Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why School is Not Real Life, Part 3

Boys in Primary Grade Classrooms
By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

A client couple recently asked me to observe their nearly five-year-old son in his small private school K-1 classroom (that's kindergarten through 1st grade). Their little boy was already tested and found to be exceptionally gifted, so the school was willing to accept him into their program before he was five years old. But he hated school and wasn't making the progress that anyone had envisioned. They told me that the teacher, a young woman in her first year of teaching, was interested in whatever recommendations I might make to "engage" this child in learning at school.

First, I watched the eight little girls vie for top spot by finishing all they were asked to do quickly and perfectly. The girls set to work immediately when the teacher told them what they were to do. I watched the four little boys slide around in their seats-or fall off completely-or get up and walk around, ask to go to the bathroom, rip holes in the paper with pencil and scissors, put their heads on their desks, and otherwise not even begin to do what they were asked to do. The boy I was asked to watch behaved in all the "wrong" ways just as his parents had been told, but absolutely the same way as the other boys in the class.

Is sitting still and doing exactly what the teacher tells you to do a prerequisite for a good life? Is there something wrong with the boys or with the schools for expecting all children to sit still and be quiet? When schools tout their "developmentally appropriate" curriculums, do they talk about allowing active young boys to explore, handle objects, run around, and use their kinesthetic, visual and spatial abilities, the primary learning modes of males? We need to ask ourselves, what is "developmentally appropriate"-and in what ways-for whom?

I am a high intelligence specialist, but when the parents of a bright boy come to me because they are considering early entrance to kindergarten (starting school before the usual age five), I almost always discourage it. The home, preschool, and kindergarten environments are almost always more boy-friendly than grade school because they are more flexible and allow more free choice for the children, much like a good Montessori school. It makes so much more sense to experience one more year at home or in preschool, go to kindergarten for another year of flexibility and playtime, and then skip 1st grade. This way, the child still goes through school somewhat faster, but needs to spend less time in the more structured grade school environment. The problem with this boy's school placement is that it was more like a 1st grade than a kindergarten classroom, and he really didn't need to be there yet.

What did I recommend? I told them he shouldn't even be in school yet. A good daycare would fit his current needs better at this point. At the most, he should go half days or only two to three days a week at this age regardless of his intellectual abilities. In another article I will tell you how much bright kids really learn-or don't learn-in school.

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