Whither the little children?
I’ve written this post at least three times now. Every time I do I figure out part of the problem I was trying to complain about and have to start over with this new perspective. It’s a blessing, and I’m glad I’ve been able to figure out some key things in the last few weeks, but it’s not my favorite approach to development. 🙂
The great hangup I have been facing lately in planning the Freeman Academy is how to handle very young children. A remote system, especially an asynchronous one, faces huge difficulties in handling children between five and ten or so. I’ve looked at what online offerings I could find; none of them are tailored for small children. The only exception I’ve seen is the K12 system, which at those age levels is a hybrid of online exercises and homeschooling with professional oversight. I didn’t like the idea at first, it seemed to go against what I was trying to accomplish: building a school to provide a quality education for those unable or unwilling to homeschool.
Teaching young children requires being able to keep their attention; in fact that seems to be the primary challenge. Doing that without someone there to remind them of what they are supposed to be doing can be a problem. There are a few ways, mostly by mixing education and entertainment. Educational television programs like Schoolhouse Rock or early Sesame Street (back when it was still good. You kids get off my lawn!) taught key concepts while keeping kids’ attention. It’s a fantastic approach for many things, and the Internet makes distribution a breeze, but it has at least one big drawback for the Academy. You can teach concepts that way, but you can’t drill things. A child could probably learn to read that way, but never to write. Addition and subtraction probably, but not their multiplication tables.
I puzzled for days and weeks over how to handle distance learning with small children. I didn’t want the parent to have to do the teaching, so it had to be one of the Academy’s teachers. Remote teaching (online) I felt we could handle, but what about making it asynchronous? That step is one of the keys to getting the costs for students and their families down to where they’re manageable. Real time teaching is much more expensive. How could I make sure the student was paying attention if the teacher wasn’t directly interacting with them?
Somewhere along the line, I made a realization. I was conflating two different things in my approach. I was confusing supervision with teaching. There must be an older person there to supervise the child and keep them on task, but that person does not have to be the teacher. A parent or sitter can keep an eye on the child, remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing, etc. without having to handle the actual teaching. Will that work for everyone? No, of course not. Many parents want the kids out of the house, accustomed to using public schools as daycare centers. Others just can’t be home, such as a working single parent or a two-income household. There are various circumstances that would keep parents from being able to supervise their school-aged child, but we have to accept that no one solution will work for everyone. I’ve kicked around the idea of setting up what amount to student-only internet cafes to help address this, but even if it could work they still couldn’t be everywhere. I’m shooting for ‘better’, if I get stuck on ‘perfect’ I’ll never get anywhere.