Throughout the early childhood years, the primary goal is wonder, and more wonder. ~Scott Sampson
A nice college-aged guy from Estonia has come to our house twice now, trying to sell us something called “Southwestern Advantage” – the first time he caught my husband alone and said he’d come back later when we were both home so we could learn about the products he’s selling via some kind of exchange program. Per the company’s website,
Sometimes the classroom just isn’t enough…
When a child doesn’t understand the material during class… how can they possibly complete assignments at home? Or when extracurricular activities eat up your kids’ afternoons… finding time to study & do homework can be tough. Our products help your kids understand assignments, and get them done faster.
…our guides will help them get ahead—and stay ahead—every step of the way.
Between band practice, soccer, baseball, and everything else… who’s got time to pour through hundreds of pages of text books to find the right answers?
You get the picture. It’s a product intended to help kids, from pre-K on, get ahead, presumably en-route to making enough money to live the “good life.” When Mr. Estonia salesman guy came back a few days later, I was the only one home, and I got a speech about how our daughter is going to need to really know her stuff to “qualify” for kindergarten in a few years. Don’t get me wrong — I’m sure this product has been beneficial to many people and helped plenty of children and teens move through school. He read me a list of all the neighborhood families that had already signed up, and many of them are really great people. The salesman himself seemed like a genuine individual, and I’m glad he has the opportunity to travel while peddling this product. But. Doesn’t it seem a bit off that we should NEED things like “school readiness” products and programs designed to help young children “get ahead”?
Eva is three and a half. She could potentially go to preschool this fall, but I doubt she will. But when she does go, I’d love for her to go somewhere that focuses on experiential learning and includes plenty of time outside engaged with the natural world. She gets that at home, but I’d love for her to get that at school too, since it’s such an elemental part of being a fully present human. It is unfortunate that it’s the missing piece in much of the traditional educational system.
There are at least six preschool options within a 15 mile radius of our home. If we lived in the city, this number would be far greater, but living 50 miles north of the metro, options are more limited. But there are still six, and there are probably five more that I just haven’t come across yet. There’s the Early Childhood program through the county, two church-based programs, a Montessori school in the next town over, and a few more privately run options. There’s a really interesting looking program through a place called Warner Nature Center, but that’s about 25 miles from home, so it’s not in the “close” radius. At any rate, there are options. The county program is the cheapest, with a sliding fee based on income, but if you don’t count the Montessori school (with a price tag of $3500 per year plus mandatory fundraising) the average cost is about $100 per month. And then there’s the homeschooling option, but since Eva doesn’t spend a ton of time with other children, it’d be nice for her to have some socialization.
I don’t know yet what we’ll end up doing. I lean toward the nature center program, but the distance is a little off-putting. I like the Montessori approach, but 3.5K a year and fundraising? That’s even more off-putting, regardless the quality of the program. (The fact that we don’t pay our teachers and childcare providers anywhere close to enough is a post for another time. The reality is that thousands of dollars for preschool just isn’t a viable financial option for us) But whatever we end up doing, I want to give Eva what she needs to succeed while at the same time allowing her to explore and experiment and be curious about the world that is so much bigger than the halls of whatever school she might attend. Scott Samson writes, in his recent book, How to Raise a Wild Child,
..careerism is currently the lens through which we see and evaluate education reform, preparing students to successfully enter consumer society — that is, to be “upwardly mobile.”
I want Eva to be able to function in the world, whatever society looks like when she’s navigating her way through it on her own terms. But I also want her to be able to question the status quo and think for herself. And most of all, I want to give her a childhood that allows her to be on intimate terms with the wonder and beauty and life that is so often missed while cramming for standardized tests and entrance exams. Of course she, not I as her parent, gets to decide what matters to her when all is said and done, and there are some things that are inherent, regardless what preschool or extra learning programs punctuate one’s early life. But what I can do is take her outside regularly and not pack her every waking hour with activities that might look good on paper but take away from opportunities for her to make her own adventure and write her own story.
So, I don’t think Southwestern Advantage is probably going to be gracing our family bookshelves, but what I do think is that one of the most important things we can do for our daughter’s education is give her a chance to live in a way that reminds her she isn’t separate from nature. I think children know that when they come into the world, but it’s up to us as parents to not let them forget.