Before I started school in 1959, my family taught me what they thought I needed to know, things like setting the table, respecting my elders and manners. In kindergarten I learned to tie my shoes, sit in a chair and listen to the teacher. Some of my time was spent singing around an old piano, some was spent learning my full name, address and phone number and some was spent napping. I may have learned the alphabet and to color in the lines. I did not learn to read, write or do arithmetic. In contrast, my granddaughter’s cohort that will begin kindergarten in 2018 is expected to begin preparation for school at the age of three.
The state of Ohio offers a booklet to help parents understand the many accomplishments their child should attain during their preschool years (link from photo).
To my mind, the years of self-exploration, imagination and play are irreplaceable and I hate to see them shortened by the need to attend a school to prepare for school, but I don’t want Jet to suffer from any sort of disadvantage either, so I’ve been perusing the booklet. At first glance it seems to describe a difficult program of study. For example, Jet is expected to begin to “understand how the cycles on Earth such as day to night are connected with systems in the universe such as the sun and planets in the solar system.” That sounds intense. How many parents would feel comfortable with that assignment?
On the other hand, the examples describing what Jet should know and do with adult guidance describe the kinds of things we do every day anyway. We can check off all of these learning objectives:
- Begin to use science words such as night, day, sun, moon, stars, cold, hot to describe what they see.
- Notice how animals and plants cause changes in their surroundings such as leaves falling from trees and collecting on the ground or squirrels digging holes.
- Describe and compare seasonal changes such as leaves changing color, weather getting warmer or colder, or flowers pushing out of the earth.
- Use words or drawings to describe changes in the earth.
At three, Jet has already picked up a great many of the preschool requirements from one or another of the adults in her life. Just this week I taught her to play “Simon Says.” To my surprise, it’s in the list of recommended activities. Check off another one! Reading aloud is also strongly encouraged in the preschool years and as a former librarian I can’t agree more. I’m pretty sure Jet is exposed to a higher than average number of stories. Jet loves books. She listens and responds to reading with rapt attention. A recent favorite, Are You My Mother? (P.D. Eastman, Random House, c1960) is a charming story originally written for beginning readers. The story of the bird who is searching for his mother keeps Jet coming back to hear it again and again, while the repetitive words in this and other early readers have begun to inspire word recognition. One of Jet’s first sight words was “stop,” which we saw multiple times on street signs during our walks. From past experience I know that words with unique letters such as “exit” and “egg” are most likely to be remembered and recognized again. Sure enough, Jet quickly picked up on “egg,” when I showed it to her and found it easily on other pages in the book.
Next, she recognized the letter “J” from her own name and wanted to know the word that went with it. Soon she could find “jumped” whenever it appeared on the page. Check off another of those pre-school hurdles!
Telling time on an analog watch does not seem to be a pre-school requirement but Jet is interested in it anyway. Watches seem to be more fashion accessories than timepieces these days, but I still consult mine to adjust our schedule. Jet noticed by herself that lunchtime occurs when the clock on my mantle chimes 12 times. She also knows that the 30 minutes before lunchtime are her “private playtime” when she must entertain herself without grandma’s help. Putting the two together, she wanted me to show her on my watch how I know when “private playtime” happens.
Hanging out with her Grandma gives Jet a pretty good grasp of understanding events that have happened in the past, which is yet another pre-school expectation. Just the other day we talked about how her mother named her before she was born. “How did you name mommy?” she wanted to know.
“Your mommy is named for MY grandma. Maybe some day you will have a daughter and name her for me.”
“No, I won’t!”
She seemed quite certain.