I've been thinking even more than usual about education for little kids this month and, freakishly, I feel like I've come to a small conclusion about my own 'educational philosophy' (for want of a better term).
This all came about because Asher had a trial day at John Colet School. I really like the school and think that with it's emphasis on manners (and the reason behind them), structure and intellectual rigour it would be a really good fit for Asher. I have always said that it's not just about a school being 'good' but about it being a good fit for a particular kid, and I think that John Colet will be right for Asher. So, we talked to the headmaster and he suggested we think about starting Asher in Kindergarten this year. He is old enough, just, to have started Kindergarten at the beginning of the year, but at the end of last year we knew he absolutely wasn't ready for school. Now, after almost six months at KU Preschool his social skills have improved markedly and there are kids he knows from preschool who are his friends, who he wants to invite to his birthday party. So he went along for a trial day and it went OK for Asher, but we met a marked lack of enthusiasm from the teacher. She actually seems like a good teacher but she does have a bias. She's one of the people who believe, in her words that 'children, especially boys, who start school young will always be at a disadvantage' compared to the other children. Since teacher perceptions influence educational outcomes (and probably how much students enjoy school!) I really don't want Asher to have a teacher (for 3 years) who firmly believes that he will always be behind because of his age. I know Asher, I know how incredibly quickly he picks things up, I know that he has a long attention span and can sit still and focus for reasonably long periods for a child of his age-group and what I want for him is a teacher who believes in him.
Since we've ruled out that option we have to looks at 'what now' and my two next favourite options are a) send him to John Colet School to start Kindergarten next year or send him to the local public school for Kindergarten half-way through this year. My next steps will be to talk to the local public school about a mid-year intake and to put Asher on the wait list for John Colet. The other possibility is, of course, is to send him to the local public school Kindergarten starting next year. If we do that I'm worried he'll be bored. Not all of the time of course, but considering he reads pretty well and his level of numeracy is quite astounding, he has a decent grasp of science that pretty much leaves handwriting and the arts to focus on. And this brings me to my revelation.
I think I really like John Colet because they seem to teach to a subject, theme or text, and use that to teach a variety of things at a variety of levels. Conversely, at the local public school they use a text, theme or topic to teach skills set out in the curriculum.
At John Colet they study something, and use that study to develop skills. For instance, John Colet teaches Shakespeare, even to the youngest children. This will help them learn vocabulary and reading, public speaking and drama, storytelling and probably a bunch of other things. This means that kids who are already proficient in one area can be encouraged by what they can do and directed to work on what they find difficult. This seems to me to be a really good strategy for teaching to a bunch of levels - got gifted kids in a class? No problem, Shakespeare is tough enough for serious scholarship. Got kids with intellectual/physical/social difficulties? No problem, there's something in the work for everyone.
The public school model is fine when all the kids are at a pretty similar level, but when you have kids with quite disparate needs this model seems to be less robust, and more difficult to ensure all kids are getting their learning needs met.
So there you go, it's not massive or complicated, just a small difference in framework which seems to have the power to change the way a classroom works. It also has pretty clear implications for where I would like MY kid to go to school.