From the column this week (2/28/13).
Years ago, a friend gave us some parenting advice. “Once you are outnumbered,” he said, “it’s really all the same.” Brian and I, as parents, have been in the minority for quite a while.
The beauty of having such a large family is that the kids always have someone to play with. Younger children enjoy tagging along with the older ones. Not only do they pick up some skills from watching siblings, they also develop socialization skills, family-style.
With so many children, we make sure to carve out time to spend with each child individually. Sometimes that is intentional, other days that special time is an unintended benefit of other choices. Recently, for example, I spent a full afternoon convincing Sicily that time with me was way more fun than what the big kids were up to.
Our children enjoy the Awana program at our church, and each spring they have the opportunity to compete in Bible quizzing and the Awana Olympics. The idea of spending three hours sitting on bleachers in the gym while holding a newborn didn’t much appeal to me, so I packed the two youngest into the car after Bible quizzing and left Brian to cheer on the older kids.
Sicily was fairly suspicious that time with me meant missing out on something more interesting, but I eventually talked her into coming along. Once at home, she realized her coup — as the baby slept, she had my full attention. It was time, she informed me, to play Barbies.
“I don’t know how to play Barbies,” I told her. “It’s easy,” she assured me. “You just move things around, and you talk.” My girls are big on talking. Sicily set up furniture and moved the Barbies around to demonstrate. I grabbed a Wiggles finger puppet and joined in. Since everyone knows that you can’t mix Wiggles and Barbies, my daughter collapsed in a fit of giggles.
One on one time with a preschooler can be exhausting. As much as I love my daughter, after a couple hours of play, alternating with taking care of the baby, I was really missing those big kids she loves to tag along behind.
There is a solution on the horizon. President Barack Obama, like many other politicians, has proposed universal preschool. I could trade in the time I spend with my daughter and take her and drop her off at a government-run education program instead. The president has assured me that such a program would lead to a better outcome for my child than I can provide at home. Studies, he says, show that preschool is good for kids. Except that those studies don’t apply to the program that has been in place for nearly a half century.
Our government has been running a taxpayer-funded preschool program called Head Start since 1965. While repeated studies have shown that children in Head Start demonstrate short term gains in academic and language skills when compared to children not in Head Start, those same studies show that there are no gains at all past third grade on a total of 47 measures.
Preschool programs with no lasting academic gain starts to sound a whole lot like government-funded babysitting. Can we really afford that?
Homeschooling through the preschool years really isn’t that difficult, and families should not believe the lie that the government can do a better job than a family can. At a minimum, you can use my preschooler’s version of a lesson plan — “It’s easy. You just move things around, and you talk.”
Spending time together and talking through play goes a long way toward giving your child a true head start.