Sunday, August 26, 2007

Homeschool, Grade Levels, and Dumbed-Down Education

What grade is your child in?

For most American families, there is an easy answer for this question. Their kids get up every day, get on the bus, and the school tells them what grade they are in. It's something along the lines of Kindergarten, first, second, and so on, all the way up to 12th grade. The children study with other children that are mostly within a year of their own age. They study the same grade level books for all of their classes. In some rare cases, a child might skip a grade, or a school might offer "gifted" classes where they might study a certain subject in a grade ahead of them.

For the homeschooling parent, this is a more involved question. My daughter officially started "Kindergarten" last year at age 4. Throughout that year, I came to the realization that it would not be a good thing to label her a year ahead of her peers, because I don't want to graduate her early, when she's 16 going on 17. I also wanted her in Sunday school classes with kids her own age, and when she gets to the age where she might be interested in entering competitions like the spelling bee or the geography bee, I don't want her arbitrarily assigned grade level to have her disqualified from competing several years before her peers. So for purposes of answering the question "what grade is your child in," she's going into grade K-5 this year.

But there's nothing "K-5" about her classes. Well, her music books say Kindergarten on the outside. But none of her other classes are designed for the Kindergarten child. She is doing first grade Bible, reading, and math classes (I wasn't sure about her reading level until recently, but she's shown me recently that she's reading at a level where I think she can handle the first grade course). Her history and science classes are grade 2, since she did grade 1 history and science last year.

I was thinking about this the other day. It sounds like she's advanced, but she's not a genius or anything. I think that probably half your 4 year old children could have done the work that she did last year. She completed Saxon Math K last year, which was so easy we ended up skipping some lessons. I'm not the only homeschool parent that finds Saxon Math K easy, either. Some of the lessons involve getting out teddy bear counters and playing with them. Towards the last half of the book I ended up skipping lessons very infrequently, and I don't think that I skipped any of the lessons in the last 2 or 3 months of classes last year... but in the first half of the year it was easy.

The reading that we ended up actually doing and completing is a workbook designed for 3-6 year olds. We also worked from the "Now I'm Reading" series, which also is geared towards young children, ages 4-7. She wasn't doing anything beyond her age level, as you can see.

Millions of parents around the country spend a lot of time immersing their children in a home full of learning. They buy alphabet toys for their children, have them practice workbook pages like the ones my daughter did, sit them in front of Sesame Street every day, and send them to preschools where they are taught their shapes, numbers, and colors. And then what happens to them when they turn 5 and go to Kindergarten?

They are taught letters of the alphabet, counting to 20, shapes, parts of the body, how to use the VCR and turn on a computer, and how to identify parts of the computer like the mouse, monitor, and keyboard. They basically start all over again. These are actual objectives from the elementary school district where I live, and I think that they are part of the state standards as well.

Do we wonder why kids get bored in school? Most of the children at Kindercare learn their shapes and colors before they get into the three year old room... then they are taught shapes and colors again when they get to Kindergarten. Most of the three year old children at Kindercare learn their letters... only to be taught it again in Kindergarten. Some parents spend more than $100 a month to have their child be tutored using the Hooked on Phonics program at Kindercare... they often learn how to read a little, and write many of their letters. But what good is it, when they are forced to start all over again once they reach Kindergarten?

I suppose that we have to start somewhere. In addition, teachers only have so much time with each student. But it doesn't do the children that have learned their numbers, letters, colors and shapes any good to have to relearn them all over again. Similarly, schools usually spend several weeks to more than a month at the beginning of each year, every year, reviewing what they learned the previous year. For students that have retained the information, it is mind-numbingly boring. That's how I felt, at least. I love to learn things... but learning the difference between nouns and verbs for several years in a row gets old after a while.

Children used to learn a lot more in school than they do now. There is a test floating around somewhere on the net that students had to take in the 1800s when they graduated from the 8th grade... most high schoolers and even many college students would have difficulty passing it. What did they do differently? Well, for one, they didn't teach about sex, drugs, and alcohol. They probably didn't waste too much time in school assemblies either. But the biggest difference was that those children were taught in a one-room schoolhouse. With all the grades mixed together, it allowed people to learn at their own ability level. I'm sure that Kindergarteners who already knew their shapes and colors didn't have to relearn it. People that remembered the difference between a noun and a verb didn't have to spend several weeks out of their year being taught it all over again.

My church has a Christian school attached to it. It has about 26 students or so. They only go to school 4 days a week. They get every Friday off. I only teach my daughter 4 days a week as well. We take Fridays off. Lots of homeschool families either take Fridays off, or they might only do reading and math on Fridays and skip the other subjects.

Perhaps the answer to our nation's educational woes isn't more money (which so far hasn't helped) but finding some way to allow children to develop at their own pace. We're really just wasting a lot of time for many children otherwise.

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