Free from the Pressure Cooker

I can’t really call this a homeschooling blog, though I do talk about it from time to time because it’s obviously something near and dear to my heart.

When I read this article online this morning, it so totally described my oldest son’s experience in kindergarten. I just had to share it:

Pressure Cooker Kindergarten from the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine

I’m still haunted by the memories of how stressed out my little boy was when he was in kindergarten—actually, it was the entire time he was in school. We enrolled him in private school, believing it would be a better choice than our local public schools. Of course, the entire topic is a hot source of debate, and I really believe that different kids can thrive in different environments. So please, don’t think I’m hating on teachers. I admire people who can teach and do it well. For the most part, my son had really great, highly-liked teachers. I still consider his kindergarten teacher a friend of mine. She is a warm, amazing, dedicated woman who is truly gifted to work with children. Everybody loves her.

But the pressure to perform was just too much for a little boy who still, to this day, learns better with hands-on projects than by reading a book or doing a worksheet. I could kick myself now, for all the nights I held him hostage at the dinner table, drilling him on sight word flash cards because he had a deadline to learn them all; frustrated right along with him over the words he couldn’t read in the books his teacher sent home. Both of us ended up in tears more nights than not.

As a life-long bookworm, I hated making my child cry over something that should be as enjoyable and fun as reading. My gut told me that what I was doing was wrong, but the overachiever in me squelched that, repeating the unspoken mantra at his school that we must succeed at all costs.

But as they say, when you know better, you do better. And though my second child ended up in a public pre-K program, that was the final year of his education inside a school. Eli is one of those kids that could probably thrive in any school setting:  public, private or homeschooled. But since we’d already started teaching his brother Zach at home, we decided to homeschool him for kindergarten, with the goal of making it more like kindergarten was when we were kids: light on the work, heavy on the play.

The results? I must confess.  Zach left kindergarten reading at a higher level than Eli did. Zach probably also read at a higher level than Eli throughout first grade. As for math abilities, they’re probably on the same level. But I will go to my grave knowing that we did the right thing.

Because Eli has never lost the love of learning that he was born with. He loves books, asks to read, is curious about everything and always full of questions. He is making progress at his own rate. I follow his lead and we move ahead at the speed with which he is comfortable. “They” would say that he is behind. I say Eli is right where Eli should be. And he’s happy. And thankfully, he doesn’t know, nor will he ever know, what it’s like to cry over a frustrated mom forcing him to repeat sight word cards and struggle through homework assignments after spending a full day cooped up in a classroom.

At some point last year, after two years at home, Zach slowly became interested in reading again; actually choosing to read for entertainment for the first time…ever. He started asking questions again, seeking to learn more about topics he’s interested in. I suspected, but never fully realized how much the pressure he was under had killed his natural curiosity until he started gaining it back. It’s been a rewarding, amazing thing to witness.

I’m not a fan of President Obama, but as was mentioned in the article, if he does work to reform No Child Left Behind standards, I hope he does something to address the pressure our littlest scholars are under. It just doesn’t make sense to put so much pressure on such little kids. I suspect that this early murdering of their natural desire to learn has as much—if not more—to do with high failure and drop-out rates as anything else.

Do some kids make it out of the system still in love with learning? Of course. Some kids are wired that way. But most—especially wiggly, giggly little boys—aren’t. They’re only 5 years old once. It should be one of the happiest years of a kid’s life, not wasted on sobbing through rote drills that achieve nothing but helping schools keep up appearances.

2 replies on “Free from the Pressure Cooker”

  1. My concern is what happens when children have to face the pressue cooker of society when it is time to go out and get a job? I have an 18 year old niece that was homeschooled and cannot function as a mature young woman unless it is in her environment. Her reading level is that of a 6th grader and she still prints when she writes. I know she is not typical of all homeschooled children, but it concerns me when we try to make things less stressful for our children, sooner rather than later they need to develope those coping skills.

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