Tutored at 2 – too much, too soon?
Ohanian Comment; Remember that old adage: You can't be too rich or too thin? Now parents worried about giving their kids a "head start" have added Your kids can't be too young for skill drill. Or homework. Note that the two-year-old featured here gets homework packets. One has to ask, a head start on what? This article is a disgrace, serving only to scare other parents into getting skill drill tutoring for their infants.
This article reads like a sales brochure for Kumon and Sylvan. And who can account for the wishy-washy statement coming from the director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children? Take a look at The Call to Action from the Alliance for Childhood.
By Sherry Saavedra
Ryan Uyeji is learning to hold a pencil, though he mostly traces and scribbles. The 2-year-old isn't enrolled in preschool yet, but attends weekly math and reading tutoring sessions and tackles homework packets nearly seven days a week.
At home, a small study table has been set up in the corner, and he's already learning to read short sentences and do timed math exercises.
Ryan's parents hope their educational investment of $215 a month in Kumon, a tutoring chain that originated in Japan, during their son's most formative years will give him a head start.
“Education is a high priority for us, and we want him to get good study habits,” said his father, Steven Uyeji of Carmel Valley. “I want him to understand there's a certain time each day when he should do his schoolwork. It will benefit him later in life. It teaches him that he can rely on himself, and when he gets into regular school and college, those work habits will already be ingrained.”
Uyeji is among a growing number of parents who pay private tutors to prepare their children for kindergarten. Some do it to instill self-discipline and confidence. Others want to give their kids a competitive edge in an increasingly high-stakes, high-pressure public school system.
In addition, some parents seek out private tutoring when their children lag behind their peers during the first months of kindergarten, which has become more like the first grade of a decade ago.
The nation's major tutoring companies have embraced the younger set by rolling out new programs for these budding clients, even those who haven't begun formal schooling.
Parents pay large sums to prepare their tiny tots for school, with prices ranging anywhere from $100 to several thousand a month.
Some education and child development experts believe it's too much academics too soon.
But Andrea Pastorok, an educational psychologist for Kumon, said it's perfectly appropriate to set aside playtime for a while to teach 4-and 5-year-olds introductory reading and math skills they'll need when they start kindergarten.
“Preschool is primarily a place to play,” she said. “Some of the critics of early learning talk about learning through play, and wouldn't that be wonderful? But they're seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. . . . It's critical at ages 4 and 5 to give children the pre-literacy skills they need, so that when they're in kindergarten and first grade they're able to break the reading code.”
Kumon launched its Junior Kumon program, targeting 4-to 6-year-olds, in 2003, although younger children such as Ryan are also welcome at many centers. Since the end of 2003, the program's enrollment has soared by 47 percent and now serves 19,430 students.
Taylor Austin, 6, was delighted as her mother, Wendy, helped her read a birthday card given to her by the staff of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes in Del Mar, where Taylor and her twin brother, Liam, are tutored. The twins are attending kindergarten.
Kaplan's SCORE! Educational Centers recently adopted a new computer software reading program for 4-to 6-year-olds, who make up 15 percent to 20 percent of the company's 80,000 students. Growth among this age group has approximately doubled over the past five years.
In addition, Sylvan Learning Centers has introduced a pre-kindergarten reading readiness program for 4½-year-olds.
“So many parents were asking us for this,” said Richard Bavaria, vice president of education for Sylvan. “We were just responding to what they wanted.”
Getting an early start
Each morning, Ken Hamada wakes up about 6:30 and toils over his Kumon homework, which typically takes him half an hour, before leaving for Del Mar Hills Nursery School. The 5-year-old goes to Junior Kumon in La Jolla twice a week. His mother, Meg Hamada, said early tutoring has given Ken a positive self-image.
“He knows more than other kids, and he thinks he's smart,” she said. “That's good for his mind, to think that he can do better than other kids.”
Initially, Ken had observed his older sister being tutored and wanted to be a part of it. So he started at age 3.
During one recent session, Ken sat at a pint-size table for the center's youngest pupils. The work is repetitive – addition involving the number 5, such as 5 + 7, and work sheets that direct students to read and write words that begin with “tr,” like “trip,” “try” and “trace.”
“When they're that little, they don't think it's study,” Hamada said. “He has friends there. He has fun with the teachers. He enjoys learning. And he has the habit of sitting down to study at the age of 4 and 5.”
Ryan Uyeji, who is younger, spends about 10 to 15 minutes a day on Kumon homework. In recent months, he has learned to count to 20, recite his ABCs and communicate better; Kumon has aided that development, his father said. Ryan is on a waiting list to get into The Gifted Preschool.
Academic expectations in public schools are much higher than in generations past. The state academic-content standards adopted for math, language arts and other subjects in the late 1990s have ramped up what's taught in each grade. Parents are finding it's not that rare to enter a kindergarten classroom today and find children learning basic algebraic concepts and flipping through chapter books.
The competition to get into the top-tiered private schools can be fierce, involving interviews, tests and observations of potential students interacting with their peers at play.
In this competitive climate, many parents become concerned when their kids don't perform as well as their classmates.
Wendy Austin plunks down about $1,500 a week for her kindergarten-age twins to receive intensive, one-on-one instruction two hours a day, five days a week after school at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes in Del Mar. The center, which has seen a younger clientele in recent years, works with students who are having learning difficulties in a traditional environment.
Austin said her twins attended a preschool that didn't stress academics, so they were behind their peers when they entered kindergarten. Unlike their classmates at Del Mar Heights Elementary, they weren't comprehending letter sounds and were confusing numbers with letters.
“It's a competitive world, and at Del Mar Heights the parents are affluent and they want their kids to be the best,” said Austin, who works part time as a landscape designer. “The moms maybe had more time on their hands than I did and had more patience and got them to read earlier.”
Austin had been through this with her older daughter, whose self-esteem had plummeted by the time she reached first grade. Lindamood-Bell brought her up to grade level and beyond.
The Lindamood-Bell instructors teach students reading and math by guiding them toward the correct answer through their questioning. They also respond to student errors with positive comments.
“The kids get verbal praise consistently and constantly, and they never hear 'No,' 'Try again' or 'That's wrong,' ” said Alison Katos, the center's clinic director.
After just six weeks of help, Liam and Taylor Austin are caught up with the class, their mother said. She plans to continue with Lindamood-Bell through part of March, and then re-evaluate her children's needs.
No cause for alarm
Nancy Cohen, program coordinator of Children's Care Connection at Children's Hospital in San Diego, said that often there's no reason to panic when young children are progressing at a slower pace than their peers.
“There's not a lot of correlation between what they're doing in preschool and where they are going to college,” she said. “And not everything that a child is going to do for the rest of his life is going to be formed in the first five years.”
Cohen said it's more constructive for those in early childhood to get help learning within the context of enjoyable activities like outings to the beach, park and zoo, rather than in a formal setting at a table with flashcards and work sheets. She said this trend of tutoring the nation's tiniest tots is about competition and a race to create the smartest kids in the shortest time, and that it's stressful for children.
Mark Ginsberg, director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a nonprofit organization for early-childhood professionals that promotes children's rights, said that during the first five years of life, brain development allows for more learning to take place than at any other stage in the life cycle. It's also the period where children show the widest range of development.
He said tutoring during this time is probably valuable for some children, but for a lot of children it's probably not.
“The important thing is that it is tailored to the pace that the child is able to learn, rather than the pace that the adult wants the child to be learning at,” Ginsberg said.
Bavaria, the Sylvan executive, agrees that young children learn at different speeds, and that parents should apply common sense to the tutoring readiness of their child.
“If a child is ready to learn to read and wants to learn how to read, it makes no sense to deny a child that opportunity,” he said. “No one is saying that childhood should be stolen from children. We're talking about tutoring two hours a week.”
However, the tutoring of young children is a sensitive topic, and some parents interviewed for this article had second thoughts about being quoted and were left out of the report.
When to bring kids in
Holly Mayoras, director of education for Sylvan in La Mesa, said November through December is an ideal time to bring in struggling kindergartners.
“It's such an important time for brain development, and you don't want to miss it,” she said. “We'd rather see kids at this time than in ninth grade, when they're two or three grade levels behind.”
Kristen Farmer of University City took her 5-year-old daughter, Samantha, to Score! about two months ago. It's at La Jolla Village Center in a storefront near a Sav-on drugstore and Whole Foods Market. The inside resembles a computer lab, and students can drop in when it's convenient and work at their own pace on computer reading programs, typically twice a week at $20 to $25 a session.
Farmer took Samantha to the center to boost her confidence. The kindergartner had been bullied in preschool by a classmate, and her self-esteem took a beating, her mother said.
“She started to feel that she wasn't as smart as the other kids,” Farmer said. “She thought kids were laughing at her, and she'd say, 'I don't want to go to school. . . . Here, she's getting exposed to new concepts so that when the teacher asks the class something, she can raise her hand and not think, 'I'm the last one to get it.' ”
San Diego Union-Tribune