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Tutoring for Toddlers? A Call for Common Sense

Several listeners have asked about the comments I made on the air about the rise of commercial tutoring programs for preschoolers. The article I cited, “Preschoolers’ Prep,” was published in The Wall Street Journal back in July and many missed it during the summer season. It shouldn’t be missed.

The reporter, June Kronholz, draws our attention to the fact that commercial tutoring firms like Sylvan Learning Centers are now offering special programs for preschool-age children.

From her article: As the academic pressure grows on the littlest learners — to recognize their letters in preschool, to read in kindergarten — so does the idea of toddler tutoring. After a two-year pilot program, Sylvan, owned by Educate Inc. in Baltimore, expects to have all 1,200 of its learning centers tutoring prekindergartners by winter.

Listeners were especially interested in the reference to Hank Barnes, a four-year-old who has been enrolled in one of these commercial programs because “he was behind on his scissor skills.” Behind on his scissor skills?

Consider this: Amy Barnes, who is the mother of four-year-old Sylvan pupil Hank and who teaches high-school English here, is all for preschool tutoring. She “panicked” last winter, she says, when Hank’s preschool teacher reported that he couldn’t write his name, identify his letters, count to 30 or wield his scissors — skills that the local school district tells parents it would like to see in incoming kindergartners. “I feel we read all the time, but whatever I was doing at home wasn’t working,” says Ms. Barnes, who enrolled Hank for two reading lessons a week. Hank fell off his adult-size chair during an early lesson, she says. On a recent afternoon, his bubbly enthusiasm flagged and he declared his hand “too tired” to go on. Tutor Monica Berryhill, a sixth-grade teacher, next had him sing the alphabet song. Ms. Barnes, who is paying $4,000 for 10 months of tutoring, says that after six months, Hank is kindergarten-ready. “We’re being proactive,” she adds. “I don’t want my child to be the one who always struggles.”

According to the article, Kaplan Inc.’s Score Educational Centers says that approximately one in five of its students is between the ages of four and six. As Ms. Kronholz explains, “As the academic pressure grows on the littlest learners — to recognize their letters in preschool, to read in kindergarten — so does the idea of toddler tutoring.”

Can this be healthy for children? Surely not. This represents a distortion of childhood, with adult-like performance expectations foisted on our youngest kids. Gee, can a kid who is branded with inadequate scissor skills at age four possibly get into a decent college?

GO GET THE ARTICLE: June Kronholz, “Preschoolers’ Prep,” The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2005.