Three-Toed Sloths

D is on a big three-toed sloth kick lately.  Whenever we go to the playground, he has to hang upside down on one of the curved ladders, just like a three-toed sloth.  For a while he was saying he wanted to be a three-toed sloth for Halloween, but I think we’ve talked him out of it.  (T is officially in charge of costuming in this household, so it’s not my problem in any case.)  And we’ve consumed the full extent of the library’s juvenile sloth section (Carle’s Slowly Slowly Slowly Said the Sloth and Robinson’s The Upside Down Sloth).

Those of you who don’t have preschoolers (or whose preschoolers don’t watch TV) are probably scratching your heads wondering where on earth D got a thing for three-toed sloths.   Those of you with munchkins probably know that Dora’s cousin Diego is responsible.  D thinks Diego is "awesome."

The ability to pursue enthusiasms like this, rather than staying doggedly on a fixed curriculum, racing against time to cover all the material that will be on a standardized test, is the strongest argument I’ve heard for homeschooling.  But, for a variety of reasons, we’re not really considering going that route any time soon.  I’m hopeful that there will be enough non-school time to provide the boys with the opportunities to follow their interests.

Last month, the Center for American Progress and the Institute for America’s Future issued a report on how to improve public schools.  Their first recommendation is to increase the length of both the school day and the school year, as well as to make better use of in-school time.  I have extremely mixed reactions to such a proposal.  I’m afraid my basic response is that it’s a good idea — for other people’s kids.  In particular, it’s clear that one of the reasons that KIPP and similar schools have had such success with disadvantaged populations is that the students spend so much more time in school than their counterparts.

But for my own kids, I think I’d be reluctant to give over even more of their lives to formal schooling.  I think they need time to run around the playground like lunatics, time to read books with no literary merit, time to bake cookies, and yes, time to learn about three-toed sloths.

7 Responses to “Three-Toed Sloths”

  1. Sandra Says:

    I completely agree. As my kids get older and the homework is piled on, they have less and less time for their own interests. I would much rather see them engrossed in their own projects rather than studying for a chapter test in science, when we all know they won’t remember any of the science three months after the test anyway. For kids who are raised in a stimulating environment, free time is much more valuable than more school hours.
    But I’m in favor of making better use of school time, as long as they don’t eliminate recess. There are too many time-wasting birthday parties and Disney videos at school, in my opinion.

  2. Tiny Coconut Says:

    Agreed…in theory at least. But here’s the thing: A lot of kids spend that after-school time not running around, or pursuing three-toed sloth info, or reading trashy books. They spend it in after-school care, doing the same-old, same-old, except with less-well-trained ‘teachers.’
    We’re lucky in that between my schedule and DH’s, we don’t need after-school care for our kids (though, paradoxically, Em has gone twice a week for the last two years because she wanted to!). But for many people, those hours between 2:30 or 3 and 6 or so are dead time in their kids’ lives. These are the sorts of proposals that would once again pit working moms/dads against those who are living on a single income or can afford to work only part time. And those are always bloody battles.

  3. jen Says:

    I would love more respect for evening hours and weekend hours, however that is accomplished. If the kids were finishing their compulsory homework, under supervision, from 3-5 … that would be a big help to many.
    Also, the long summer break is not a big hit with me. Yes, kids need time down. Yes, we need to be able to visit Grandma & Grandpa. But everyone’s going completely nuts but the last half of August, and the kids are begging to see their friends again. I think a 6-week summer break is more reasonable.

  4. Karen Says:

    My question is why does increased “school” time have to equate with more formal schooling?
    When I was in grade school, we went home from school for lunch. It was a 90 minute “lunch break”. Then we also had 45 minutes of recess in the afternoon. It was part of the “school day” — but it wasn’t formal schooling. How long do children get for lunch now? Thinking of my daughter, she’s lucky if she can finish her lunch in 30 minutes at the table. And Kindergarteners at our “full day” public school kindergarten get 20 minutes for recess a day. TWENTY MINUTES!
    I totally agree with lengthening the school day with the assumption that some time be added for lunch, recess, some physical education classes, and maybe some art or music. Give time to the stuff that the school districts have to take out to meet with testing requirements.
    And I agree with the jen’s post above that the summer breaks are far too long. Take some extra time throughout the school year if necessary, but the long summer break is far too long.

  5. Jody Says:

    We have all-day kindergarten here, introduced when kindergarten was funded in 1976. I’m deeply unhappy about it, because it seems like too much, too soon. It is universally acknowledged that the first few months are a nightmare adjustment period for everyone involved. And I’ve heard more than one parent say they would happily pay the taxes for half-day childcare programs in the school, if the issue of working parents is the motivating force.
    I wouldn’t want summer break to be one week shorter than it already is. But we are in the fairly unusual situation of taking summer break ourselves.
    As has already been said, if the extra hours were used for in-class reading, science lab, music, art, and three recess periods a day: bring it on. But more skill and drill? Nope, count me out.
    It’s very weird to me, the institutional recommendation for longer school instruction going hand-in-hand with the vogue for homeschooling among upper-middle class families.

  6. Rachel Says:

    You might want to tell him about the Bolivian sloths.
    When I visited Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia, we were constantly told
    about the sloths in the town square. My boyfriend and I never actually saw any,
    but there was a statue of sloths there.
    What our Bolivian friend said was that the sloths live in the trees and would
    occasionally come down to the ground. Once there, they wouldn’t be able to
    get back up in the trees again, so helpful people would pick them up and put them
    back. However, if you do this, he warned, you have to pick the sloths up from
    the back as they are very strong and could hurt you.
    I’m still not sure if he was messing with us, but it’s a good story. Otoh, you
    might now want a kid agitating for a trip to see the bolivian sloths. *shrug*

  7. R Wenner Says:

    Yes, it’s true about sloths–arms are very strong; and although slow in locomotion, they can slash quickly with formidable claws if they feel threatened. Google the “costa rican sloth rescue” site to see some very mellow sloths who don’t seem to mind being held. My husband used to work in El Salvador & Guatamala, and he was fond of sloth watching in the public square’s borders of tall trees.

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