Tag Archives: educational

What We Can Learn From Swedish Preschools

I received a rather snarky comment on my “What Should a 4 Year-Old Know?” post today.

While I’ve been contacted by teachers, librarians, principals, doctors and early childhood education experts who have said they wished more parents realized these things, this surly individual called me “blase” and “touchy feely” and said, “C****, we’re all screwed.”

The commenter, Eric, said that “we are so behind other countries that good jobs are bleeding from our borders to other nations…” and “4-year-old children SHOULD be able to write their name, know the planets, list several presidents AND count to 100…”.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to educate Eric on what those countries that are leading the world ARE doing in preschool.

It might not be what he thinks.

Head over to Teacher’s TV and watch this 26 minute video about preschools in Sweden.

As the narrator says,

Imagine a school where play and relaxation is paramount…

…Where there’s little formal learning and most leave at the age of five or six unable to read or write.

…Yet, just a few years after starting formal schooling at the age of seven, these children lead the literacy table in Europe.

The preschool director points out that there is no testing and that “It’s not the child we should evaluate, it’s the processes we do.”

The Swedish preschool’s motto:

Challenge, Discovery, Adventure

The video talks about what’s important in Swedish preschools — lots of time outside, natural foods, cooperation, exercise, security, play, life skills and most importantly, fun.  It also shows how these young children do in school a few years later, and lets them talk about what they think of it all.

What about the rest of the world?  Teacher’s TV has an entire series of programs that follow countries that teach in the best ways, and Hungary was featured for teaching math best.  Again, you’ll notice that they introduce formal learning later and the children do better. In Hungary, they begin formal school at age 6 and are not formally tested until age 14.

There’s plenty more to show the academic reasons for play-based learning for preschoolers.  Take a look at this excerpt from Should preschools teach all work and no play?

Rebecca Marcon, a developmental psychologist and education researcher at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, agrees. In 1999, Marcon published a study in the journal Developmental Psychology that looked at 721 4-year-olds selected from three different preschool models: play based, academic (adult directed) and middle of the road (programs that did not follow either philosophy). Marcon followed the children’s language, self-help, social, motor and adaptive development along with basic skills.

“What we found in our research then and in ongoing studies is that children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs,” says Marcon.

According to Marcon and other researchers, children who are subjected to overly academic environments early on have more behavior problems later and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.

“You will frequently get short-term gains with a highly academic approach (in preschool), but they come with long-term consequences,” says Marcon. “A lot of early childhood studies only follow children to third grade. But when you take it into fourth grade and beyond that’s where you see the big difference. That’s when children have to be more independent and think.”

When deciding what is best for your preschooler, I hope you will always follow the leads of your own heart, your own child and at the very least, follow the research.

Despite grumpy people who may think otherwise, doing things that are good for children is not bad for any of us.

For more on this subject see:


4 Reasons To Ditch Academic Preschools

Academic Preschools: Too Much Too Soon?

Academic Preschool

Pushing preschoolers — at what cost?

12 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

What Should a 4 Year Old Know?

What should a 4 year old know?

It’s back to school time and children all over are starting preschool.  Many parents are frantically searching the internet to find out if their little ones are “on track” and know everything they should.

I wrote this article about what a four-year-old should know many years ago but it continues to be the most popular page on the Magical Childhood site.  I don’t think a week has passed in the past eight or so years when I have not received a letter from a parent, grandparent or teacher about it.  Parents and principals especially have said they wish more parents realized these things.

So in honor of the new school year, I’m posting it here…

What should a 4 year old know?

I was on a parenting bulletin board recently and read a post by a mother who was worried that her 4 1/2 year old did not know enough. “What should a 4 year old know?” she asked.

Most of the answers left me not only saddened but pretty soundly annoyed. One mom posted a laundry list of all of the things her son knew. Counting to 100, planets, how to write his first and last name, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some who were only three. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry.

It bothered me greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by adding to her concern, with lists of all the things their children could do that hers couldn’t. We are such a competitive culture that even our preschoolers have become trophies and bragging rights. Childhood shouldn’t be a race.

So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.

    1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
    2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
    3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
    4. He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he couldn’t care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
    5. She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.

But more important, here’s what parents need to know.

    1. That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that it will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
    2. That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
    3. That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
    4. That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed, but some things are important– building toys like legos and blocks, creative toys like all types of art materials (good stuff), musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress up clothes and books, books, books. (Incidentally, much of this can be picked up quite cheaply at thrift shops.) They need to have the freedom to explore with these things too– to play with scoops of dried beans in the high chair (supervised, of course), to knead bread and make messes, to use paint and play dough and glitter at the kitchen table while we make supper even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it’s absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.
    5. That our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That’s not okay! Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. They need fathers who sit and listen to their days, mothers who join in and make crafts with them, parents who take the time to read them stories and act like idiots with them. They need us to take walks with them and not mind the .1 MPH pace of a toddler on a spring night. They deserve to help us make supper even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they’re a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.

And now back to those 4 year old skills lists…..

I know it’s human nature to want to know how our children compare to others and to want to make sure we’re doing all we can for them. Here is a list of what children are typically taught or should know by the end of each year of school, starting with preschool.

Since we homeschool, I occasionally print out the lists and check to see if there’s anything glaringly absent in what my kids know. So far there hasn’t been, but I get ideas sometimes for subjects to think up games about or books to check out from the library. Whether you homeschool or not, the lists can be useful to see what kids typically learn each year and can be reassuring that they really are doing fine.

If there are areas where it seems your child is lacking, realize that it’s not an indication of failure for either you or your child. You just haven’t happened to cover that. Kids will learn whatever they’re exposed to, and the idea that they all need to know these 15 things at this precise age is rather silly. Still, if you want him to have those subjects covered then just work it into life and play with the subject and he’ll naturally pick it up. Count to 60 when you’re mixing a cake and he’ll pick up his numbers. Get fun books from the library about space or the alphabet. Experiment with everything from backyard snow to celery stalks in food coloring. It’ll all happen naturally, with much more fun and much less pressure.

My favorite advice about preschoolers is on this site though.

What does a 4 year old need?

Much less than we realize, and much more.

461 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

Save Our Living Earth & a Freebie

Have you seen this stop animation video by kids?  This was made by four classes of fifth graders at an international school in Brussels.  What an amazing project!

Also, today only — Friday — this African animal math app for wireless devices is being offered for free for families.  We have no wireless devices except old fashioned types so we can’t use it, but it looks neat!

Leave a comment

Filed under neat stuff elsewhere, videos

Make an Inertia Zoom Ball!

Here’s a fun little science craft we got from a library book and did the other day.  All you need are a couple of empty plastic bottles, some tape and string, and it makes a really fun toy that happens to teach a scientific principle while it’s at it!

I put the instructions here, along with a little video of one of ours in action and a slide show of the steps.

Happy Thursday!

1 Comment

Filed under crafts

A Puzzle for Big Kids (and Moms and Dads!)

I’ve been doing this puzzle of Northern Africa and Middle East countries for a couple of days now when I have a spare minute and want to unwind online.  I was rather shocked at how little I knew about the geography of those regions!  Eek!  I didn’t even know a couple of them were countries!  :)  I’m pleased to say that I now pretty much have it down pat where Turkey and Turkmenistan are in relation to each other, and where almost every other country that ends in "stan" goes (and there are a lot!).  How well can you do?

Happy Friday!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Candy Experiments!


Kids got any leftover Halloween candy yet?
Want to use Pixy Stix to test for acids?
Do M&M and Skittles chromatography?
Make sparks with wintergreen Lifesavers?
Head over to this wonderful site for lots of fun experiments!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10 Fun Ways to Get Kids Ready to Read



It’s back to school time, and the time of the year when parents are most prone to worrying about what their kids can and cannot do.  If reading is a skill on your child’s horizon (or just a fairly new skill), here’s some fun ways to help make it easier.

  • Cut some paper into strips and write a letter on each one.  Put a piece of tape or a sticker on top of each and ask your child to stick them to things that start with that letter.  You may want to save tricky letters like Q or X for later!
  • Dictate lists and letters.  Put your child in charge of writing up the grocery list or making up a wish list.  Help her write a letter to Grandma or a thank you note.  You can even help her write down her songs, dreams, stories or poems.  Don’t worry about over-correcting backwards letters or crazy lines.  Right now, the goal is to make it something she loves to do.  Provide fun, colorful pens and paper to make it even more enticing.
  • Play letter toss.  Draw a large chalk grid (of anywhere from 9 to 20 squares) on the driveway or basement floor.  Write a common letter in each square.  Find a bean bag or make one by filling a child’s sock with dried rice or beans and tying it.  Now take turns tossing the bean bag onto the grid and saying the letter name, the sound it makes and a word that starts with it.  Make it trickier by saying a word that ends with the letter if you want to make it harder.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt like this and fill your list with lots of letters and easy words.
  • Read Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss.  Lots.  This was the single best book for all of my kids to learn to read.  Dr. Seuss did such a great job of showing how letters work with this fun book.  The words are large and change just a little bit, easily showing children how letters make up words in a totally funny way.
  • Play rhyming games.  Rhymes help children form mental connections that help them read.  Take turns making up sets of rhymes while you’re in the car, make up silly poems together and so on.
  • Make alphabet books and use them for games together.
  • Play this game, courtesy of Magical Mama Tiffany: Here’s something fun we did here. We called it "treasure hunt."  I hid a piece of candy under a hat.  I used  stickers with short words written on them as clues.  I would put the wrong sticker on the item, eg, a CUP might have the word MAP on it.  She had to read the word, find the correct place to stick the sticker.  On that item would be another sticker etc. etc.  She followed the "clues" until finding the HAT with the candy under it!!  It was great fun and she had no idea she was reading!!!  She keeps begging to do it again!!!!!
  • Read, read, read together.  Take time sometimes to trace words as you read them but don’t get caught up in teaching and take the fun out of reading.  Books should be a fabulous treat, a source of fun and together time and neat stuff.  Keep it fun and every book you read together will help make it easier for him to learn to do it on his own.
  • Be patient.  Children develop their skills on their own timetables.  Little ones learn to walk, talk, potty train, ride a bike, read and all of the other milestones at their own unique times and it has no bearing on how well they eventually do these things.  Trying to teach a child anything before he’s ready just frustrates everybody and takes the joy out of something inherently joyful.  Believe in your child and make it easier for him.  In the meantime, model the joy of reading and just have fun!

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ladybug Ladybug

Got any ladybug lovers at your house?  How about bug catchers?  Photographers?  Scientists?  Kids with any of the above interests might want to take part in the Lost Ladybug Project.

Researchers at Cornell University are collecting photographs and data from helpers all over to try to find more information about our dwindling population of native 9 spotted ladybugs (and even more rare 2 spotted ladybugs). 

They have all the information on their site about how to find them, collect them, photograph them, submit your data and return them to the wild.  You can also get some nifty teaching materials, download a ladybug song (with lots of ladybug info!), see the map of where they’ve been found so far and lots more.

If fireflies are more your speed (and you just want to count them), check out Firefly Watch too, plus lots of other nature projects that could use your help.

Happy Sunday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Color Some Masterpieces!

This neat site has lots of famous works of art for your budding Picassos to color.  What a great way to learn some art history and have fun at the same time.  :)

   

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fun Uses for Plastic Eggs

Here’s a fun little project to use those plastic eggs after Easter.  He even has dried beans in his tail so he rattles!  I noticed that the plastic eggs we bought this year had little holes in them already (I suspect it’s so they’re not as much of a suffocation hazard for little ones) so they may not even need the drilling step.  Pretty cute, huh?  :)


 
Here’s some other uses for plastic eggs:
  • Fill them with slips of paper with simple chores and fun activities written on them and have the kids take turns choosing eggs and doing the jobs inside.
  • Put different objects inside and have the kids rattle them and guess the contents.
  • Use them as bath toys.  See if the kids can find a way to make them sink.
  • Use them as molds to make playdough eggs and decorate with bits of other colors.
  • Make beautiful felted eggs like these.
  • Have a treasure hunt.  Put a clue in each egg leading to the next, with a fun surprise in the last one.
  • Teachers and homeschool parents can fill them with writing prompts, review questions or math drills.
  • Use them to count down the days till a special event like a birthday or a parent coming back from deployment.  Number each one and put a little treat or write a fun activity for the day inside.
  • Make a basket of "talking eggs" for mealtimes.  Write little questions on slips of paper for inside each egg (What’s something funny that happened today?  What job would you not like to do for a living?  If you were a superhero, what would be your superhero name?  What are 3 things you’re grateful for?) and have everybody take turns opening an egg at dinner and answering it.

If you have any more, please leave a comment and add them!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized