# Pre-school tutors

Tutoring pre-schoolers? It’s the latest thing, says the Christian Science Monitor.

Natalie Bloomster spends two afternoons every week with her tutor, reviewing the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

There’s nothing very unusual about this arrangement — except for the fact that Natalie is only 5 and not yet enrolled in school.

Some kids are ready to learn academic skills at a young age: My daughter was reading before she turned 3; it took me five minutes to teach her. But paying a tutor has to bring on the pressure.

Susi Scholl is confident that enrolling her five-year-old daughter, Erica Mendel, in a tutoring program at the Skibby Learning Center in Newport Beach, Calif., has made a huge difference in her academic preparedness.

“She is a very bright child but she took a huge leap forward with [tutoring],” says Ms. Scholl. “Within a month she was adding and subtracting three-digit numbers and now she is learning fractions.”

Scholl, who pays \$45 for each 30-minute tutoring session, says she believes tutoring is an investment: Not only is Erica thriving academically, Scholl hopes the extra instruction will give her daughter an edge when she applies to private school.

Soon all the kindergarten applicants will be multiplying fractions.

1. Joanne,

“… it took me five minutes to teach her.”

What was your secret? Publish that in a book and your bestseller will be more useful than any fad diet book or page-turning novel.

Seriously, what did you mean by that? What did you teach your daughter (presumably not literally within five minutes)?

I actually did teach myself the Korean alphabet within minutes (not five, though), but this was only possible because similar-looking letters represent similar sounds: e.g., all consonants pronounced with the lips contain a box shape (a drawing of the lips):

ㅂ p (b between vowels)
ㅍ ph (p followed by a breath)
ㅁ m

And although knowing the raw alphabet enables one to read most of Korean, there are still problems like silent letters: e.g., “chicken” is spelled 닭
t-a-l-k (ㄷ-ㅏ-ㄹ-ㄱ; Korean letters are stacked into syllables) but is pronounced [tak]; the letter l [ㄹ] is silent in that position, just as it is silent in English “talk”).

The speed of literacy acquistion depends on the script. Mastering English phonics enables one to decode almost any word (but not *all* words), but phonics approaches have diminishing (but still far from zero) returns with Chinese and Japanese. (It is indeed possible to learn large numbers of characters using phonics. This would not be true if characters were indeed “ideographic” as is commonly assumed. A truly “ideographic” script would have one symbol for every idea, regardless of how different the synonymous words for that idea sounded.)

2. alan says:

One has to wonder if Ms. Scholl was off playing tennis or working out at the gym when she could be teaching her child.

My 14 year old was shocked to find that a boy in her middle school killed himself a few weeks after 8th grade graduation. Seems the note said it was because he did think his grades were good enough. The saddest thing was that the parents stated in the obituary that their son was attending a well known private high school. There was nothing about the kid, just the elite high school. He never made it to the first class there! It was very apparent where this family’s priorities were. Push too hard for excellence and this is what you’ll get.

What the heck is wrong with letting a kid be a kid?

AK

3. Steve says:

It all depends.

What are common are full-inclusion, spiraling, social promotion, low expectation public schools. My son was learning very little during the day. The school knows about their “academic ceiling” problem and tries to apply differentiated learning (not instruction), which turns out to be differentiated enrichment homework. The private school he is in now expects a whole lot more, including mastery of basic knowledge and skills year-to-year. One of his old, public school teachers said that she hoped he now had enough time to play. I commented that in the public school, all he did was play. Having said that, there was one private school (K-8) we looked at that seemed proud of its reputation of giving out tons of homework, even in the lower grades. We saw no need to turn our son into a stressed out homework robot by fifth grade.

Also, it’s not just how much work you do during the day and for homework. It’s the type of work that is being done. I’ll scream if my son gets another homework project that is 90 percent art and 10 percent learning. (Who says that the arts are not being supported in schools?) One big project in the public school had the fourth graders create a favorite room (with tables, chairs, curtains, etc.) that was wired with a couple of lights. How difficult is a simple circuit of a battery, a switch, and a light bulb? They had an evening show where all of the parents got to come. (Some of the rooms were incredibly bad.) If schools use their time well during the day, there should be little need for homework in the lower grades.

When my son started in the public school Kindergarten a few years back, it was the first year of their all-day Kindergarten. I thought this was a good idea. They would assess the kids and try to bring them all to a (relatively) common level, ready to get to work in first grade. The only thing that kids should need going into Kindergarten is be the ability (for their age level) to sit still, be quiet, and follow directions. That doesn’t mean that no teaching should be done before Kindergarten.

As for tutoring pre-schoolers, what material could be so advanced that it requires a hired tutor? I spent a lot of time reading to my son, teaching him the alphabet, counting, and looking at a globe. He learned to read when he was 4, but I would never dream of hiring a tutor. That’s because I was the tutor. The question really is what is the motivation of the parent? Is it bad to hire a tutor but OK to do it yourself? Is the child ready for the material or is the parent forcing it down their throat? My son’s Kindergarten teacher seemed horrified that I was having him do math worksheets. He loved it. I would leave them on the table and he would sit down and do them all by himself. My son is a sponge for knowledge and the school was feeding him with a teaspoon.

Progressive education is all about developmentally appropriate, but it seems that the schools don’t think that the parents are capable of figuring it out for themselves. I mentioned to one of his teachers that I told my son that his mother and I were in charge of his education, not the school. The teacher didn’t seem to like that.

4. carpeicthus says:

Like she said, it depends more on what the kid is ready for in their development. I taught myself to read before I was 3 — my parents had no idea I could until my pre-school teacher saw me reading a book — but I can’t make much money off saying “watch the Electric Company and really, really want to read Spider-Man comic books before bed.”

5. nailsagainsttheboard says:

Wow, I can just see the next headlines:

“Toddlers now being overprescribed Xanax”

“Four-Year Old Shoots Teacher At The Preschool for the Highly Gifted”

“Studies Show No Link Between Geniusness in the Early Years and Later Adult Character”

“Three Year Old Holds Tutor Hostage; Pleads for Playdough and Fingerpainting”

6. Seems like overkill to me. Honestly, if these kids can multiply fractions by the time they get to college, they’ll already be ahead of a good third of my students.

7. Beeman says:

“What the heck is wrong with letting a kid be a kid?”

Nothing. But letting a kid be a kid means letting the kid be himself/herself, and let the kid follow his True Will at least some of the time. This doesn’t mean being permissive, or spoiling them, or letting them be bullies and vandals. But it doesn’t mean pressuring them either.

Too many adults-in-power have too many ideas what “normal” children should be like, and are far too manipulative.

We hear about suicides among grade 8ers caused by academic pressure. That is horrible. But there are also equally horrible suicides when studious children are forced to be “normal”, and have to endure the mindrot of “normal” pop culture, academic boredom, and athletic cultism. Or how about naturally artistic kids that need something other than a “normal” school or even a heavily academic one?

8. mollo says:

It’s not so surprising that the preschoolers can learn such material. But helping them keep the material in their heads for later use is much tougher. I have friends that were so proud to send their kids to kindergarten, already knowing how to add and then six months later have them forget it all.

I sure wish they would bring back electric company!