C’mon… Kumon?

Some of the toys and books that are popular around our home.

This past weekend I needed to pick up a few feeding-related items for my daughter at Buy Buy Baby.  Since Isabelle was sleeping, I found myself weaving through the brightly-lit aisles of the store a little longer than I had planned.  I found my way to the toy section, which was incredible.  I found myself picking up and inspecting lots of infant toys, many of which claim to have educational benefits.  I was amazed to find a whole section of infant flash cards.  As intriguing as these flash cards seemed, I passed them by and settled on a neon green ball that makes a rattling sound when the baby shakes it (see bottom left of the photo).  After all, Isabelle played with a similar ball at a friend’s house last week and enjoyed the sounds it made when she moved it around in her hands.

I didn’t think much of passing by the infant flash cards until I read Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten, by Kate Zernike, which appeared in this past Sunday’s New York Times.  The article is about Junior Kumon Programs which are gaining popularity in places like New York City.  Junior Kumon is a place where three to five year-old children go to “build the fundamental skills necessary to succeed throughout their educational experience” (Retrieved from http://www.kumon.com/WhyJrKumon.aspx on 5/16/11).  From what I learned by reading the article in the Times, it seems like Junior Kumon is about a lot of worksheets and excessive drilling in the name of helping children build their math and reading skills.

Zernike’s article also stated:

PARENTS pay $200 to $300 a month for their 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-year-old to spend up to an hour twice weekly being tutored at a Junior Kumon center — 20 to 30 minutes each on reading and math. Children are then expected to do 20 minutes of homework on each subject every day, with their parents guiding and grading them. Recommended reading lists start in preschool with “Goodnight Moon” and “Each Peach Pear Plum.”

To me, Junior Kumon seems like a lot of money in the name of trying to get one’s child ahead of other kids in school.  Childhood is supposed to be about exploration… about getting messy, problem-solving, playing, and discovery.  Obviously, there are lots of things children need to know before they arrive at the school door, but “academic enrichment” like Junior Kumon seems too stifling for a young child.

If my daughter starts putting her board books in her mouth by six months of age and pointing to things in picture books by a year old, I’ll know she’s on-track with her literacy development.  By singing with my daughter and talking to her constantly, I know I will encourage her language skills.  Through everyday living and authentic activities she will learn the basics of math.  I don’t think she will need a program like Kumon to help her succeed.  And quite frankly, I’m not going to let myself get pressured into believing that she won’t do well in school if she doesn’t attend an academic enrichment program, be it Junior Kumon or something else.

What do you think?