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How to kill your kid’s creativity

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Reel Mama: How to kill your kid’s creativity

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to kill your kid’s creativity

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably taken the PSAT and the SAT.  Maybe you’ve taken the GRE for grad school or the LSAT for law school.  Well, there’s a new kid on the block: the OLSAT. It’s the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, and it’s being administered to children as young as three for admission into Gifted and Talented programs.  Even though my daughter will be two in a few short months, I had never heard of the OLSAT, let alone the Stanford Binet (this is your standard IQ test), the WPPSI-III, or the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. The Stanford Binet IQ test and the WPPSI intelligence test can be administered to children as young as two.  This blows my mind.

I wouldn’t have known about any of this except that a friend of mine came across this jaw-dropping Craigslist listing and posted it on Facebook:

Hamptons Tutor Needed (Hamptons)
Specialized educational consulting company is seeking experts in Education or Psychology to help prepare and tutor children for performance tests and assessments that are commonly administered in NYC.
• Must hold a doctorate or be a doctoral student in the field of Education, Psychology (Child, Developmental, Clinical, Educational, School), or any other closely related discipline - OR - hold a Master's in a related field and have extensive experience working with children and/or administering children's standardized tests (e.g., OLSAT/BSRA, ERB, WISC, Stanford-Binet)
• Must have experience working with young children (age 3-5)

The ad goes on, but you get the gist: a Bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to prepare effectively the 3-5 year olds for the battery of tests.  You actually need a PhD.

The ad is for Aristotle Circle, a company that tutors students of all ages, even those in graduate school, in standardized test preparation.  Here’s my problem with this company (one of many): on their welcome page, right underneath a picture of Harvard yard flashing across the screen, you’ll see numerous links to information about college and grad school test prep, but most prominently featured are the links for “Free OLSAT Practice Test” and an OLSAT prep workbook with 250 exercises, and the WPPSI prep workbook with 500 practice exercises. The message is clear: parents, if you want your kid to make it to Harvard, better start now, at the age of three, or better yet, two.

Aristotle Circle claims to promote learning through play.  They also encourage you to “save with our multi-test bundles”! My favorite is the ERB, OLSAT® A & Bracken BSRA® Bundle. All told, 1100 practice exercises potentially for your three-year-old.

I could not care less that this company includes “monster stickers to encourage persistence and promote learning through play.”  At this rate, how can a child know anything else except practicing exercises for standardized tests?  All of the quality time a parent could spend with the child would be dedicated to these exercises.  Any real time spent learning through play, the very thing that got the child to a point where the parents realized the kid had a gift, would be squandered on practice exercises and the sticker system.  Under this system, real play dies. 

Many parents won’t take it to such an extreme, but many will.  To me this is a painful example of how many educated parents have lost perspective on what’s truly important when it comes to parenting: connecting with your kids in a meaningful way, teaching them life lessons, helping them grow and learn in the natural course of your day together.  I’m talking about children five and under here.  The OLSAT exercises tout “fun” and “play” but it’s done with an ulterior motive.  How is doing the five-hundredth practice exercise going to help you discover the joy of day-to-day living, the fun of togetherness, with your child?  The repetitive nature of these exercises is a killjoy.  It’s drudgery for our littlest minds, and decorating it with purple dinosaurs doesn’t change that.

The fact that anyone feels that a three-year-old needs to be subjected to a battery of IQ tests to determine abilities is heartbreaking to me.  It shows the competitive nature of parents to get their kids into the best schools from the outset.  I do think these parents want the best for their children, but at the same time, they don’t mind having the bragging rights that their child is Gifted and Talented and that Susie Q next door will be choking in their own child’s dust.  Their child is the one who will make it into Yale.  But is this in the true interest of their own child?

According to a First 5 LA article linked to from the Artistotle Circle site, gifted children show remarkable creative thinking, but the “drill baby drill” mentality with preparing our nation’s children for test taking is killing our kids’ creativity and resulting in a documented creativity crisis in our country.  These hardline parenting tactics can take a seat at the table of blame, and so can No Child Left Behind.  We are producing generations of kids who are great test takers, but who cannot innovate, or think outside the box.  Employers are seeing this more and more with the new workforce.  More new young workers are hitting a wall when it comes truly to thinking creatively, and it was this creative thinking that has made our nation great.  If we are to continue to be, then creative unstructured play must be encouraged, nurtured, and celebrated for our kids.  It should be mandatory. We need to develop children's imagination, independent problem solving and self-reliance, and it can start with a simple game of “let’s pretend.”
We need to get back to basics when it comes to parenting.  The best parenting advice I ever got was from my dad:  kids just want to be along for the ride.  They want to be part of your life, to be included on your journey.  We need to be able to step back sometimes and allow our kids to make the most of their childhoods.  

And you definitely don’t need a PhD to be a great parent.


At July 7, 2011 at 7:59 AM , Blogger Aristotle Circle said...

Lauren -

Thanks for the post about how important creativity is for a child's development. At Aristotle Circle, we agree completely - which is why we include a lot of suggested activities in our workbooks that provide a starting point for play that parents and children can build on their own in addition to the 1100 practice questions.

We absolutely hire PhDs as our tutors and experts! Most ed boards who give the tests require PhDs to administer them - so our seemingly high standards are there to match the actual testing experience as closely as possible.

At July 8, 2011 at 10:48 PM , Blogger Lauren Ivy Chiong said...

I would like to thank Aristotle Circle for posting a comment. I have no doubt that the parents who purchase Aristotle Circle products love their children deeply and truly are coming from a place where they want the best for their children’s future. Anxiety and insecurity among today’s parents are running very high, and part of this is due to the very intense competition today for places in the best schools. My concern is the following: will there be time for creative play by the time the children have completed the 1100 exercises included in the OLSAT workbooks?

Hopefully parents will take a balanced approach to this, not feel overwhelmed by the pressures of preparing their children for these standardized tests, and will allow their children plenty of time for creative play, whether it’s suggested by the workbook or not. Suggestions for a fun playtime, learning activities, and games are great. I hope that these same parents don’t feel stressed that they don’t know how to play with their children “the right way”, and feel they need a manual or workbook to be instructed on how to interact with their child at playtime. As a good friend of mine pointed out, there is so much pressure on parents of our generation to “get it right,” that I feel it often can rob parents of the true joys of parenting.

In the interest of full disclosure, Aristotle Circle has offered me the opportunity to review its OLSAT workbook. I’m going to try out some of these exercises with my daughter when I receive it, and I’m going to offer my honest feedback here in a review in this blog. Aristotle Circle has been very cordial and professional in their communications with me. Here is what the company told me in a recent communication:

“Unfortunately for many 3-5 year olds, standardized tests are a reality
private schools and gifted and talented programs require. Our goal is to
help parents prepare for the test in a way that is both fun and
effective - and it only works if parents like you find it a useful and
practical tool you'd use.”

While I won’t be preparing my daughter for a standardized test, it will be fascinating to put myself in the shoes of the parents who are. I’m looking forward to finding out if Leilani will find the exercises fun and effective, how long they hold her interest vs. other games we might normally play, etc. Stay tuned!


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