Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Teaching 3-year-old boys to write in Britain

The elementary schoolization of preschool is happening in Britain, too. There are several articles in British newspapers about how poorly British boys read poorly compared with girls, and the government is about to order "nurseries and childminders" to spend more time teaching 3- and 4-year-old boys to write. These two cover it best.

After a year of school, more than one in six boys cannot write his own name or simple words such as "mum", "dad" or "cat" – double the number of girls – official figures show. ...
Official figures released earlier this year showed that boys were lagging further behind girls by the age of five since the introduction of Labour's "nappy curriculum".
Boys are also less likely to know the alphabet, or how to count to 10, sing simple nursery rhymes from memory, dress themselves and work well with classmates at the end of the reception year, before they start Year One.
The figures were the first results from the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory programme introduced in September last year for all schools, nurseries and childminders.
Overall, just over half of children reached government targets for all areas of early development, including personal and social skills, literacy, problem-solving and numeracy, physical development, and creativity.
Some 52 per cent of five-year-olds were competent in all areas – a three-percentage-point rise from last year. However, boys were significantly less likely than girls to start the first full year of school properly prepared. The gender gap widened in three key areas: writing, problem-solving and elements of personal development.
So the recommendation -- instruction, actually -- is to do a whole list of things to teach writing to little boys, so they can "close the education gap." Among other things, it is said that little boys don't like making marks as much as girls, so they will be encouraged to make marks "with" things like sand and chocolate powder, and role-playing games where waiters write up orders or they take phone messages. For 3-year-olds. There are also calls for introducing rote learning of words. For 3-year-olds. (And 4- and 5-year olds, but for 3-year olds, for Christ's sake!

I'm afraid I'm having one of those feelings where I know what the problem is but the experts quoted in the articles don't, and that almost always means I'm missing something fundamental. It seems to me three things are going on here:
  • Boys and men are on average less verbal than girls and women.
  • Boys' verbal abilities develop more slowly than girls'.
  • People freak out over normal stuff.
I wrote that before I got to the part in the Independent article where they quote people who agree with me:
Child-development specialists have opposed the writing targets for five-year-olds since they were first proposed, arguing that many children, particularly boys, do not develop the fine motor skills needed for writing until they are six or seven.
Sue Palmer, a former headteacher and author of the book 21st Century Boys, described the decision as "state-sponsored child abuse", arguing that boys were developmentally behind at birth and needed time to "run, jump and play, in order to acquire the physical control and capacity to focus that they will need later on".
She said: "The Government's belief that they can accelerate human development is just nonsense. This is massive control freakery which will be disastrous for the children. These very young children have become hostages to political fortunes because ministers believe that their political futures depend on getting a certain number of children to reach these targets by the age of five. That is just wrong."
Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University and a founder of the Open Eye campaign against the early-years curriculum, warned that many of the targets for five-year-olds were inappropriate for the age group. He added: "Many of the much-criticised 'teaching to test', assessment-driven characteristics of the primary school are now invading our nursery settings."
This person calls it bullying kids to write.

Yup. What they said.

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