How Young Is Too Young?
By Cameron Pipkin
I’m not one of those people who remembers my life all the way back to inception. My earliest memory is of preschool—actually, of my decision to go to preschool. I clearly remember putting on Velcro tennis shoes while my mother asked me whether I wanted to be in “day school.” I must have expressed some uncertainty, because she had to entice me with the promise of cookies and the company of my best friend Jeff, whose parents had put him in the same program.
Other than that, my only memories of preschool are limited to a swing set, “my dad can beat up your dad” disputes, and the perplexing scent of cigarette smoke on Santa Claus one Christmas.
But oh to be four years old again! Today I was doing some reading and I came across an interesting document titled “Pre-K Standards for the Common Core.” I’ll refrain from mentioning the school district that produced this document, but, suffice to say, the program it outlines is a far cry from the cookie/recess model I came to know and love in the early 80’s.
Looking the thing over, I’m torn as to what to think. On the one hand, it seems too serious for pre-K. On the other, it gives kids a pretty significant head start on what will soon become the central pursuit of their lives. Much of it, actually, might be quite standard for current preschool curricular trends, which I, admittedly, know little about. Count to ten, identify groups of numbers by sight, and basic alphabet learning all seem intuitive to me. There are some standards, however, that look a wee bit intense.
For example, under the heading “Operations and Algebraic Thinking,” one standard reads “Understand simple patterns: Duplicate and extend (e.g., What comes next?) simple patterns using concrete objects.”
Easy enough, I suppose, but algebraic thinking beginning before my kid can tie her shoe? Pattern recognition? What ever happened to “don’t hit Johnny” and mastery of the up and down toothbrush stroke?
I know that we’re living in an increasingly competitive world, and that our kids will only rise as high as our expectations of them, but are we robbing them just a tiny bit of the sweetness of childhood when we start them on the path to algebraic thinking just after they’ve mastered toilet training? How young is too young, and what is the purpose of pre-k schooling anyhow?
I’d love to get your thoughts.