Friday, April 28, 2006

What a relief!

Before you even ask, no -- I will not rant any further (this week) about fat. Well, maybe a little. But I swear that I'll stop soon!

In other news, I was reading Phantom Scribbler's lament about her son, LG, beginning kindergarten. That got me thinking about my own days in kindergarten. When I was in kindergarten, lo those many years ago, I think it was only a partial day program. I remember a lot of art projects made with popsicle sticks and Elmer's Glue. I remember getting cookies and milk. I remember a friend of mine who was the paste-eating kid. I remember naps. A lot of actual academics, I don't remember so much. I mean, I'm sure that we DID actually do academic-type stuff, but I don't have any clear memories of it.

The thing that really strikes me as the difference between then and now is that kids learn so much more now than we did back then. I remember kindergarten as being play time, not as learning time. I suppose that's a good memory to have of it -- sort of idyllic, and not so stressful. Kids today have a LOT of skills they have to master. Many children here have already had a year of PreK under their belts prior to entering kindergarten, and some even have preschool experience. A lot of them are old hands at this school thing. For others, this is their very first experience with school, and it's overwhelming for them.

Don't get me wrong -- a lot of kindergarten is social skills. How to interact with others. Common niceties, like washing your hands after using the restroom, and using a tissue when you sneeze. Saying please and thank you. And, because we, as Southerners, are raised to say "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am", we hear a lot of that, too. (We don't demand that they say it, but we do ask for more than just "Huh?" Or, "What?!") We model good behavior. We teach that looking on someone else's paper constitutes "cheating", and that's not good. We tell the kids that looking on someone else's paper doesn't tell me what YOU know, it tells me what the person you cheated off of knows.

Sometimes, we have to "unteach" years of children saying things the wrong way. I have a child in my class this year for whom it is my mission to teach how to correctly pronounce the word "yellow." Now, you wouldn't think that this is too big a deal, but it actually is. When she says "lellow", she's setting herself up for turning the "y" sound into a "l" sound. That plays havoc with her grasp of phonics, and she cannot learn to successfully learn to decode words that have a "y" in them. I'm not saying that every child who adorably says the word "lellow" is in danger of becoming speech-impaired -- not at all. But, for this child, it is impeding her learning. She often has diffuculty in pronouncing the "y" sound in other words, and she automatically has a handicap whenever she tries to pick up a book and sound words out. We have begun doing what we term "mirror" practice, where I model the correct shape of the sound with my teeth, tongue, and lips, and she copies. Then, I have her stand in front of the mirror, and try to make her mouth make the same shape. That way, she can see the difference. If she sees the difference, maybe she'll begin to hear the difference.

We have to unteach the pronunciation of the letter "r" as "ar-uh." I don't know if this is a uniquely Southern colloquial pronunciation, but every year, I have several children that have to unlearn this bad habit, and for the same reason as "lellow." It messes with their grasp of the phonics. Ditto for the pronunciation of the word "ask" as "ax." Lazy speech begets problems down the road for little learners.

My kids are learing about sea life right now. We have learned about invertebrates, and had a field trip to the aquarium this week. We got to hold horseshoe crabs, whelks, spider crabs, and hermit crabs. We learned a lot about blue crabs -- they have 10 legs; the male crabs have blue claws, while the females have red ones; you can also tell the sex of the crab from the shape on the underside of the shell; and a blue crab has eyes like kaleidescopes.

Kindergarten sure has come a long way from when I was a child.


Phantom Scribbler said...

This brings back memories. When I was in kindergarten, it was half-day, and I was considered freakish because I was already reading. Seriously, the teacher asked my parents why I wasn't in private school, and when it became clear that they weren't planning to send me to private school, the teacher started giving me phonics worksheets as my own personal homework. (Back then, no one got homework until 4th grade. It made me one stressed-out little puppy to be singled out.) The big learning objective for the class was to learn our alphabet.

But LG's kindergarten will be expected to learn to read, add, subtract, graph data, and -- oh yeah -- figure out how to get along with each other. In a six and a half hour day. It makes me wonder if five year olds have gotten more mature than they were, back in the Dark Ages when I went to school. Or if we're raising a generation of stressed-out puppies.

Oh, and by the way, no apologies for the fat rants! The people who should be apologizing are the ones who provoke the fat rants.

ccw said...

Kindergarten is downright amazing to me. Kid L went to an all day program and I was blown away by the resources and the amount of actual "school" learning that went on.

When I went to kindergarten, we learned nothing beyond colors, phone numbers, and some basics. Therefore, my mom kept me home with her most days, at least until the truant officer showed up. (This is another hysterical example of my mother being a young parent)

Genevieve said...

I'm amazed at how much they learn in kindergarten. But I don't think it's making them stressed-out puppies (at least at our school, which is the only experience I have). I think they're just open to learning so much at this age.

They learned the planets in the solar system, they learned how to tell time, they learned so many songs, the parts of a seed (and they planted seeds, classic kindergarten thing to do). They seem to be having fun doing it.