Monday, May 16, 2011 • 3:04 PM Comments (9)

Is Homework Essential for Preschoolers to Get Ahead?

posted by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

By this fourth daughter, the one who now at age three executes diving somersaults off the couch rather than mere rolling somersaults, I really have fallen from the scheduled activity wagon. I know she’d enjoy music or dance or gymnastics (and in the fall, solemn promise, she’ll do something movement-oriented and this summer, she’ll receive some swimming instruction) but she’s been two until a little bit ago and we have so much busy in our lives it seems like Herculean scheduling efforts to attend a class that might last 45 minutes or less.

Under things I’d never orchestrate her doing: Junior Kumon. Apparently, it’s catching on, though, according to one of those pressure-cooker-things-parents-nowadays-are-doing articles in the New York Times (you know, the articles meant to make parents feel nervous about what they are not doing for their precious children clearly bound for somewhere other than the Ivy League).

Am I biased about this? I’ll ‘fess up: absolutely yes. I cannot imagine wanting additional rote learning for any of my kids. I surely would not seek out additional rote homework for my kids, especially at age three. The idea of kids accomplishing incredible academic feats at very young ages strikes me as a terrible thing to actively encourage in one’s child. I’m much more interested in my daughter playing outside, pretending, enjoying books and hanging with her pals and her brothers. I’m interested in pretty much anything but trying to make her a “good student.”

A reader of my blog, in response to a piece I wrote about toys (and gender) wrote this:

I have this theory on the five essential things of childhood.

Any time these things are available, they will be played with before other, less essential things. Those things are water, sticks, dirt or sand and rocks. I know, it is only four - bear with me. Those things will be picked up, put down, rearranged, stirred, mixed and transformed by the power of imagination into other things. For each kid, there is a fifth thing. For my older daughter it was Something To Climb; trees, climbing frames, railings, it was all fair game. For my younger daughter it was a stuffie; some fuzzy friend to talk to and tell stories to and about. The fifth thing changed over time for both girls, but the basic impulses are still there, for Aerin to move and move big, for Alice to shape a narrative and relationships out of what is in front of her.

So what is the fifth thing for each of your kids?

I have never heard Kumon homework sheets cited as the fifth thing. And I feel confident I never will.

Comments (9)
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Agree completely and I've already posted about this on Motherlode. The fifth thing in our house was a dog. (Sorry!)

Posted by jzzy55 on 5.16.11 at 16:19

Couldn't agree more! I've lost the link, but there was a study recently that correlated imaginative play in toddlers and later academic and social success. Not that I needed any validation, but it was nice to see the research supporting our approach. KIDS should be KIDS! Especially at this young, tender age.

That said, B begged me for weeks to attend a ballet class, and I gave in and she adores it and practices all her moves all over the house. Self-imposed "homework" :)

Posted by gina on 5.16.11 at 16:43

Someone else told me years ago it was books, bikes, bats and balls, but my kid was never interested in bats or books. Balls and bikes, yes. And the fifth thing there was probably supposed to be "boys." As in either you are one, or you want to play with them.

Posted by jzzy55 on 5.16.11 at 22:14

As a Kumon Instructor, and mother of a son who started Kumon at age 4, I think it's unfortunate that this discussion is framed in such a single focus way. The image is of a parent driving their 2-year-old to Kumon, then to Spanish lesson, then to Suzuki violin, then standing over them, threatening bed without dinner if they don't complete all their work neatly and on time.

Are there mothers like that? Absolutely (though not in the Valley). And sometimes they do sign up for Junior Kumon. But what I see with my young students is that they love to do the work. Ever give a child a workbook? It's playing grown up to them. like their big brothers and sisters. I keep Kumon easy, I keep it positive, I keep it to fifteen minutes a day and my young students love it.

My own kids play in the dirt, they do Kumon, they sometimes set the table (if I nag enough), they listen to books on tape, and are generally imaginitive fun kids with plenty of free time. They are also quite good at math, confident readers, and find school a pleasure. It's all worked for us.

Posted by Celia Pastoriza Kumon Northampton on 5.18.11 at 15:56

Here we are again, Sarah. We just see things so differently, it amazes me. I speak my mind to you, when I feel necessary, because I think (and hope), you appreciate it.

I do not know a whole lot about Kumon, but I am positive it is based on strategic learning methods rather than rote learning. I am not really bothered by your thoughts on Junior Kumon.

"The idea of kids accomplishing incredible academic feats at very young ages strikes me as a terrible thing to actively encourage in one’s child. I’m much more interested in my daughter playing outside, pretending, enjoying books and hanging with her pals and her brothers. I’m interested in pretty much anything but trying to make her a “good student.”

I just cannot seem to stomach these sentences, mainly the last one. It is my belief that the foundation I lay in the early years is the most important thing for my children. Why wouldn't you be interested in encouraging your daughter to be a good student? This literally makes no sense to me. Your children are going to spend something like 30% of their life in school.

I recognize that you are far more experienced than me, having 3 other children in school. Did you feel this way when they were 3, and if so, are they good students now?

I am a strong believer that America is shifting away from the importance of good education, in a time when we simply cannot afford to let that happen. Our children are going to be competing against the entire world when they enter the workforce!

For me, encouraging my children to value our education system, is crucial. I am not claiming to be a tiger mom, but I am certainly not going to let my children romp around all day without understanding the importance of being a good student!

I'm just sayin......

Posted by michele z on 5.20.11 at 22:35

Maybe what I'm really trying to say is this: imagination is going to get her further than numbers & letters at age 3. The joy of discovery, that will lead to critical thinking. You'll be a better student & more so a more joyous learner if you have that in your back pocket.

So I'm not going to focus upon her "academics" now. Not hitting her classmates, though, I'm right there!

To me what we're losing in American education at this time is the whole child. I like to think whole people do better academically & in all other ways.

Posted by Sarah B on 5.21.11 at 7:13

Difficult topic as I see it's hit a chord for many. I think we're all concious of the slip in education but just as aware that in this electronic age the basics of play, of discovery, of tripping over surprises, are just as educational as learning to read at three. My eldest son is a prolific reader who didn't now what the ABCs were until 6. Getting an early start has its up side but should never replace the joys of natural discovery and DEFINITELY shouldn't become a tool toward a goal. Living abroad I am shocked by how much "growing up" in the US is focussed toward getting them into college!

Posted by Caroline on 5.24.11 at 23:37

I firmly & truly believe if we support their creative play & kid-ness (& being in their bodies for fun) they will learn plenty (& plenty more than if focused on academics from the get-go). We have totally forgotten the notion of there's time for that serious stuff later.

Posted by Sarah B on 5.25.11 at 6:32

I would love to put together a discussion on this matter. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this, as well as true concern. If anyone is interested in getting together for wine and cheese and discussing this topic, let me know!

Posted by Michele Z. on 5.26.11 at 22:29



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