Middle class and upper middle class children are enrolled in classes such as Tumble Bears, gymnastics, Kinder Music, swimming, Gymboree, art, dance, cheerleading and similar eke from the time they can toddle. They go to the park, to the playground (each piece specifically designed to encourage certain skills), and the nature center. They have so many puzzles, Legos and art supplies that an entire new industry has evolved to store it all. If they do not have their own computer, their parents ensure they have ample computer time on the family computer – or computers. These days countless families own more than one. By the time my girls were in high school, we owned 4 – one for each of us, complete with DSL access for multiple users.
Not so with many of the children whom I work with. It is not uncommon for us to have 4 year olds who don’t know how to use a crayon. This week I introduced the first graders to Tumblebooks.com, which has a puzzles and games component. Most of the children were unfamiliar with puzzle basics such as do the corners first, then the edges and work inward. More than a few could not recognize an end piece from a center piece. Some didn’t have the fine finger motions necessary to right and left click the computer mouse.
They may have a computer in their home, but it is shared by all 10+ people living in the home and they are very low on the computer totem pole. It’s also hard to have internet access when your family doesn’t have a land line. Our families tend to use pre-paid cell phone plans and change them so frequently that often the children do not know their phone number.
The apartments haven’t any playgrounds and their parents, who work at least 1 if not 2 minimum wage jobs haven’t the time for leisurely excursions to the nature center. The local drug dealers and other undesirables frequent the local park so it is not an option.
If the apartment has a pool it is frequently an unappetizing & unsafe shade of green. The parents have migrated from desolate and dry areas of Mexico, so they do not know how to swim and don’t ensure that their children learn. Swimming lessons or any other kind of lessons are not only a cultural anomaly, they are also a financial impossibility. Skipping, marching in line and Patty Cake Patty Cake Baker’s Man are all foreign concepts
One of the first grade teachers has a scissors center so the children can practice cutting. At Family Library Night the children gravitate to the puzzles and blocks I’ve picked up at garage sales. All of them, even the 5th graders love to play with the puppets I’ve collected at the local thrift stores.
So, Mr. President Shrub just how are schools expected to ensure that these children aren’t “Left Behind” when by first grade they are already 5 years behind the starting line?