Thursday, January 29, 2009

Preschool Education in Mexico

Having been out of Canada for more than five years and out of preschool for more than thirty five (sigh), my knowledge of kindergarten is limited to what we are experiencing here in Cancun with my almost four year old son Max. He started going to school at 18 months old and yes, I mean school with uniforms, books and homework. He's in his third year, in the class called "Kinder 1" with ten other three-going-on-four year old kids. He has homework everyday in math, English and Spanish and has exams about once a month. The exams also have a "cultura" component where the kids must be able to identify the significant event or events of the current month. Yesterday we received the list of things he will be tested on next week so we can study and practice all weekend. My parents were shocked by what is expected of these still very young kids but since I have no idea what goes on anywhere else, it just seems "normal" (I hate that word) to me. So, tell me what you think, are they asking too much? Pushing too hard? Or is Max going to be behind his Canadian peers? Here's what we will be cramming for over the next few days:

English Exam

-count out loud from 1-30
-recognize numbers 1-5
-recognize this month's new shapes, "oval, star, diamond"
recognize faces expressing "happy, sad, angry, surprised, thirsty and scared"
-demonstrate understanding of the prepositions "in, out, on, under"
-identify "bedroom, bathroom, living room, dining room, kitchen"
-identify "corn, peas, onion, lettuce, potato, spinach, carrot, tomato"
-identify Christmas vocabulary "Santa Claus, snowman, bell, Christmas balls"
-identify hygiene vocabulary "soap, towel, toothpaste, toothbrush"
-child must know their birthday
-demonstrate this month's new verbs "eat, drink, clean, play, stop, dance, listen"

Spanish Exam

-reconocer todas las vocales mayusculas y minusculas (recognize all the vowels, upper and lower case)
-escritura de las vocales mayusculas y minusculas (write all vowels, upper and lower case)
-relacionar los vocales con su dibujo (relate the vowels to a picture)
-dictado de las vocales (take dictation of the vowels)
-reconocer la letra "M, m" (recognize the letter "M, m")

Math Exam (in Spanish)

-contar en voz alta del 1 al 60 (count out loud from 1 to 60)
-dictado de los numeros del 1 al 10 (take dictation of the numbers 1 to 10)
-identificar las siguientes figuras: circulo, cuadrado, rectangulo y triangulo (identify circle, square, rectangle and triangle)
-trazar el triangulo, cuadrado, circulo (trace a triangle, square, circle)
-identificar lineas inclinada, quebrada, horizontal, vertical (identify diagonal lines, zig zag, horizontal and vertical)
-identificar concepto "muchos/pocos" (identify the concepts of a lot and a little)

Culture Exam (in Spanish)

-identificar lo que celebramos en diciembre y enero (identify what we celebrate in December and January) (Christmas, New Year and Three Kings Day)

I know that Max will ace his English exam, that's "kid's stuff" to him as a native speaker (though he always misses the number 13 when counting, perhaps he's a tad superstitious?). I'm more worried about Spanish and Math, he struggles a bit with his writing though he did produce some beautiful upper case vowels today. He's left handed (obvious from the day he was born) so I have a bit of trouble helping him, I'm not sure if it's a lefty problem or if he just isn't ready to embrace writing yet. He's apparently not the only one in the class struggling with the writing, we've spoken to other parents who are also feeling their kids' frustrations.

So, I'm really looking for feedback from those in the know, is this curriculum in line with what is happening in other countries at this age? Should I stop stressing about the writing or should I pull out the bull whip? (Um, yeah, just kidding about the whip of course, you know what I mean). Is it too early to be looking for a Mensa membership?


Anonymous said...

Sydney is about his age (maybe a few months older, right? She's a March 05 baby.) I went through your list and a lot of it seems advanced for this age group. Especially the stuff in the Spanish exam section. I'm sure Syd can't do any of that, in either language and she's a really bright kid. I think they should be focusing on spoken language and recognition at this point, and maybe writing for fun. But dictation?? Not yet. Sydney won't even start preschool until this September, she will be 4 1/2. Hope that helps.

Jorge said...

Pobre de mi hijo. Tenemos que estudiar mucho.

Brice said...

I'm not really 'in the know', but that seems fair to me.
Keep in mind - things are going downhill: when I started school at 4, i could read a newspaper. Apparently York University has stopped docking marks for grammar and spelling (in communication courses)!!!
At worst, Max will be overeducated and smart, and thus successful.

Anonymous said...

Counting up to 60 is a bit too much. The dictation part seems to be to the extreme. Everything else is normal here in the states. But I personally think kids at this age should be enjoying childhood.

amyinbc said...

As a Canadian living in BC with three kids I think your kids are learning above the level expected here. If they can keep up and enjoy good on them!

Frankly Ronda said...

My 3rd grader (Oldest Son) went to private USA preschools as did my Kinder 3 son (Youngest Son) until this year in Mexico.

The writing expectations and some of the counting seems a little extreme to me - the rest looks good.

Youngest Son is in Kinder 3 here in Mexico. I think your exam and homework expectations seem more aggressive in comparison.

The writing can vary greatly by kid. Oldest Son still does not enjoy writing while Youngest Son seems much more comfortable.

I would let the writing evolve. Max will do what he is ready to do.

Gender Comment: Having 2 boys and seeing lots of other families with boys - many boys do not enjoy the physical act of writing - not all - but many ... keyboards may be a good thing!

Jennifer said...

WOW - maybe I need to look into preschool for Johan, and Lana. I would love for them to have some sort of structured setting like that. (Mickey and Isa had head start and it was great for them) I wonder if they have something like that in comparison in Honduras. If not, I may send them to you until its time for them to start school in Honduras, LOL.


Rosas Clan in Tulum said...

We are heading to the school to get the kids set for next year. This makes me nervous. We will have to work on some stuff.

PS- My daughter also skips 13 most of the time. HUH!?!?!

Heather said...

I felt like the english was good enough then i remembered that was a 2nd language and then i read all the spanish and i think it is a lot higher than what my nieces and nephews have gone through over the yrs. But again I dont really know, my kids are younger than Max so Im not in the know yet.


Cdn Cat said...

With not having children I can't really comment on whether this is exesive or on par. Years ago when I lived in Cancun a girlfrend of mine commented to me one day about how the education system in general in Mexico tended to cram as much in the first few years because a lot of children never got past 2nd grade before the parents either couldn't afford to send them or needed them to help out with the family and kept them home. Once her kids were all in higher grades she decided it was best to pull up stakes and move back to the states so they could start their high school education there.

Nicole said...

I actually don't see a problem with it. I have had lots of discussions with fellow parents here in the states that complain about their kids being expected to know too much, but I think it at least needs to be presented to them. Also this is getting him ready for what's to come.
Sometimes I think "we" get caught up in what's normal, and what the guidelines are that we forget that kids know far more than we think.

CancunCanuck said...

Becky- Nice to see you here and so glad you've resolved your "stuff". Max is an April 05 guy, so Sydney is about the same age (he's April 12th). Thanks for your comment, it's interesting to see how the work compares. He is a VERY verbal kid in both languages and being an English teacher, I'm not worried about his abilities with speaking (he won't shut up in fact, lol!) His day at school is very balanced, lots of play, singing, dancing and playing combined with the writing part. I will sleep a bit better knowing that he is not falling behind his north of border peers. :)

Jorge- Yep, no fun for you this weekend, teehee, he knows his English stuff, you've got to get on that Spanish studying. ;-)

Brice- You are kidding about York right?? That's insanity! I was like you, an early reader and I hope that Max will be too, he's well on his way and in both languages. Here's hoping he is successful, though right now his imaginary play time is all about him being a waiter! Not knocking the service industry, but I've got higher hopes for him. :)

Anon- I agree, kids do need to enjoy their childhood and we make sure that Max is able to experience many new, fun, age appropriate things. We play a lot, sing a lot, dance a lot, ride bikes, go to the beach, play in the park, painting, he's got a good balance of school work and "let loose" time. Thanks for the comment!

amyinbc- Thanks so much mama, I've been so curious to know what things are like "up nord der eh?". :)

American Mommy- Thanks, I'm glad to hear from someone who has experienced both systems. Interesting note about the gender issues, I hadn't really thought about that. I try to make the writing like play, he's got a big chalkboard that he likes to practice on, a white board and a HUGE roll of paper for making big big letters and numbers with paint. We make letters out of spaghetti and shells and a variety of mediums to try to keep him interested too. He's really keen on the computer, so a keyboard will be a good friend to him I am sure!

Jennifer- Definitely check it out in Honduras for the wee ones (well, not the "wee-est" ones of course, haha). It would give them a great outlet and lighten your load for a few hours a day too. Oh man, sending them to me? You trying to kill me or what, I have trouble enough keeping up with one, I don't know how you do it!! :)

Rosas Clan- How did your visit to the school go? Is it bilingual? I am really curious to know what it is like in Tulum for kids. You can start doing stuff at home, cutting letters out of magazines and gluing them with pictures of things that start with that letter is always fun, count everything you see (toys, cars, coconuts), start to identify shapes of things (look at that round beach ball), etc etc. It doesn't have to be sitting down at a desk and studying, it can be fun. Good luck, I'm looking forward to hearing about your experience. (And what is with the 13 thing? Hmmm)

Heather- You know it's funny, I don't consider either language a second language for him, I consider him a native speaker in both since he is equally proficient and has used both since birth. Thanks for the feedback (and oh girl, you will know soon enough, lol, get ready for homework!)

CdnCat- That's an interesting point about so many kids leaving school early. Max is in a private school (and will continue to be), so it's not that kind of issue with his peers, they are in a different financial realm than those that need their kids to go to work. In talking with parents of teens, there are different opinions about the level of education in the high school years. We've got a ways to go before we get there so hopefully things will continue to improve in the education sector, private schools included.

culture queen- You are so right. Kids know a LOT more than we give them credit for and are quite capable of sucking it all in. Max actually asks to do his homework (some days not so much, haha) and he asks me for new words, new concepts and ideas. Recently he's been learning his prepositions and he uses them repeatedly, his favourite being "behind". "Mommy, is my school behind your work? Is that house behing Soriana? Is the dog behind the tree?" over and over all day, he's checking to make sure he's got it right. He's a little sponge and he is leading the way, I don't push, I just respond to what he is asking for. (Nice to see you!)

Thanks all!! Will let you know how he makes out on his exams.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, where to start?! I have read your whole blog this week at work (who needs to be productive?) and I think it's just great! I saw your blog listed as I was voting for another blog - in a different category - on the Webbies! Interestingly enough, I had done a Google search for blogs written by people living in Mexico as I am feeling a little withdrawl. I love love LOVE Mexico, but I haven't explored as much as I would like to and your blog is so inspirational! I could go on but I hate to sound like a creepy internet person...I promise, I'm not!

Also, Max's pre-school sounds right on target with private preschools here in Texas...public preschools/head-start programs are a whole different animal. I won't start a rant here, though.

Basically I wanted to say, keep up the great work, and you've gained another reader!

Raul said...

As a Mexican who did his Masters and PhD in Canada, and who still lives in Canada, I am thrilled to see that people recognize that we have better education in Mexico (in some realms, of course, and at some stages). There are things I like better about the US and Canadian systems, but definitely I am glad that I got my pre-school education and primary school education in Mexico

Gaelyn said...

I'm not Canadian, but it seems about right, yet he's learning to think in two languages, which is cool.

ElleCancun said...

Okay - so even though I don't have any kids of my own... I do happen to have a nephew here in Cancun who is going to be 4 in September, and I have a goddaughter (who also happens to be my FIRST cousin..ohhh soo old) who will be 4 in September as well in Canada. My little nephew is more advanced (academically) than my little cousin in Canada. I mean thank goodness my aunt is a stay at home mom and takes the time to teach her things- she just started pre-school this year and it wasn't mandatory, they pay for it, and it's only 4 days a week (half days). When she starts kindergarten there will be many kids who won't have attended preschool!

Nephew - started when he was 2, and I remember them bringing home the daily report cards - wow. I was impressed to say the least. I think it's fantastic. A bit much? Sure, but your'e never too young to learn!

Hubby speaks 5 languages fluently (reads, writes, and speaks) - I wish. French in Canada was almost a joke for me. I had it 3 times a week for 30 mins a day, with little to no homework.

Well... You know what I mean!!!! LOL.

I say " Goooo Max - Mensa here he comes" LOL!!!!

Sacha said...

To give you an idea of my background - I teach first grade, and have also taught kindergarten. My oldest son is 2 years old.

I think the majority of the expectations, outside of the writing, are reasonable for children with help at home.

I do think the most important thing about schooling at this age is that you child is successful with learning. As long as your child is not feeling anxious, and is doing well, good for you.

I would not focus on your child's "score" but on improvement.

CancunCanuck said...

Kelly- Welcome, wow, you read the whole thing, I'm blushing, thank you! Thanks for the comment and the contribution on the education thing, much appreciated. Hope you stick around!

Raul- Hola y bienvenido! Gracias por tu comentario. I think there are good and bad things about most education systems, right now I am very pleased with the small school Max is attending. Not only are they learning, but the kids really enjoy the process and want to go to school everyday. (Shhh, don't tell my husband that they let Mexicans into Canada, he wants to move but I am trying to turn him off the idea, LOL!) Hubby received an excellent education in Mexico, he's from Puebla which is a very academic town. Gracias otra vez, y disfruten Canada y la nieve! :)

Gaelyn- I'm certainly interested in ALL comments and opinions, you don't have to be Canadian to qualify, just human, so thanks! I've marked your blog to read when I've got some time, I'm fascinated by your gypsy life!

On Mexican Time- Thanks amiga, grateful for another perspective! Interesting to be able to compare like you did with two kids the same age but in different countries, thank you. Wow, hubby speaks five languages? Good for him, wow! And oh yes, people always ask if I can speak French because I am Canadian, I get a good laugh out of that and explain that the French education I received was about as good as the English education kids get here in public school. I studied French for 13 years and at this point can say "Bonjour" and "Au revoir", lol!

Sacha- Hola and welcome, I really appreciate your insight. While the kids do have "exams", they don't really get scored, it's more like "Excellent, good or needs improvement" so we can know what we need to work on. When Max gets frustrated with the writing, we put it away for a while and focus on something that he is really good at in order to build his confidence. I also have him work on lines, curves, drawings, tracing that are NOT letters to help him with fine motor skills and control, he enjoys that and doesn't realize he is doing "work". Thanks again!

Heather said...

Home work? Oh no... my hubs speaks all the languages, I just pretend. Im so not ready for school in any language, lol!

Alex said...

wow! well I guess you got a pretty good advice from american mommy in mexico :) my baby is too young so I have no clue, however, I worked in a "kinder" too many years ago and it is amazing to see how kids learn EVERYTHING, they literally absorb all like little sponges!! I suppose the best thing to do, it don't let Max stress about it, even if us adults stress a whole lot!
Tu nene Max va a ser un super estudiante! wow! (y va a saber mas que todos nosotros juntos jejej) keep it up Kelly!

Anonymous said...

i could see teaching them colors, a few basic shapes and counting to 10 perhaps, but a lot of the other things are a bit much for 3 1/2 year olds, especially the writing. their little hands just aren't ready because their fine motor skills are not yet totally developed. i would think people in education would have learned that somewhere along the way. so, no, the fact that max is having trouble with writing has nothing to do with his being left handed. more power to those of us in our right brain, obviously i'm a lefty and so is my older son.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

I definitely think that here in the USA that most people don't expect enough out of their children which is why we seem to be falling further and further behind the rest of the world in any standardized testing.

My youngest boy is 4 1/2 and has never been to any out of the house schooling, yet can read, count as high as we'd like to listen, do basic math computations, recognizes all colors and shapes, etcetera....

I think that the things they are asking of max are just fine.

CancunCanuck said...

Heather- Get ready girl, it's coming fast! :)

Ale- Thanks amiga! I agree, it's important that we give Max the opportunity to learn and grow but not allow frustration and stress to set in. He got really upset at swimming lessons yesterday and I thought it was because he was scared. I asked him what was wrong and he said "I can't do it right!" I almost lost it, my poor little guy. I explained that all we expect is for him to try and if he has to try it again and practice, that's ok! I showed him examples of things that used to frustrate him that he does easily now and I actually think he "got" it and walked away with a smile. I hope we can do the same with any school frustrations, reward the good big time, make the "less than successful attempts" an opportunity to learn patience and diligence.

Anon- His dad is lefty too, I have great respect for lefties, so many are artists. We don't allow Max to get upset when things don't go right, if he is frustrated with the writing, we walk away. When he picks up a pencil or crayon and voluntarily writes, he is rewarded. He amazes me with what he is capable of. I was concerned about the lefty thing as I find it difficult to guide his hands and place his fingers and wrist. My own issues I am sure.

Scott- Thanks friend, I was hoping you would chime in, I knew you've got a boy close in age. I like your quote "Can count as high as we'd like to listen", that cracked me up, thanks!

Nadine said...

Hopped over from Holly's site!

That does sound like a lot. But as long as he's enjoying it and no too stressed about all the exams.. celebrate he's getting such a goof education!

Nadine said...

GOOD not gooF :)

CancunCanuck said...

Hi Nadine,
Ech, he's a goof too, haha. I'm amazed by how much he is capable of and am grateful to the school for giving us some structure to our "play" time. While we play we count the number of cars, discuss the shapes of his toys, identify letters in books and magazines, having the focus makes us both feel like we are accomplishing something everyday. Nice to have you here, thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

When my son was in daycare in Calgary AB, and 3-4 years old one of his caregivers was from Mexico and quite disappointed that our system did so little. Basically the kids played, did crafts, listened to stories. I know in Europe they don't start teaching reading until kids are older, saying that they need more physical play at that age. But I have also read that our system doesn't help the 20% of children with reading problems and they quickly get left behind. Maybe helping them with the basics at an earlier age is better. So the biggest indicator is what does your son think of it?
Great blog btw.

3LittleFlowers said...

As you know my girls are in school since age 2... Same type of school with uniforms and so on. Mia doesnt get homeworks, but Gaby does. Mia gets ocassional family projects, but it is not in a regular basis.... Gaby doesnt get homeworks for the weekends... Friday homeworks start on Second Grade!!!

Im also working with curriculum at the school that Im working, and we have been gathering information from curriculums all over the world. I think the English part is fine, however, I think the Spanish part is too advance for a 3 year old. Even though he will be 4 soon, he is not in the class for 4 years old yet, so he still has 2 more grades in preschool. I also think that counting up to 60 is extreme, but if he is learning, oh well.. I just wonder what they do with the kids that actually WONT learn so many numbers yet!!

I have a question... What do you mean with test?? Do they actually grade them with a number??? Cause if so, that is a no-no. Kids this age are tested on a dialy basis, and cannot be tested in ONE given day until they are in First Grade. Most kids under 5 are not capable to take the preassure and will fail even if they know. That is why they have to be tested dialy... This is with the exception of American Standarized Testing like the ITBS, that are given starting at the last grade of preschool (5 turning 6)... Kids are suppose to get ready for this test since the very first day of classes.

I think they can teach him as much as he can learn, but I dont think the ones that doesnt learn are still considered NORMAL.

CancunCanuck said...

AngelaWaite- My son loves it. On the days that he doesn't, we give it a rest and don't push. He is a very active kid physically, he's in swimming classes twice a week, we go tricycle riding and playing in the park frequently, soccer with daddy, plus all the running on the beach, so I hope we are giving him the balance that he needs. He's an extremely energetic kid so we've got to give him the room to run! Thanks so much for stopping by, I appreciate your comment. :)

Momto3- The exams are once or twice a month and they are not graded per se, no numerical values, they just tell us "Excelente, muy bien, bien, regular, no logró", basically checking in on their progress to get an idea of how they can shape their instruction. When it was clear that Max was having trouble with letters, they backed off and had him working on lines and curves and shapes to help improve his coordination. It paid off, he got a "muy bien" on his Spanish test this time which means he was able to write his vowels! Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, it's appreciated, I'm always interested to see how it is done in other places.

To everyone- We got the results of his exams this week and we're pretty happy with how things are going. "Excellent" in English, "Muy bien" (very good) in Spanish, "regular" (so-so) in Math (still having trouble writing numbers) and "no logró" (didn't make it) in Culture. Culture surprised me, he knew about Christmas and New Year and Three Kings when I asked him, my guess is he just didn't want to answer during the exam, HA! And that's alright. The teacher's comment was that he is making improvements and is doing very well, just needs more practice, but overall she gave him a big "Muy bien" and told him to keep doing what he is doing. So, yay!

3LittleFlowers said...

Knowing that there is no numerical values is a relieve!

Max: Good job on doing soooo well... You are a VERY smart boy!!!!!

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