Monday, October 4, 2010

'Mom, I'm going schooling!'

With her pink Disney princess bags (prized inheritance from Aunt Xaris) filled with snacks and toys, Oona announces where she's going before getting her toy car out of her 'garage' and driving around the sofa to the 'parking lot'. Since her cousins, Aunt Diday and some favorite cartoon characters go to school, she's gotten it in her head that it's where she's destined to go. When Word World comes on, she refers to it as *her school*. And the lesson for the day depends on what she feels like, be it dancing, jumping or cooking with her building blocks. She manages reading her picture books, some scribbling and coloring sometimes too.

*sigh* I think Oona's going to be ready for school a lot sooner than I'm ready to see her go!

I've been holding out for 5 years old while RF's hedging along play school earlier than that. We both agree to let the kids have a childhood before inflicting an institution on them too soon. I'm always afraid of that.

Maybe I'm intimidated at how increasingly competitive schools and students are nowadays. It's scary how many books, tests, homework and projects little kids seem to have! Sometimes I'd see schoolbuses coming from school and these huge school bags would be perched precariously on top. The amount of information these young kids have to absorb seem to be increasing exponentially every year! I'm afraid Oona might have physics by the time she enters Grade 1! I only had my lunchbox, a change of clothes and hankie when I started school!

My paranoia aside, I have decided to use the next two years til Oona's 5 years old preparing her and by spillover, so to speak, Olly too, for big school. I'll do my utmost best to home school them with what I have and see if it'll work for the long haul. As much as I would love to declare that I can do it like other home-schooling moms, I still have to see if I have the patience for it and our parent-child relationship doesn't suffer. I just don't want them to be burdened by the learning process instead of enjoying it along with their childhood!

I only started thinking about education when Oona was turning one year old. I was surprised and not just a little guilty that I let myself get caught flat-footed about her academic development! You spawn 'em, feed 'em and larrrn 'em, after all. Most moms I met in forums had already attended seminars, workshops, enrolled in early childhood development and education courses and have put their babies in programs geared towards "giving them an edge in life". While I did not want to bombard the kids with too much too soon, I did not want to turn out depriving them either.

So I started reading up ASAP and I realized that communication should be the first and foremost lesson. It makes sense, right? Your child is non-verbal at this stage. How do you do this? How can you teach your child anything if there is no established connection and you can't understand each other at all? What foundations do you build on to help them grow and learn?

One of the incredible things I learned was about how babies as young as 6 months old were being taught to communicate using sign language! It never occurred to me that it can be done but I watched an amazing video of a baby expressing herself before she is able to verbalize! I tried it with Oona but she had already begun to communicate using her own set of expressions so we only got the "No more!" sign shortly before she was truly verbal. I am going to try again with Olly and I'm hopeful that this time around, we'll be more successful with it.

I really think Oona and I would have a less frustrating time understanding each other if I had started her earlier on communicating this way. I certainly understand better now that it's very hard for children to let adults know what they are thinking and what they wish to convey, be it a physical or emotional condition. After all, they're new to this as much as we are new to being parents.

The following article co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas is really enlightening.

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the network of Georgia day care facilities belonging to the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose day care schools. Primrose Schools are located in 16 states throughout the U.S. and are dedicated to delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum throughout their preschools.

Check them out at http://www.primroseschools.com/ and find out if there's one near you :)

Read on!

Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language

One of the keys to surviving in a tilted economic system in which opportunities to achieve a decent standard of living will be limited is versatility – and the ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways with the widest possible audience. This includes bilingual ability as well as the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways for the benefit of the disabled – primarily the deaf.

At the same time, a growing shortage of qualified interpreters fluent in American Sign Language has led to more career opportunities – and if current trends continue, it's likely that skilled ASL interpreters will have little problem securing lucrative employment in a society where such a commodity is destined to be in short supply.

Signing Before They Can Speak

A great deal of research has clearly demonstrated that the early years – ages 2 to five – are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well.

This is not as odd as you may think. As you know, many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indian nations, have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes with whom they do not share a language. Some paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate.

In fact, recent research suggests that sign language is innate. An article published in the Boulder Daily Camera in 2003 presented strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands:

"...by 6 to 7 months, babies can remember a sign. At eight months, children can begin to imitate gestures and sign single words. By 24 months, children can sign compound words and full sentences. They say sign language reduces frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves before they know how to talk." (Glarion, 2003)

The author also cites study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development demonstrating that young children who are taught sign language at an early age actually develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that "using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration...[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music" (Glarion, 2003).

The Best Time To Start

Not only does early childhood education in signing give pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning ASL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.

I really believe that my kids would be ready for school before I'm ready for them to go. But the best way I can assure myself that it's time for them to spread their wings and fly (if only for a few hours each day) is to equip them with effective communication skills. That way, I won't be scared that they're not able to handle what they'll be going through when I'm not there because they'll be able to tell me in no uncertain terms what their day was like.

And if their school bags are waaay too heavy and they want to home school with me again because they miss teacher mommy me. :D

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