Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New York Headstart

I was sitting on the couch with Zoe last night, chatting and deciding what book to read as bedtime story when she suddenly looked at me with a very sad face. "You know Mommy? At daycare (she still uses the Danish work for daycare since there is no word for preschool), the other kids know letters. All the letters!" At this point she started crying. She still looked at me but sobbed: "They know the letters without the teacher helping them!" I tried to comfort her and told her that they had learned and that it was no big deal, she would learn too but she was clearly really upset. I picked out her alphabet exercise book and we colored Q and learned words with Q but I could tell she was still distraught.

I was possibly even more upset because I had never seen her be so sad about not knowing something and she was used to being ahead or at least equal to her class mates in Sweden. I had worried slightly about this because I knew they were ahead in the US and basically follow a very different teaching philosophy than in Scandinavia where teaching academic skills is not in the curriculum (i.e. letters or math) before kindergarten. This is also why I had bought the exercise books, but with our busy lives we had only managed to make it to Q in the first book. I know Zoe knows numbers up to 4 as well as the three letters in her name but other than that she is typical Scandinavian in that they only pick things up if they really want to. Teaching is not structured and most of the 'teaching' in daycare is about themes such as nature, transportation and the body. Being from this system myself, I can appreciate it, particularly since I was rather slow in learning to read but ended up in the higher range of the educational system. But I also realize it does not work for all and being able to "measure up" with your peers is important everywhere.

So I asked a friend who home schools her twins (so far) and who is much more knowledgeable about childhood education than I am, if she could give me some advice. This morning I followed some of her tips for books and tools for learning to both recognize and write letters and numbers. The tiger mom that I am, I got same-day delivery (I didn't even know there was such thing, but that's another benefit of being located very centrally) and just as Zoe had put on her pajamas, we received two sandpaper tracing books, one for letters, one for numbers. She was excited and immediately drew the number 10 with a green crayon.

When I told the teacher this afternoon about Zoe's concerns, she tried to comfort me and explain. She firstly told me that the children were all at different levels. But she also told me that this particular program was called Headstart for a reason. The other parents were very keen on academics (I had never heard this word being used in relation to small children before) and pushed the teachers to make sure there was more specific learning than play. I told her about the Scandinavian system and she seemed to understand. It was not that Zoe was behind, it was that this had never been part of her daily routine*.

In the afternoon we walked home through the snow and when it got too thick to walk through, we went inside a cafe for hot chocolate and apple pie. Zoe asked me for a pen and proceeded to draw the nicest 3 I had ever seen on a paper napkin. "I learned this today", she said proudly and I exhaled a sigh of relief. She is a fast learner. She will be drawing numbers by the end of the week and know the alphabet before the end of the month.

*That said, I know that in Zoe's Swedish daycare they do a lot of 'math', counting, recognizing numbers, and talking about things. They also do a lot of physical work like dancing and gymnastics, play outside two hours a day and have structured activities. But they would never all any of them academics.

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