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Learning Matters: There are many topics to revisit in 2018

"Grandma, how long will you last?" asked our young granddaughter Piper, as we left the hospital where she'd just seen her newborn twin sisters. "Are you very old?" she continued, with the emphasis on "very."

"I'm old enough to be your grandma," I replied, "but I'd say I'm only a little bit old, not really very old." I didn't share in that moment my realization that I could actually be a great-grandmother if the generations in our family were shorter.

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Piper likes the word "actually," and I'd happily continue the conversation, but I managed to follow the advice I'd read as a new parent: "Keep your answers simple; just answer what's asked."

My response evidently satisfied her, and she moved on to another topic. But I was left with a new sense of urgency as I began my annual New Year's musings.

How will this year be different now that our children are grown and gone, their lives unfolding in far-away places? How will I engage with the many causes that have occupied so much of my life, even as I "get on"?

At that point, I decided to focus on the questions I'd consider in this column over the coming year, while remaining open to the wonderful surprise topics that occasionally arrive by email and the suggestions I get from friends.

I know I want to revisit issues of early childhood education, particularly after my time with our grandchildren in Milwaukee. It's important for Californians — even Glendalians — to acknowledge that good ideas exist elsewhere, too.

Four years ago, I wrote about preschool programs, including the long-running parent education program offered by Glendale Community College and California's transitional kindergarten — that fluke of our state education policy that for the last several years has provided pre-kindergarten in elementary school settings, but only for children with fall birthdays.

While I've long supported the December-to-September shift in the birthday cut-off for kindergarten, I'm still waiting for the revolution I expected from the parents of the other 75% of children who don't get a free 14th year of public education.

I continue to shake my head at a system in which the children who formerly were the youngest in their classes are now the oldest and have the added advantage of having completed an introductory year in school.

I'm also skeptical about the extension of a too-academic kindergarten to an even younger age, when the experts I've read promote both guided and free play as the best early childhood education. So that's another column.

I don't know just what pre-kindergarten classrooms include in Milwaukee, but I know our February birthday granddaughter will get to attend one, and there might even be a children's bus to get her there.

She's already excited about that prospect, at least for the moment, as she expressed recently in a question to her mom.

"When I'm in kindergarten, can I ride a bus, get a phone and earrings?"

I'm glad our daughter was there to answer that one. I might have reacted in a way not recommended by the experts.

"Boys at risk" is another topic I've promised to revisit, since I touched on it last year at sixth-grade teacher Scott McCreary's suggestion. With so much emphasis these last few months on the behaviors of men, it stands to reason we should look at how we're raising our boys.

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In school systems that encourage and reward verbal skills that generally come more quickly to girls, or in classes where teachers struggle to engage fidgety, physical boys, how will schools encourage boys like our grandson, who delights in stacking things and knocking them down and in chasing his sister?

Of course I'll write more about school-to-career education, and I expect I'll share something about the after-school music program with which I'm involved in Pasadena. But I welcome more column suggestions as I ponder another of Piper's recent questions. "Grandma, why is there white in your hair?"

JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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