Sunday, November 13, 2005

Looks like we've got the preschool equivalent to the $600 SUV stroller right here.

Apparently, some (more educated, better-heeled) parents are looking to provide academic advantage for their kids when they hit kindergarten, what with "No Child Left Behind" looming over everyone like the Sword of Damocles and all. Kaplan (et al), of course is right there to supply something to help them spend their money. From what I gather in the article, this sort of tutoring provides very little if any return for toddlers, unless they have a learning disability. If anything, it may well turn kids off of school. We'll see in a few years, I guess.

A little personal note, here: neither of my parents graduated college, and only one grandparent graduated high school. Everybody loved to read, however. Everybody loved music as well. As a result, my brother and I were always read to, danced with or sung to. Even my dad, who wasn't very musically inclined, would sing to us. We'd get "God Bless America" every night, though, because that was the one song he knew all the words to. My mom, who had years of lessons from her time with the nuns, would play anything and everything on the piano.

These loves wore off on my brother and me, and helped us quite a bit through some rough years both at home and school. The family investment, when we had it, is something that I've drawn comfort from during some awful, dark times.

I can't stress enough the importance of less, but better television. Push Big TV to give us something more useful than what they think we want. (And don't give me that whole "well, PBS lost a lot of government funding..." line - how many garbage travel shows with corporate sponsorship do they have now? How many membership drives do we submit ourselves to for the relative rock video that Nova's become? PBS is doing perfectly fine. They'd do better if what they offered was better.) Growing up, I rarely, if ever watched television; don't know that we had one when I was little. I vaguely remember the Big Three PBS shows from trips to grandparents' houses and from a grainy, off-color screen color TV somewhere that didn't get all the stations. Started learning French from Sesame Street. Also got a great head start in what some program director in one of Kaplan toddler tutorials called "valuable pre-reading experience and phonetic recognition" from Electric Company. Easy Reader gave me the confidence to sound things out on street signs, etc. By the time I started Kindergarten, I could read perfectly fine on my own. My brother took off a bit more slowly, as it turns out he's dyslexic. He consumes books like potato chips, though, and has turned out to be a darned good writer.

Back to music. As I said, there was a lot of that in our household and not just because everyone was a musician. They weren't, but that didn't stop anyone from having fun playing. Dust off that old guitar, get the piano tuned. One doesn't have to be a Segovia or Horowitz to play anything from the Fireside Book. Don't know an instrument? Then sing! Even if it's only one song! Or learn to play an instrument: Guitar setups are fairly cheap (cheaper than a piano, that's for sure). Buy one, get a Mel Bay book, learn a couple chords. Kids would learn something important, too, in seeing that not everybody's immediately a virtuoso, that some things take time to learn to do right, and that you can still have fun playing, singing, dancing, whatever, while in the process of learning. All that, in addition to getting one's kids outdoors (playing, not to Starbucks) every day is healthy both for the kids and for parents. Ultimately, it's the investment of things other than money in one's kids that generally brings greater returns than engaging yet another kind of paid help.


Dr Bob said...

Hooray! Let's hear it for live music! My father always sang around the house (not tunefuly) snippets of WW2 Navy songs & stuff from the music hall. Didn't realise how important and formative it was for years: there were no instruments in the house until I bought a guitar when I was 14 -- but it turns out that Dad played Eb alto sax, that his mother played mandolin, her mother played harp.

We should all strive to keep music live -- and to share what we know and what we can do.

Be said...

People don't tend to realize the cognitive processes involved in processing music - everyone in my family has played at least one instrument, everyone (including my brother and me) is (at least) bilingual. We've all also ended up making our livings in tech/engineering.

Nick said...

Interestingly enough... I think I'm the only one of my siblings who never played any sort of instrument. I think by the time they got to #4... my parents just got sick and tired of trying to force kids to learn one... so they never tried with me, and I never showed an interest.

I'm also the only one who got to pick the foreign language that they wanted to take. My sisters were all required by my dad to take German. I on the other hand go to pick Spanish... which given our population demographics just makes good sense, not that I remember much of it.

Be said...

We weren't really forced to learn instruments or languages - all stuff was optional. It just sort of happened because we were surrounded by it. Kind of like my mom's sister's kids who ended up strong in visual arts and crack shots.