Saturday, September 8, 2012

Little Kids Shouldn't Play With Matches. But How About Letters and Numbers?

I'm watching Jedda today. It's a 1955 film about an Aboriginal child raised by a white woman in the Northern Territory.

In this section of the film, Mrs. Sarah McMann has young Jedda practice her letters.  

The foster mum is a bit pushy about the whole thing.

The narrator tells us the little Jedda would rather make animal tracks in the dough. But Sarah McMann won't have that. She wants Jedda to do her academics.

Do I agree with this type of parenting of a young child?


I don't think academics should be forced on young kids. Nor do I think that type of knowledge is superior to other types of knowledge.

But I disagree with folks who believe children should be kept away from academic thingies until a certain age.

I just finished reading Mayim Bialik's parenting book,  Beyond The Sling.

After reading way too many parenting books and having a few years of real life parenting experience, I began to avoid parenting books like the plague.

They always make me feel like I'm not doing enough or I'm doing things wrong.

There's never a parenting book that agrees with everything I do.

Ah!  Idea:  Write my own parenting book. Not for other people. But just for me. Then I can get 100% agreement on everything I do. 

Anyway, I made a rare exception for Mayim.


I'm obsessively in love with the TV show she's on—The Big Bang Theory

I'm also thrilled that she does the attachment parenting thing.  Because that's what we do.

Like Mayim, we breastfed Jack beyond infancy...and even toddlerhood. We co-slept (and still do sometimes). We carried Jack in a sling.  We homeschool.

It's nice to have something in common with a smart, talented, and cool celebrity.

We don't do everything the same, though. Reading about that stuff in the book made me uneasy at times.  Like I said, I'm yearning for a parenting book that agrees with me completely.

As for the the differences, it varied. Sometimes I read things and thought, well, maybe Mayim Bialik has it right. We kind of missed the boat on that one. In other words, I sort of wish I had done things differently.

Other times I read things and felt unsure about whether I preferred her way of doing things or my way of doing things.  

Then there were occasions where I definitely disagreed with her.  Actually, I think there was only one. That's when my defensiveness went up, and I declared I'd never watch The Big Bang Theory again.   Or I'd at least fast-forward through all the Amy Farah Fowler scenes.  

I'm joking.

Don't worry.

But Mayim did annoy me a bit by having a different opinion than me. I felt criticized. See, I'm really not good with parenting books.


Let me get to the point.

(I should probably NOT write a parenting book. It would go off in way too many tangents)

Mayim is against exposing young children to letters and numbers.

She says in one part. But where did we get the notion that they have to learn their alphabet, their numbers, and even identify colors as soon as they can?  I'd like to say the following: just because they can doesn't mean they should.

I agree with her to some sense. Can shouldn't equal should.  

But what if the child seems happy learning academic stuff?

Should it be avoided?

What if Jedda liked learning letters more than making tracks in the dough?  Would Mayim have frowned down on this?

Later in the book, Mayim says, My husband and I made a personal choice not to introduce academics in any form to our children in their first five or so years of life.  This included no ABC books, no singing the alphabet song, no puzzles with letters or numbers, and we even went so far as to not teach colors, to the dismay of parents and in-laws. 

This viewpoint is actually not new to me.  It's part of the Waldorf method of teaching, and the preschool I worked at in New York followed it to some degree.

The classroom avoided toys with letters and numbers. 

We weren't allowed to write the children's names on the front of their painting, because it might give the idea that we were trying to teach children to write their name.

It was all a bit hypocritical, though, because the parents didn't follow the philosophy at home.   Children would come to school with letter and number skills. The same teachers who didn't want to teach the skills were very impressed with the kids who knew the skills.

I'm not saying that parents and teachers who follow the philosophy are harming their children. 

I'm not even really against the practice.

It's more like I don't regret that I did things differently with Jack.

I didn't push academics on Jack, but we had learning materials available.  I'd play games, sing songs, and have conversations that taught him things. If he was happy with the activities, I'd continue with them. If he looked bored, I'd stop.

Usually, he was happy with them.

Did it make him smarter in the long run?


Maybe not.

Who knows.

I don't.

But I had fun.

He had fun.

No harm my opinion.

It seems there's two extremes when it comes to young children and academics: 1. Children need to get a head start and quickly learn these basics.  2. Exposure to these academic basics should be avoided until a child is of a certain age.

I say have the materials ready so the child can get a head start if they want to do that. If they'd rather play in the sandbox, that's fine too.    

I took break here, from writing this, because I had a game-playing appointment with Jack.

While I played, in the back of my head, I wondered how the hell I would conclude the post?

How can I express myself and defend my viewpoint, because I didn't feel I did a good job of it thus far.

Then I thought of something.  Our big bag of collage materials in the art room.

I started collecting collage materials back when I was a preschool teacher. I kept collecting while Jack was a baby.

Our family is blessed with a big paper bag full of magazine pieces, wallpaper pieces, wrapping paper pieces, etc.

It's fabulous.

And would any parent of any parenting philosophy argue against making collages?

Paper, and paste.  How could that be bad?

And it's kind of green too.   It's putting to use stuff that would be otherwise thrown away.

From what I know of crunchy parents like Mayim Bialik; art is a positive and usually non-controversial activity.

Okay but....

Jack has rarely shown any interest in doing collages.

I can probably count on my fingers the amount of times, since his birth, that he's used the bag of collage goodies.  

He's just not very into it.  

I've never pushed him, despite the fact that I collected all this stuff.

That to me is good parenting.  Yes, I'm patting myself on the back right now. (okay.  not literally, actually.   I'm too busy typing). 

So that's what I'm going to say. It's not about the activity. It's about the attitude and behavior surrounding the activity.

Do I support parents forcing their three-year-olds to play soccer?


Do I believe parents should hide soccer balls from their three-year-old, because they're against kids being pressured to play sports.   No.

I think if the parents enjoy sports they should buy a kiddie soccer ball, kick it around a bit, and see if their kid is interested.  

Should kids be forced into acting careers?   No.   But if the child loves singing, dancing, dressing up, and performing in front of guests, I'd say it might be nice to take them to an audition or two.

Of course there's limits.   I don't think we need to expose our children to everything. And just because a child is interested in something, it doesn't mean you must allow them to partake in the activity.

Well, yes we let Betsy play with matches. She's always had an interest in fire!

That would be silly.


Maybe not. Maybe it WOULD be okay with proper supervision.

Perhaps Betsy could grow up to have a promising career in pyrotechnics.