What Matters For A 5 Year Old?

Pamela Chan/BCFamily.ca/Editorial

It started early on and it’s been pretty consistent – and often feels like it’s been relentless – every since.

Are your children rolling over?

Are they sitting up?

Are they making sounds?

How many words are they speaking?

Are they crawling?

Are they walking?

Can they identify their colours?

Can they count?

Can they write, read and spell well?

Can they play the piano?

Are they taking lessons?

Do they go to swim class?  Skating? Hockey? Soccer? Piano class? Bla, bla, bla.

Because you know my grandchild, niece/nephew/neighbour is.  And if I remember correctly when my adult son/daughter was your child’s age….

Holy man. This happens in conversations. It really does.

All those nattering comments about helicopter parents, pressure today, over achieving parents etc. that we hear about, in the news and in our personal conversations, can go straight to the rubbish bin.

It’s not me tightening the screws and I’m not even trying to keep up with the neighbours.

In my case I’m probably at a bit of a disadvantage.  With Montessori, ECE and M.Ed diplomas on my wall, there must be people who expect a lot of my children.  Surely they will be able to do most of what’s on the above-noted list early on.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  While my love of certain educational and artistic approaches has informed my efforts with my now five year old twins, I have also been inspired by the approach of outdoor education/nature schools, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf and Scandinavian schools. This means that my approach with my children is not about reaching benchmarks as early as possible. Now that my children are in Grade K, my understanding is that socialization NOT academics is what matters at this age.  I want my children to reach inside and find their own initiative and passion for learning.

In a way you could say I’ve been experimenting with my children. They live in an enriched environment but they’ve been given complete freedom to step up and approach an activity or learning opportunity based on their own self-initiative.

As an example, while I did purchase excellent piano books to help teach my children the piano, both of my twins have told me that they don’t want to play the piano.  My mother-in-law, husband and I have played the piano in their midst yet they’re not inspired. In fact my eldest son has told me clearly that he wants to play the violin. (This will have to wait as our household budget is wanting.) My daughter (who enjoys dancing) has expressed no desire to learn any instrument.

My son took to soccer enthusiastically but my daughter said she wasn’t interested.  Even though I’d like her to learn a sport that gets her running and moving a lot, she clearly does not want to do it.

At home my children grapple with spelling – sometimes asking for assistance – and debate about number concepts.  Sometimes I insert a comment or some direction about spelling, for example. Mostly I want to listen and hear where their conversations take them.  When appropriate, I’ll provide resources or tools to help them with their investigations. If I see that a letter is being written backwards, I will make a light intervention. But mostly I step back and see what will happen. They spend long hours at school where they can refine what they need to know. Next year, I’m told, there will be homework. Then we will have to re-evaluate my role as I support them.

When my children were preschool age I combined light exposure to Montessori concepts at home with Strong Start attendance, six months of traditional preschool experience and monthly meetings at a outdoor nature school (along with other activities). In a way you could say that my approach to Grade K has been a continuation of this type of approach.  I realize that in grade 1 they will be preparing for spelling tests and bringing home homework but for now this seemed to be a reasonable approach that matched the goals – as I understand them – at my children’s school.

To be clear, I’m not writing about my children’s personal, academic records. I’m not reporting on what’s happening at their school. My observations are based on experience through recent decades and look at trends well beyond my immediate community and British Columbia. It is important to emphasis this point. What I am explaining is that in the face of all these questions and stories shared about the busy, instruction-intense and accomplished lives of my children’s peers within their extended community of friends and family in British Columbia and elsewhere, I’ve been trying to keep things simple.

But there are cracks. I realize that in fact there are goals and ideals and then there are expectations that are being met or not yet being met. Indeed on BCEd report cards that very word “expectation” (met or approaching – as in not yet met) is used.  In Japan we call school in the evenings and on weekends “cram schools”.  Children go to them here in Canada too. We just don’t use the word cram.  But I do feel that if I sent my children to intense after school programmes – or sat down at home and grilled them – I would be diverting sharply from my aspirations for how their learning environment should be.  Should I be stepping it up so that we can tick off all the boxes?

I was heartened to hear a story today from someone who grew up in China.  She took it upon herself in junior elementary school (without any attention or intervention from her parents) to make changes to how she was approaching her school work.  She had been floundering in a subject and took it upon herself – at a young age – to make a change. She had her reasons (personal so I won’t share) and they motivated her strongly.

How do I balance the expectations about how my child should be faring in terms of reading, writing and arithmetic (never mind all the other issues such as socialization) with the prevailing view that Grade K is about socialization and “not academics”?

Really?  Because I think there are a lot of parents out there who didn’t get that memo.  And their children are excelling. They are being praised. And Lord knows I’m hearing about it in the… well check the list above.

Because I can go that route. But do I want to?

My children are in the first year of K-12 schooling while most of my friend’s children have finished or will finish soon.  I’ll bet they can hardly remember these years and if they do they’ll just say “oh chill. Don’t be a helicopter parent”.  Because of course that concept was only invented in the last few years. Before then children were all playing for hours on end outside after school. Unmonitored of course.

Right. Of course they were.

I think we could all stand to be a bit more honest about our educational ideals versus how it all plays out in reality – past and present.

But while we’re comparing notes, may I just say that both of my children have rock solid pencil grips. (Poorly formed pencil grips are my pet peeve.) They love to dance and sing.  They love to cook and watch cooking shows. They already understand that over use of technology in social settings is not a good thing.  They show an interest in what happens at church. They love their priest. They are creative and constantly make fascinating projects with paper, glue, colours and Lego.  (Our dining room table is a 24/7 dedicated art table.) They love World Music.  They loved attending nature school and going on nature walks.  They love to plant seeds, tend and harvest their garden. They love to watch birds. They love books. They love physical activity (be it a sport or dancing). They love to learn traditional games. They love to build structures with whatever building material they can find. They love to hear about other countries and cultures.  They love celebrating world cultures. (We’ve finished Chinese New Year, Girl’s Day and we’re in the midst of St. Patrick’s day. My favourite one to celebrate is Santa Lucia.) They love to spend time with their family and friends.

I am never grilled about any of these topics.  Nobody asks and if I mention these activities, for the most part those people want to hear about benchmarks being met don’t really seem to care. They’re quaint stories to be mentioned once and never again – nothing more.

Clearly we all have different priorities.

Society has no expectation that any of these endeavours will matter to children. But to my children and to me (and my husband too) they are part of an important emotional, cultural and intellectual foundation for their lives.

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Daily Dish Archives: Pamela Chan, BCfamily.ca

This was not written by a #GenX/#GenY child. #notefrommyson #giftforyoumom See: http://bcfamily.ca/what-matters

A photo posted by bcfamilyca (@bcfamilyca) on Mar 13, 2015 at 2:27pm PDT

Feedback from my 5 1/2 year old son.

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