My wife and I went to our first pre-school tour a couple months ago. We live in Los Angeles and had been frightened into action by a friend who was visiting for coffee. The friend was admonishing us for waiting so long to start the waiting list process. After all, Zoe was already eighteen months old. For all intents and purposes, we were “too late to get into any good schools.” The way she said it made it sound as though we had consigned our daughter to a lifetime in the service industry after four years at a community college because the only choice left to us was the J. W. Gacy Clown-Around pre-school.
Before calmer heads had the chance to talk some sense into us we found ourselves in the office of one of the more prestigious pre-schools in the Los Angeles area. The children in this school system graduate to the next level with an average 85% or higher. They don’t mess around here. Only a handful of students per teacher. No holiday is celebrated or hailed so as not to leave anyone out. And the children are not forced into narrow cubbies when they are bad, though a few of them looked like they should be.
What really stood out to me though was when the principal sat us down to give us the low-down. I’ll skip all the details and get to the salient point:
“It used to be,” She said, sternly. “That children came to Pre-K to get ready for Kindergarten, where they would learn the alphabet and their numbers. Nowadays, children come to pre-school already knowing their alphabet and our job is to further enhance their experience to get them ready for a world where they are already ahead of the curve.”
Yipes. When did pre-school get so…advanced? When I was in Nursery school (as we called it) we played Duck, Duck, Goose! Now, the kids are practically pre-algebra! Daunting to say the least. But not impossible to overcome and I’m gonna tell you how we did it. Because it was remarkably simple and our daughter seems to be a genius. Albeit a genius who craps her pants and thinks cheesy poofs are part of the four food groups.
Toss out the flash cards. Forget Sesame Street (Please, god, turn off the TV. It’s a drug. And I’m not getting all preachy here. I have a 1300 square foot house, 2 Tivos, a dual mode DirecTV dvr, a slingbox and a converter to turn virtually anything I want to watch to iPod format. I LOVE TV. But turn off the TV. At least for the first 2 years. Trust me.)
Dump all that stuff because the answer is about twenty bucks away and you won’t have to do a thing. Just sit back, surf the web, make dinner, drink a bottle of wine, whatever, and relax as your child takes the giant step from incomprehensible babbler to genius:
The LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet Set.
The machine attaches via magnet to your refrigerator or dishwasher. The 26 corresponding letters are also magnets and each one of them fits into the semi-circle slot on the face of the device. When your child puts one in and presses it as if it were a magic button, lo and behold an obnoxious but catchy voice sings, “B! B says ‘buh’! B says ‘buh’! Every letter makes a sound, B says ‘buh’!” to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell. Pull out the letter, and pop in another.
“V! V says ‘vuh’! V says ‘vuh’! Every letter makes a sound, V says ‘vuh’!”
“A! A says ‘ay’! A says ‘ay’! Every letter makes a sound, A says ‘ay’!…and ‘Aa’!”
Press the button on the right and the same juvenile voice sings the alphabet.
The success of just putting the letters in the correct slot (the only slot, but still) helps with motor skills and esteem. The repetition of the letters’ names and sounds coupled with the alphabet and this is a toy to be reckoned with.
Within two weeks of this thing in our house I noticed that Zoe was obsessively putting the letters in and making the device work. So I asked her to pick specific letters.
When I asked her to get the A, she got the A and put it in.
When I asked her to get the B, yeah, she got it.
When I asked her to get the W, or as she calls it, “double-boo”, yeah, she got it.
It was incredible. After all, this was not a preschooler I was dealing with. At this point in her life, my daughter had just turned 19 months. She hadn’t even begun to copy our cursing yet.
Then, while showing my wife just what a success her purchase was I pointed to a letter and, rather than ask her to get it, I inadvertently asked her what it was.
“X.” She said.
I pointed to another.
We applauded. She got excited.
“D!” She exclaimed, pulling the letter D from the dishwasher door. She plugged it into the slot, pushed the button and began to dance, spastically, to “D! D says duh! D says duh! Every letter makes a sound. D says duh!”
Now Zoe is our own little sideshow freak. We love to make her pick the right letters for company. Especially the parents who have not discovered this machine and who are very nervous about getting into the right pre-school.
Oh, we’re not too worried about that anymore.