05 September 2012

PYHO - It's Not the Same

Over at Momma Can..., Momma spoke about the importance of saying yes to the notes your child comes home with from the PTA or the teacher. Many schools - and more importantly, teachers - are relying on donations and assistance from the parents and the community at large.  So few things are able to be supplied by the school systems any more that things that were once a staple of school just don't happen any more.

And it got me thinking about how different Teddy's school experience is than mine was 30+ years ago.

When I was in first grade, I don't remember needing to bring my own crayons, my own glue, my own chalk (which would have been the equivalent of today's dry erase markers).  What I needed for school were  pencils and paper.  Maybe not even the pencils, though I suspect I probably did.

Teddy had a long list of things that he needed to have for the first day of school, along with another list sent home by his teacher on the first day of school.  The school-wide list was:

  • 1 large box of Kleenex
  • 1 small plastic school box
  • 1 pair of Fiskar scissors
  • 24 count box of crayons (no more)
  • 4 Yellow #2 pencils (Do not put names on the pencils)
  • 1 container of disinfecting wipes
  • 2 (8oz.) Elmer's bottle of white glue
  • 1 pack of rectangular erasers
  • 1 bottle of liquid soap
Our Art teachers request the following materials from 1st grade students:
  • 1 box of #2 pencils
  • 1 box of Crayola colored pencils
The teacher's list was similar, a few more of various items here and there.  And while I think that these things are incredibly important to learning, it saddens me that schools aren't able to help provide something as simple as Kleenex or soap.

It's not just the supplies that are different.  It's what we learned vs what they are learning.

When I was in school, there was a focus on being well-rounded.  Art and music were as important as math and reading.  PE was something that (I think) we had every day.  We learned science and social studies, talked about the world around us.  Through 6th grade, we had a designated day and time that we went to the library every week.  When we were younger, the librarian would read a story to us.  As we got older, we were encouraged to pick out books to take home and read.  It was a huge thrill when we were able to move from the "little kid" books to the ones that were for what would here be considered middle school. (And the day we were able to go through the door from the elementary library to the HS library.... just, wow!)

For Teddy, he still gets art and music - and, thankfully, he's at a school where they do think it's important.  But he's got PE two days a week instead of daily (and yet, they complain about children being overweight).  The library is something he goes to only when he wants to rather than being a scheduled thing.  His teacher mentioned at Open House that they aren't letting them focus on science or social studies any longer - our school had poor reading and math grades so it was to be a heavy focus on those two subjects and the rest could be fit in as you had time.

When I was younger, school was as much a place of social learning as it was book learning.  Recess lasted 30 minutes.  You were encouraged to play and to work out your differences with your friends.  Teachers were there if you needed them, but they tried to let us handle what we thought we could first.  The time we weren't learning how to write or read or add or how plants grew was spent learning how to interact with our friends - and we were given down-time to just decompress from the hard job of learning.  Granted, it was a little less each year, but the down time was just as important.

In Teddy's school, recess lasts 15 minutes.  Lunch is only 20 minutes.  Every minute of every day is scheduled with learning.  There never seems to be a minute that they can catch their breath.

It seems as though what they learn is accelerated far beyond what I learned at that age.  Kindergarten was a time to play, to learn how to interact with people, and maybe learn your ABC's, numbers, colors and shapes.  We still had nap time and afternoon snacks.  First grade was simple addition, starting to read, starting to learn how to write a bit better.  I don't ever remember bringing home homework my first couple years of school.

But for Teddy, kindergarten was a place where he learned simple addition and how to read sight words.  (Though he has always been far beyond when it comes to reading).  In first grade, he's already doing tens addition.  The first week he came home from school, the word "attitude" was one of his spelling words.  He has homework every night (though usually it's only a worksheet or two).  He has spelling tests weekly and tests on his reading passages.  It's a lot more work than I remember first grade being.

Now, in some ways, I'm comparing apples and oranges.  I went to school at a K-12 in upstate New York. Teddy goes to a K-4 school in a state capital.  We had 2 teachers for each grade.  They have between 8 and 10.  We could wear whatever we wanted to.  They have an SSA (though, thankfully, it's not as strict as it could be).  We didn't have the infrastructure in place to help kids that were gifted.  Teddy's school does.  I don't know how schools were in larger towns, if they were anything like what Teddy's experiencing now.  But from what I've read by others, I don't think my experience would have been too different from theirs.

Don't get me wrong.  I love Teddy's school, his teachers and there are a lot of advantages he has now that I couldn't dream of having then.  Everyone at the school knows Teddy and loves him.  They try to find ways to push him further than he would push himself - like letting him read chapter books (since he's reading at a 5th grade level).  We've had some problems with him health-wise in school, and they go out of their way to make things easier for him there.  I am glad that he has this school and has had these teachers.  But sometimes... sometimes I wish he could go back to when I was in school and enjoy being a kid rather than having to focus so hard on learning.