choices available to more families. This is our choice - what's yours?