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Preschool Education Articles

Weighted Down: Achieving Preschool Academic Excellence

I see them trudging through campus, weighted down with the cares of the world, as if their foreheads are being slowly pulled to the ground.  I never see the color of their eyes, just their packs, like some dromedary or other beast of burden, piled high with who-knows-what.  They are children whose parents have set the bar so high that they only see the ground in front of them. Many of them in third or fourth grade, with faces that speak of innumerable shocks, planning their day with Palm Pilots chirping at them, reminding them of soccer games, violin lessons, tennis practice, and after school math enrichment. 

The portfolio begins in pre-school, and there seems to be no end to how difficult it gets.  I work at school on the West Coast that is pre-K through high school.  I am the assistant head of the high school.  In fact, I have worked at four such high-powered college preparatory schools over the last 12 years, but for some children the stress starts early; parents have already picked out the colleges for their children as early as four-years of age.  Stanford, Brown, and Yale dot the landscape of most parents’ top schools.  However, most of the elite schools have seen their prospective student pool increase ten-fold over the last twenty years.

What happened?  How did it get this way?  What can parents do to avoid the trap of children who may crash and burn far too soon?  Here are a few suggestions to keep your life sane and raise healthier children, even as the college admissions process drives what children learn as early as pre-school:

·         Parents should avoid making decisions based on erroneous assumptions about the right curriculum or the perfect school for their children.  Be wise and selective when choosing schools.  Never just go for the name.  This is true whether you are selecting a pre-school, public school, or college.  Remember you always have a choice.

·         When researching schools or even extracurricular programs, look for value-laden clues like how well the children treat each other.  Do the teachers and aides know all of the children, respecting each as individuals, with each being uniquely important?

·         Is there an emphasis on providing a rich environment rather than on getting students ready for the next year or a certain test? 

·         True, children do learn how to take test quite well in the test-them-until-they-drop states and schools, but can a test measure whether a student will be a life-long learner.  Hint: Most elite private schools do not use tests in the same way as public schools.  Why?  Because tests only validate a child’s ability to take a tests.  No test can truly show how a student treats or accesses knowledge.

·         Never force your child into an area of elective interest that she or he does not want to do.  Parents often will risk a complete aversion to piano lessons or soccer practice because they pushed too hard early on.  Take the dilettante approach by exposing your preschooler to a wide variety of activities and interest.  However, make sure that what he or she decides to sign-up for at your local recreation center or neighborhood church can and will be finished at some defined point; choose an activity that has a merciful escape hatch.  Meaning, the activity’s session is long enough to learn some of the fundamentals, but your child can gather a sense of completion--four to six weeks depending on the activity.

·         Always give your child a choice. Almost every child will battle parents with oppositional behavior.  Take away that struggle, particularly with school issues, and see how long your student can have a one way battle.

·         Finally, enjoy the school years.  They are short-lived.  Treat each day with your child as if it will never come again because it never will.

© 2000 by Brian W. Thomas

Born and raised in Harvey, Illinois, Brian Thomas earned a degree in American History from Yale and later became an actor. Brian had a recurring role during the second season of NBC's "A Different World, a spin-off from "The Cosby Show." He earned an Emmy Award in 1988 for his work on "Fast Break to Glory: The Du Sable Panthers." Currently, Brian lives with his wife, Jaime, and two children, Eian and Olivia, in Portland, Oregon where he is the Assistant Head of a prestigious prep school and founder of A Child's

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