Meet Ella, my niece. Is she a cutie or what?
She’s 3 years and nine months old, and already she’s light years ahead of of several kindergarten and first-grade children I encounter in my local school district. Before she turned three she could recognize and recite numbers up to 20, almost all her letters, basic shapes, and everyday objects in and out of the house. Now she can identify and recognize all U.S. Presidents, the flag, almost all the planets, and various well-known contemporary people. I mean folks like our current President, our current governor Mitch Daniels, and Queen Elizabeth II. She even knows, courtesy of her Auntie Pammie, a few select opera arias.
A genius? Okay, so the kid may be a few IQ points above average, but she is only three, and I don’t think she’ll be tested any time soon. She is a late bloomer as far as walking and potty training goes. Walking didn’t fully come until 17 months, and toilet training wasn’t accomplished until a few months ago. The latter is not in full fruition but it’s coming along.
As most early childhood educators would acknowledge, it’s the parents and other adults in the child’s life who are the first teachers. They set the stage for whether a child is ready for school or not. Their actions, or inaction, determine whether the child succeeds or fails.
In Ella’s case, her parents began rearing her long before she emerged from the womb. It was a given that despite she’s “just an infant,” the kid would get the experiences and exposure necessary for school readiness. Basic things like talking to her, in plain standard English. No baby talk! That also meant censoring themselves — Yes they uttered the occasional potty mouth word but not s much to “cuss like a sailor” proportions. They had to monitor what played on TV and radio, and while not hip-hop and rap fans, they knew even “clean” sounding popular songs are not all that age-appropriate.
TV? That had to be censored, too. No more adult-themed programs whenever she’s awake and noticing what’s on television. Oh, when she started toddling, Ella loved (still loves) shows such as Dancing with the Stars and some of the awards shows. It’s the music and dancing that command her attention, but in a good way. Otherwise it’s a steady diet of age-appropriate TV — Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba, Dora, Word World, et.al.
If only some families were this conscientious about getting their kids ready for school and life. After reading the Indianapolis Star’s first of a special series on School #61’s kindergarten, and that some of those students had to be taught how to hold a crayon, I hit upon an idea. Instead of Indy’s Concerned Clergy finding fault with city leaders every time one of our kids runs afoul with the law (It seems never the kid’s fault after all), why don’t these guys pair a new mother in need with a mom who’s reared several children, each and every one successful and well-educated. Why not help new parents, especially those who can’t afford trips to the zoo or museums, give their children the experiences and exposure necessary. Why not drive home that it’s not acceptable or cute for a two-year old to recite X-rated rap lyrics verbatim (profanity and sexual content) but not know the ABC’s or numbers. Take these kids to library to sign up for cards. Have reading circles during Sunday school. Treat kids to wholesome entertainment (an Elmo DVD would work) rather than the steady diet of profanity, heavy sexual content, violence, and deviant behavior that permeates the TV shows and movies made to attract an urban audience.
One doesn’t have to live in Carmel or Fishers or any other affluent part of town to give a youngster a developmental boost. It doesn’t cost much, just time, patience and love to turn around persistent low achievement and a rampant drop-out rate.