Friday, June 6, 2014

The Testing Mom

I flipped over a newsletter I received from a popular Chicago parents organization.  On the back, was a full page advertisement with the headline;  

"Are you smarter than a 4-year-old?"  

Below were two multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble questions with the tag line; 

"These are the types of questions your child will face on a Chicago Public School test."

Luckily the advertisement offers relief!, contains 100 FREE questions so that anxiety ridden, well-meaning parents can, 

"Prepare your child for all of life's tests."

However, the Testing Mom mentality comes with a long list of sacrifices to children's overall health; socially, emotionally and cognitively, in addition to damaging relationships with their caregivers.  Therefore, like cigarettes and other products that are required to display warning labels, this website should not be exempt.  By pressuring children to prepare for future and mind numbing worksheets, children suffer the following consequences. 

1. Interrupted or deficit of play 
There is SCIENTIFIC evidence that play is the BEST way for children to learn and is CRITICAL for healthy development.  As children attempt to extract information through the free exploration of materials, meaningful play comes to an abrupt halt when a series of adult driven interrogations and demands are dispensed.   

Count the blocks! Name the shape! 
What does a pig say? What letter is this?

Luckily, infant specialist Magda Gerber, has offered this pearl of wisdom, 

"Be careful what you teach, it might interfere with what they are learning."

2. Conditioned self-worth:
If the child gets the answer right, an enthusiastic, "Good job! You're right!"  typically follows. If the child gets the answer wrong, they are quickly corrected and tested again.  Furthermore, through my experience, the pressure to perform increases when there is an audience.  

The result of the testing/correcting/testing again does not predict or promote academic advancement, but instead it ensures that the child is conditioned to define his success and self-worth by seeking out the 'right' answer for positive external validation. 

3. Wasted time:
Sometimes it is to my delight that a child answers the test question completely out of the ball park.  At a preschool I once observed at (children were ages 2-3), the teacher believed that the children were ready to memorize the months of the year.  During circle time, she overheard one child say the correct month when quizzed. She singled her out and asked her to repeat the answer louder for the class. 

Teacher: "Jessie, what month is it!?"  

Jessie: "PURPLE!"  

Why did Jessie respond with the answer purple?  It's because Jessie, at the age of two, has more important things to do with her time than to memorize the months of the year.  See #1

4. Closed questions = Closed minds:
Closed ended questions stunt conversation and cramp critical thinking skills.  Open-ended statements and questions such as, 

  • What do you think? 
  • What happens if...?
  • Tell me about...

encourages young children to think deeply about their experiences and gives them an opportunity to express their unique perspective. When adults objectively listen with curiosity, children's thoughts and ideas are respected, validated and unveiled. 

5. Induced childhood amnesia:
While frantically taking advantage of all those TEACHABLE MOMENTS and opportunities to quiz and test, play memories of our own childhood are forgotten. These memories serve as a powerful reminder of the magic we experienced as young children.  

Now, remember favorite moments of your own childhood.  Take some time to relive favorite activities. Stick your fingers in paint, squish some play dough or feel the grass beneath your feet.  Rediscover and delight in the health benefits of idle time.  Oh, and burn those test questions.  

To avoid the harmful side-effects of the Testing Mom mentality, prepare children for life and unleash their potential, by fiercely protecting their right to a childhood. Have real conversations, real experiences and ask questions that matter to rediscover an innate sense of wonder and love of learning that is anything but standard.  


The Value of Unstructured Play Time for Kids

Time Goes By So Fast: Play Makes Meaningful Memorie

A Scholarly Response to ‘Tiger Mom’: Happiness Matters, Too

Alliance for Childhood

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