Google+ Authentic Parenting: The Magical Treshold Of School-Age (rerun)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Magical Treshold Of School-Age (rerun)

My daughter has a little friend who is a couple of months older. As of late, he passed the two and a half year marker and is therefor doomed deemed 'school-aged' ever since, in Belgium, children attend kindergarten at approximately that age.
Where there was once a happy, healthy, carefree boy, running around, playing and doing whatever he liked, now, there will be some forcing, some coercion, some sitting still and shutting up and listen to what I say.

We are lucky that schools are not available here, unless some considerate effort is made by either one of the child's parents. It has led us to unschooling and the other kids at the plantation to at least some degree of freedom, greater than what they'd get in kindergarten in Belgium.
Hopefully, my daughter's little friend will only be confined to his chair a couple hours a week. Maybe he'll even like it and his mother will go at it playfully.

But where do we get the notion of a child being ready for school at two and a half years old. From one day to the next. All of a sudden they wake up to a packed lunch and are sent off to a poorly ventilated room where they have to sit down most of the time with 42 other toddlers.

Yet they were thriving before this. They learned, they played, they laughed and talked and sang. What makes us break this organic cycle for something so artificial? What makes people think this experience would actually benefit their child.
I understand that some parents have to go out and work, and need some form of secondary care, but to take the leap from that idea to the idea that your child will do better, learn more, develop only through this system, it is taking it a leap too far.

As long as they are thriving, don't change a thing. Let them discover the world at their own pace.

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  1. I'm blown away - school at 2 1/2? We start at 4 here and even that is optional. In fact I just did my weekly classroom day and pretty much 2 out of 2 1/2 hours was playing.

    I did find with my daughter that almost on the dot of 3 she suddenly wanted more social interaction - she wanted to play with other people than just Mum and her sister and was happy to stay with other adults under the right conditions. So there's certainly an argument for doing group activities when they demonstrate they are ready. And that's the key isn't it - knowing and watching your children so they're getting what they need.

  2. Oh goodness me! School at that age! That seems unbelievable!

    My little one was going to childcare at that age for 2 days a week as I was working and my husband and I could no longer juggle our shifts to take care of her ourselves, but childcare is not structured learning. It seems much too soon for that at that age.

    Here Kindergarten can begin at 3, but it is not compulsory and when I spoke to the teacher about enrolling my girl and not being able to attend both days due to other commitments I was told that 3 yo Kinder is about socialisation, not learning, so it would be fine. I hope that is what the purpose is for in Belgium too!

  3. My son is in school (and here that is at 4 y.o.) and I do see where you are coming from. I only just found out about unschooling this year. At the moment, I am happy that he is happy at school. And I think that he finds it easier to learn from people other than me (we are very alike) and where we live there is not much support for home or unschooling - but we will see.

  4. I am totally baffled by these reactions. I was kind of assuming that the 2.5 year old thing was universal (haha see how I'm determined by cultural paradigm).
    So in Belgium indeed most kids go to school at 2.5 or september of the year they turn two (so they might actually be younger than that)
    It is about socialization, yes, which I agree they need, my two year old is constantly playing with every chid she encounters, but it is also about meeting standards, and at 5 they will now have to do tests to be able to enter primary school.
    I have a friend who's daughter needed to do 'evening classes' cutting at 3 yo because she was 'behind'.

    School is indeed optional (Belgian kids are obliged to learn, nt to attend) but home/or unschooling is as good as non existant in Belgium, so even SAH's send their kids off to school.

    The Flemish are proud to have one of the best schooling systems on earth, but the road it is taking now, I do not think this will last long.

  5. @CatWay I wouldn't want my kid to learn from me either, oh the horror! But in unschooling the parent is not a teacher, rather a guide

  6. I look at things from a little different perspective. I was a toddler teacher for many years. I went to college to do that. I had 15 children in my class with an aid to assist me. We had a lot of fun. I guided their learning throughout the day but it was not coercive. Most of the parents worked and needed care for their child. There were some children there with stay at home moms or dads though. There can be two sides to this issue. A nurturing enriching classroom can be ten times better than a neglectful dark home with a mom always asleep or drunk in the other room. I recommend daycare for alot of the families I work with because their home environment is so unsupportive of childhood that ANY other setting is better. Again, there are good preschools and there are horrible ones. I have seen them all. If a child is in a warm home environment that supports their learning I am all supportive of them being there during the day. I guess I am just jaded. Even when I go into rich well off homes with a stay at home mom I still see very little mothering. Maybe one out of every 20 homes I visit look like the readers of this blog's homes. I wish I could work with all of you guys, but then I wouldn't be needed and I would be out of work!!! :)

  7. You're totally biased Susan, shut up! Just kidding ;)
    I totally agree Susan, that for a lot of parents some form of care is needed, either because they don't want to be around their kids all they long, are incapable to, or work.
    And maybe then some group care is advised, since they do love to play with others around that age.
    But it being coercive, teaching oriented, and age seperated, IMO is taking it one step too far. It should be all about play and more play.
    Testing at that age is even worse (well, testing at any age IMO is evil, so...). But I do agree that unschooling or even homeschooling is not an option for every family, and where it is an option, not all families are willing to put in the effort it takes... But that's a whole `noter topic

    But these are families that chose this plantation life for the mothers to be home. That are under no obligations where schooling or teaching is concerned. Who will have their kids at home until the age of six anyway, and chose this course of life. Yet still they are eager to make it about sitting them down, teaching them. They are under the impression that learning simple things like colors requires at least some part of coercion. That otherwise they fill 'fall behind'

  8. Wow, that is way too early for a child to be in school. Research has shown that PLAYING is LEARNING at this young age... not sitting still and shutting up!

  9. I am on the same page!! I am so gray though. If everything was black or white it would be easy. I wish every child received ALL that they need in the arms of those that love them at home. I wish the powers that be would wake up and remember that children were taught all they needed at home until very recently. Even here in the good ole US of A most our founding fathers never stepped into a classroom until their college years if then.

  10. Two and a half. Wow. We've just moved to full day kindergarden for five year olds and I am one of the only moms I know who is against it. Everyone else seems happy to get their kids out of the house. I think, it's been half days for as long as anyone could remember so it was likely like that for a very good reason. Anyway, I'm with you!!

  11. Mamapoekie, I'm curious about where you got your description of the typical Belgian preschool environment from? I just googled the Belgian school system, and what they enter at 2.5 is supposedly a nursery system with the emphasis heavily on play. I'd be very surprised if having to sit still for most of the day was the norm for a child that age.

    My daughter has been going to nursery for one and a half days per week (in the UK) since she was a little older than that, and she has a wonderful time. She plays with a wider range of toys and equipment than she would have access to at home, she has the chance to play in the sand, which she loves, and she gets to meet other children and experience a wider world. I really don't see the problem with making this sort of experience available to children. If the Belgian nursery system really is so much worse than this then that certainly needs changing, but the problem then would be with the nursery system on offer, not with the idea of having a nursery system for children of that age.

  12. Hi Dr Sarah, I get the description from the Belgian Flemish school system from
    a) being Belgian
    b) having been in that system
    c) having friends and family who have children in that system

    Indeed, when I was growing up, kindergarten in Flanders was pretty much about play. However, over the last couple of years, it has become highly goal oriented, to the extent that children have to take evening classes when they do not reach one of the goals and have to pass a test in order to be 'accepted' into primary school.
    The older generation of teachers might have a bit more relaxed approach, but schools are going more and more towards a structured kindergarten.
    The days of relaxed play in the sand are as good as over. There is some free play, but it is very limited.

    If you are wondering what the goals might be at that age, they are counting, written skills, math skills, motor skills, and yes, they are strictly applied.

  13. 2.5 is definitely too young to start school.

    Having said that, I don't think it's fair to tar all schools with the same brush. A friend of mine sends her kids to a lovely school; the class groups are very small (her oldest daughter's class is just 16 pupils with two teachers) and the school is heavily involved with a local commune in the nearby forest - the children visit there periodically and learn about self-sufficiency, growing food, being environmentally responsible etc.

    We plan to unschool, and i get that the whole point of unschooling is to move away from schooling (which is pretty much the same wherever you are). I didn't have a good school experience personally which is partly why I plan to unschool for at least the younger years, but I dont think its fair to incinuate that all schools are awful places and that their only goal is to beat the individuality and creativity out of our children.

    even though we plan to unschool, i still intend to let my son attend pre-school for one morning a week, if he wants to of course (there are several wonderful, completely play-based and very loosely structured preschool here) so that he can experience having time away from me and doing activities he wouldnt have done otherwise.

  14. Imogen, I certainly don't want to paint every school with the same brush. I know there are some schools who do an effort to have a more child directed approach. Sadly, in Flanders this is hardly imaginable, with the new government requirements re schooling.
    I too had some very bad schooling experiences and that does make me bitter, probably. But I can only speak of Flemish school system of course. Maybe that is not clear enough in my posts

  15. Yes, the schooling requirements you describe sound absolutely terrible; I think I would be a lot more militant about unschooling if the schools around here were like that! I can understand feeling bitter about schooling; i think i can attribute nearly all of my self esteem/general mental health issues to things i experienced at school, and my experience wasnt even out of the ordinary =/


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