Should a three year-old be getting tutored in math and reading? And can this tutoring really help give them an edge in school? Apparently the parents who have signed their tots up for Junior Kumon think so. This question is at the heart of a social media firestorm that continues to rage after a recent New York Times article covered the growing trend of affluent parents sending their toddlers to Kumon in order to help them get a jump on kindergarten and perhaps the rest of their academic career. It got me thinking, are over-achieving parents (of which I fight against becoming one) pushing their kids too far too fast?
This article came out right about the time Dr. D. and I were in a heated debate about what kind of nursery school to enroll D2 in. He’s just turned 18 months. I’m very keen to enroll him in Montessori, while Dr. D.’s preference is for D2 to be in a much more traditionally structured pre-school type setting. As a Montessori kid myself, I love how Montessori teaches children creativity, a love of learning and exploration and independence. As part of our interview for D2’s admission, Dr. D. and I had to observe a class in action. I saw young children working very quietly at a variety of work stations. Each child was doing something different – from using building blocks to work through simple math equations to reading independently. They were polite, inquisitive and very articulate for such young children. I was in heaven. Dr. D. not so much. He worries whether there will be enough rigor and emphasis on “the fundamentals” for D2 to pass rigorous state exams and establish a disciplined approach to school that will allow him to get into a good college. He’s worried that a Montessori environment will be too free wheeling for D2 and he won’t learn enough. I pulled out the stops and showed him the research on the achievement levels of Montessori educated children. I even showed him a recent Wall Street Journal article on all of the successful CEOs who credited Montessori with their success as adults. He was unconvinced. I know. I know. It seems crazy we are having this discussion and D2 is not even two yet.
I showed Dr.D. the New York Times article and got a long lecture about what it takes to be competitive in today’s world and how he didn’t see anything wrong with parents sending their tiny tots to tutoring if it helped them get ahead. Of course, I vehemently objected. Isn’t it our job as parents to help our children read, count, cut paper into strips or do what ever else is needed outside of school to enrich them? Do we really need to hire people to tutor toddlers for God’s sake?! Long story short, D2 is starting the toddler program at Montessori later this summer and I am thrilled. I think he will thrive. I won the battle – somewhat. Dr. D. and I compromised and agreed that we’d see how D2 was doing at the end of the year and if he wasn’t satisfied we’d consider other options.
I know from talking with friends that we all struggle to make sure we are giving our children access to the best possible education we can afford. We all read the same news articles that trumpet how American kids are falling further and further behind children around the world in math and science. Our economy has fundamentally changed over the last few years and the things we did to become successful adults may not be enough for our children. So we worry. And we load our kids up with music lessons, sports, languages and yes, tutoring even when they are doing well – anything we can throw at them so as not to miss a single opportunity to make them smarter, better, more ready than the kids around them.
I question though, is this really for our kids or is it for us? Are they really better off? When I first saw the Kumon logo it stopped me cold. The simple drawing of the child’s (or is it a stressed out parent?) face looks so sad. I’m sure there is an interesting back story but it makes me feel sad. Are we making a deal with the devil despite our good intentions? Is this logo a secret warning sign? What do you think about this debate? Is the trend of seeking academic “achievement” at younger and younger ages going too far? Or do we as American parents need to suck it up and accept a new world order for success in the 21st century?