Up until Grade Four all I really want to see on my child’s report card are the comments:
“Works well with others.”
“Colours creatively outside the lines.”
There was a dictée (we chose French Immersion) that came home weekly from Grade One onward, but usually we worked the words just enough through the week to keep the tears at a minimum. The plastic Library Bag books were kept track of, read, and returned with more-or-less dependable regularity. I encouraged a great deal of attention to the colouring sheets of “units” and “blocks” and problems that I knew formed early math skills (my foundational math skills having slipped near-disasterously through the elementary school cracks). I did not, however, enforce much of the busy work aspect of homework. I even occasionally forged the reading log in the Library Bags because I do not believe mandated reading intervals foster a love of reading. Reading happened daily together, or apart, often in big swaths of time or in snatches. In the bathtub. At the table. And if the book was boring, maybe only for ten minutes and, sometimes, yes, I allowed a book to simply be abandoned.
Judge me if you must.
I believe children should be released from a long day of school listening like so many rubber balls allowed to bounce home, caroming freely and at their own pace. A pocket full of chestnuts fosters math skills. Baking cookies is science. Jumping in puddles is not educational at all. Jumping in puddles is wonderful. There needs to be plenty of wonder.
So, when I read the words “Not meeting keyboarding skill expectations for this grade level” on the Grade Four report card I was not particularly alarmed.
The computer teacher, however, was concerned. I was brought in for a meeting, which as it turned out, was really a shaming. When from my uncomfortable position in the tiny classroom chair I explained that up to this point there had been no “computer time” built into our family structure, and that (worse!) this was intentional, I was informed that I was letting my child down. This was a brave new world of computer literacy and while her peers’ little fingers knew how to fly across most keyboards, my child was still learning to navigate her first shift key. Was I not concerned for her future?
I do not think I exhibited the chagrin he hoped to elicit. I left furious. Fully aware of my parental “shortcomings” in the homework department, I vowed to keep physical activity, imagination, and creativity the focus of our family’s time outside school hours. I knew that given access to a computer and inevitably, eventually, also to a cell phone, my child’s delayed ability to deploy pretend fireballs or key her way through a maze would catch swiftly up. So too would homework. And so it did. Faster than you can imagine.
This generation is the first whose life expectancy may be lower than that of their parents’ and this largely attributable to the twinned issues of inactivity and screen time. When I see parents distracting their toddlers with a phone game I feel a little stab of despair. It is rare that children are not using a keyboard in some form during their day. Our teenagers do their homework, their socializing, their research, and find their entertainment on computers. What they need is a mind free to wander. A gaze that knows how to turn inward. Hands that know how to stay still, or craft, or hold a book, or better yet, reach for someone else’s.