Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

School Readiness   2 comments

A recent article in The Atlantic transported me to a kindergarten classroom in a well-to-do school in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky in the spring of 2000.  A friend of mine who was a former teacher in the area had arranged a visit for me.  I sat in for about forty minutes in the classroom.

I was favorably impressed by the play items in the area, that everything was clean, the room seemed cheerful and pleasant and that there were security procedures in place to protect the children.  But I did notice that, if I was remembering properly about my kindergarten experience in the early 70’s, some things had changed.

I remembered kindergarten as being mainly playing.  I think we even had a nap.  Toward the end of the year, we arranged to put on a play of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  A boy who was my friend suggested that I should be Goldilocks, which I should have taken as a huge compliment.  However, I was upset because I wanted to be one of the bears.

That’s what I remember, although I’m sure there must have been more to it.

In 2000, I sat in a classroom of about twenty children, while the teacher encouraged them to sit quietly on crosses of masking tape affixed to the carpet, while she read an inane story about the letter E.  There wasn’t much plot, mainly just an effort to include as many E words as possible.  When children got restless they were encouraged to stay seated on their personal masking-taped spot.

In the other classroom of kindergarteners across the hall with another teacher and an aide or two, the children were learning how to use a rudimentary picture dictionary.  As I type that, I think, “That can’t be right.  How could they use a dictionary when they hadn’t learned reading or alphabetizing yet?”  So, perhaps my memory is wrong.

I’m certain, though, that they were filling out worksheets based on information from some type of book.  As the aide moved among the children who were sitting at tables in the well-lit classroom, she urged one of the children to be careful to leave consistent, even spacing between the letters in her name at the top of the worksheet.  That injunction was the most important encouragement she had to give.

So, when I read the article this week, I realized that classroom I visited years before must have been on the cutting edge of the new early childhood education trends.

According to this article, since 80% of teachers expect children to be able to read by the end of kindergarten, preschools have to prep kids with school readiness skills, or they won’t make it through kindergarten.  Some places, your child may not be allowed to go on to first grade if she isn’t ready enough.  A school I know of requires kindergarten students to read aloud from take-home readers every weeknight and then write a report about the book at the end of the week. First, they aren’t allowed to pick a book of their own choice.  Second, they have to reread the same book each night.  Third, they have to write a report about it.  I can’t think of a better way to get a child to dislike reading than to turn it into this headache.

However, the research showed children who had been subjected to more “school readiness skills” by the end of preschool actually exhibited lower skills in literacy, language and math skills by the time they reached second grade.  Researchers concluded that direct instruction and repetitive pedagogy were to blame.  Basically, the children who were forced to do seat work in preschool were worse off than those who could play and talk in open-ended conversations with adults.  Conclusions: “Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early learning system we have. And it’s far more valuable than most of the reading-skills curricula we have been implementing…”


“We neglect vital teacher-child interactions at our peril.”

If that is the case, what a gift it can be for children to have meaningful conversations with engaged adults, during or outside of scheduled learning hours.  Whether children are homeschooled or at school, they benefit more from having the freedom to learn to read when ready and interacting with other people in small groups and one-on-one than from deskwork.

Posted February 28, 2019 by swanatbagend in learning

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The Summer Camp “Arms Race”   Leave a comment

So I stole the title from an article in the August 11 issue of The Economist.  You probably know people who send their kids to multiple summer camps.  There are apparently still camps that include nature and campfires, but around the world, those who have enough money are sending their children to better camps.  According to the article, the end goal in a lot of different cases is getting into college.  And apparently getting into the camps themselves is also competitive.  Canada/USA Mathcamp admits just 15% of applicants.  Nine year olds in London can attend a technology summer camp for only 1,700 US dollars.  Nine.  Years. Old.

Then there’s the kids in South Korea who are practicing debate by discussing whether plastic surgery should be banned, in the English language, of course.  This sounds like a fun way to spend the summer–if your parents’ ultimate goal is again, the best colleges.  Did I mention these are eight and nine-year olds?

What’s that all about?

Even twenty years ago it wasn’t like this.  Fifty years ago it certainly wasn’t.

I’m not saying there’s nothing good to be gained from experiences at niche camps.  I’m not saying we can necessarily go backwards in time.

But people, I just don’t understand what this rat race is about.  Or, if you prefer the term The Economist uses, what this arms race is about.

Why isn’t anyone hearing common sense or the research that says that time for free, pretend play and time for outdoor play and time to just be is absolutely necessary for human development?

Why is it necessary to make sure your children are better than the rest?  In this world, can you even have a life in which you’re content?  How did this happen?

Are there just too many of us?


Posted September 6, 2018 by swanatbagend in identity, learning

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The Best Way to Learn a Subject   Leave a comment

When a child has trouble with a subject at school or difficulty learning to read, what is the go-to way to address the problem?

When a person wants to learn to play a musical instrument, how is that usually accomplished?

When a high school student wants to up her chances of doing really well on a particular AP exam or getting the best score on college admissions tests, how does she go about doing so (aside from studying hard)?

The answer to all the previous questions is simple.  You get a tutor.  You get a teacher.   Repeat.

When you’re evaluating a school or college what is one fact the admissions office always wants you to know, especially if their statistic is especially impressive?  It’s that student/teacher ratio–the lower, the better.

Everyone knows that a one-on-one session is the best way for a person to learn a new subject or get the help he needs to truly understand and move forward in his studies.  And, when there are too many students in a class, it is generally agreed this is an obstacle to effective teaching.  Parents will start fretting if they find out their children are going to be in a classroom with a large number of other students.

So, if that is all true, why is there still resistance to one-on-one, one-on-two, one-on-three teaching?  Why is there concern that students in these tutoring environments are somehow getting shortchanged or even damaged?

If tutoring is the gold standard, the best way to remediate a knowledge shortage, why isn’t it crystal clear that homeschooling meets that criteria?

Posted April 11, 2018 by swanatbagend in learning

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What would life look like if you–GASP!–dropped an activity?   2 comments

I’m writing this blog entry to myself, mainly, but maybe it can set you free-er too.

And I am also writing this in the knowledge that I could be extremely wrong in the lecture I’m about to give myself.

It is good for your children to participate in clubs, such as scouting, and sports, such as soccer.  It’s definitely great for your child to take music lessons.  I’d vote for piano lessons as the starter as I think they provide many benefits–learning to read music, confidence, not to mention all the benefits to the brain and fine motor skills.  And I like piano because you can get pretty pleasing results after very few lessons–if the piano is in tune, of course.

As your child grows older, he may want to partake in activities friends of his enjoy.  There is no shortage of sports she can play; there are dance lessons of all types.  There’s fencing.  There are clubs centered around gaming.  There are clubs centered around computer programming and robotics.  There is a wonderful plethora of options for kids to benefit from.

Then in high school there’s homework, time to socialize, sports, after school clubs, work, and of course volunteer hours.

All good: no complaint there.  Volunteering is for sure one thing I did almost none of as a teen but should have.


Yes, I’m asking the question.

Where did the down time, the free time, the daydreaming time go?

How can someone develop fully as a human being if she is constantly on the go and nothing, but nothing, ever shuts off?

Is it truly necessary for your child to be fully immersed in several activities at most times of the year in order for her to get into college and have a future?  I don’t know.  Maybe it is.  Maybe things have gotten so competitive because there are so many people on the planet that my ideas are just naive.  Maybe my daughter will be omitting a key that would have gotten her into the door of a better college that would then have opened a further door, and someday I’ll be sorry.

And maybe you and your kids love your lives the way they are.  If you love what you’re doing, don’t stop doing it.

But if you don’t, just imagine what you could do with the time you free up if your family drops one activity.  It might be interesting to drop them all for a month or two in summer.

Perhaps that is an impossible dream.  But, what if you could back off?  What would life look like outside of a minivan?


An art form you dropped years ago.

Volunteering for a cause you care about.

Time to spend building connections with other people.

No longer being too busy and too tired at the end of the week to get together with friends.

Wouldn’t that be great?

Posted July 29, 2016 by swanatbagend in learning, parenting

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Fighting Alzheimer’s Every School Day   Leave a comment

You know what they say.  The more you can keep your brain active and working as you age, the less likely that you will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

I have always thought that homeschooling parents have a leg up on this goal.  Our brains are working every day by definition.  I know that teaching division, Algebra I, history and more does a lot for me.  It may not be a Sudoku or a crossword, but I think it meets the goal of doing a task that is mentally challenging.

While I have stuck with the same core curriculum through the years, the curriculum company has made some text changes as time has gone by.  With each student, when I either purchase the new teacher’s manual or look at the current book list, I can see they have pulled out a few books (some I was glad to see go, such as The Dark Frigate; most I was sorry to see go) and added some new ones.

This year in the American history course we read World War II and How it Affects you Today: The Rest of the StoryWhatever Happened to Penny Candy? by the same author was a helpful explanation of economics, inflation and all those esoteric topics, and I have now read that twice and will read again with my youngest student this school year, but I had not read anything by this author on war history.

Because it looked quite different from the standard historian’s view of the whys and wherefores of WWII, I told my daughter she could read the fiction selection by herself for this time period; I was definitely reading World War II out loud with her.

What an eye opener.  Disagreeing with the standard explanations of why the US got into WWII, the author makes a case against the idea that the Germans and Japanese were such vicious fighting machines that England and our other allies would have been destroyed without our help.

Potentially changing the way you see the world and considering the possibility that what you’ve been led to believe is false will keep a mind active.

Another way I’ve been keeping Alzheimer’s at bay is learning to play chess.

At my age, it’s difficult to retain all the rules.  And even when I do remember exactly what moves each of my pieces can make, that does not mean that I will notice what dangers I’m moving them into.  I am planning ahead, checking out possible dangers for the square I have in mind, coming up with long-term strategies for taking my opponent’s queen and getting at his king: all that stuff.  It’s just not working yet.

What really makes it embarrassing is that the person teaching me is ten years old.  I lost my queen to him in our play yesterday in the course of ten minutes tops.

And no, I’m not letting him win.  It’s just happening.

But I can be a good sport.

At least I’m fighting the loss of brain cells!


Posted February 26, 2015 by swanatbagend in learning

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