Today’s guest blogger, Tracy Stevens, is a former high school Spanish teacher who infrequently gave project-based homework to her students. Currently a telecom salesperson and the mother of two boys who attend private school after a difficult year in public elementary school, she is the author of abettereducation.blog, which is full of interesting interviews (including one with Daniel Pink) and thoughts. Today she writes about her son’s experience in first grade in public school and her decision to have her son repeat first grade in a more child-friendly atmosphere.
First Grade in Public School was Pure Torture
by Tracy Stevens
My son was born in August and attended a Montessori Pre-School since he was 1-1/2. When it came time to consider 1st Grade, we met with his teacher and the head of school and we felt that, despite being one of the younger kids, he was socially and academically ready to handle the rigors of public school, especially in the public Montessori Elementary School that we found for him, where he would experience a familiar classroom and learning system.
It was a year of pure torture for the entire family. The teacher encouraged reading through competition. Each kid had a thermometer that showed his level of reading. If you were a girl or an older child, your thermometer was pretty full. My son’s low thermometer was humiliating for him, and was also a marker of his confidence and curiosity as the year progressed.
Because he wasn’t up to the reading level that was stipulated for that grade, the teacher’s way of remedying the problem was to provide more homework. Each 1st Grader had at least an hour of math and reading homework every night. My son struggled with his and this hour would turn into longer to get it finished. If he were not finished with his schoolwork to his teacher’s satisfaction, he would stay in for recess to finish it. He also had a tutor during afterschool care that would help him with his homework. This boy was in school from 8:00 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening, sometimes with limited or no recess and little play time left in after care. Then he would have at least an hour of homework at night. Where was the balance in his life? Where was the time for play, movement, creativity, socializing, and family time? We began to make it a point to provide this for him, regardless of what was required by the school. At first we had him do no more than 15 minutes of homework each evening. Soon, though, we just stopped complying with the homework mandate all together. It was causing misery, frustration, and daily crying sessions.
We decided to repeat 1st Grade, this time in a Waldorf school and the experience could not be more different. Waldorf doesn’t believe in homework until the 3rd grade and even then that is only a brief time for a musical instrument. They have a much more gradual approach to reading, in that they do not expect students to begin reading on their own until 3rd Grade. When they do read, they have had years of preparation and familiarity with letters, phonics, comprehension, and other reading skills so that it seems to be a natural, easy thing for them to do. There is no standardized testing at a Waldorf school, so the pressure to quickly get students up to testing level is eliminated, allowing them to learn at a pace that is suited to their needs. Waldorf believes in balance and regards education of the head, heart and hands of equal importance.
My son is happy again. Gone are the homework battles and daily tears over it. His confidence is restored and he is genuinely enjoying learning new things again.