I was asked to meet with a parent who seems to think that our program is not focused enough on academics. He arrives in the morning with a laundry list of complaints about his daughter's not learning her "three r's." He's very demanding and interrupts the staff with lists of questions just as they are beginning their day.
In preparation for a meeting with this parent, the teachers and I talked and reviewed our relationship with the family:
- How long have they been in our program?
- Does this child appear to be developing normally and enjoying our program?
- Are the parents' questions focused on a particular area of our program or of child development?
- Is this their oldest or youngest child?
Although this parent had received materials describing our program when he enrolled his child, I gathered these and some materials that described "best practices" for early childhood programs. Then I collected information on community resources in case they were needed to address a family problem.
During our meeting, this parent expressed some satisfaction with our curriculum, but he clearly wanted a more academic focus. He wanted his daughter to write her name and begin to read. He felt his child should be "prepared." He thought it was our job to teach her those academic skills. For this parent, education was something to be given by the teacher and received by the child.
How children learn seemed the place to begin. I asked him to describe his daughter's development when she was an infant. We agreed that she appeared helpless as a baby, yet she was able to let him know what she needed. As her body developed, she expanded and practiced her skills. As eye and muscle coordination developed, she learned to grab toys, to crawl, and to walk.
We reviewed the best-practice materials I had gathered. They explained that although preschool children appear very accomplished, they are still developing the physical and mental abilities needed for reading and writing tasks. Some of this development involves their vision, the nerve endings in their fingers, their fine-motor coordination, and their ability to act on abstract thoughts.
The teachers and I explained that as children work on becoming ready for academic tasks, our job is to interest them in reading and writing. We read stories, we create stories, and we draw illustrations for our stories.
I suggested that he try some of the suggestions in the best-practice materials. He could help his daughter develop her skills by reading with her and by pointing out words in their environment. We emphasized that the skills of reading and writing are a journey of discovery, very much like the journey of learning to talk and to walk.