Here are 13 things for little kids to worry about instead of college and test preparation

Since I wrote about homeschooling last week, I’ve been fielding tons of email messages from people sharing their public education horror stories.

This one jumped out at me because it seems to echo the news about an elementary school that canceled its kindergarten play so that the kindergartens could focus on college preparation. I don’t know that this woman’s kid goes to that school (she didn’t mention it, so I assume he doesn’t), but she is dealing with a similar problem.

Honestly, I hesitated to share this with you because, to me, in my little bubble of innocence and naivety, this is almost too horrendous to believe. A kid in FIRST GRADE already giving up his hobbies and passions because he’s concerned about what his college application will look like?

Is it that bad out there? I guess it is. At least, this seems to be an indication:


Dear Matt,

I read your post about home schooling and decided to finally email you, even if I’m not expecting a response. My son, Peter, is in first grade in a public school. Recently, with a combination of Common Core and just bad educational strategies on the part of the school, my kiddo seems to have lost his interest and motivation. I don’t blame his teachers but I blame the system, as you pointed out. He used to love to learn and read, but now he comes home stressed out and anxious. He is reduced to tears when he’s doing his homework! The math work is INSANE! I don’t think I had the amount of tests and homework that he has even when I was in COLLEGE!

I’m writing to you because my heart was broken last week when my son, who has always been very creative, playful, and loved arts and crafts, came home and announced that he doesn’t want to draw or play with Legos anymore. I asked him why and he said that it’s a waste of time. When I asked him why it’s a waste of time, he said it won’t help him get into college! I’m not kidding! Yesterday he told me he “hates school more than anything.” I told him that school is good because it’s where you go to learn. He literally responded that he “hates learning.”

This is crazy! I feel like the school is crushing my poor kid’s spirit and now he doesn’t even want to draw or do arts and crafts with mom anymore. It’s all about testing and grades and “useful knowledge”, and I’m afraid that his childhood is being taken from him. I don’t know why I’m writing this to you. I just enjoy your opinion, and the funny thing is that my son likes you, too. He hears mom and dad talk about your blog at the dinner table, so now “Mr. Matt” has become kind of a mythological hero to him, lol. I showed him the picture of you trying to kill a spider and he laughed his head off!

What do you think about this, Matt? I just want to know your perspective.




Dear Anne,

I think you chose the right words. If I’m a hero, it’s only in a mythological sense. In the real world, I’m noticeably lacking any heroic qualities at all. Still, I appreciate that you’ve opened up to me about your issue with your son. You know that I’m a homeschool proponent, so the first thing that comes to mind is that maybe you should consider other options outside of public school.

Of course, I don’t know your situation, so I can’t make that judgment call. It isn’t my business, anyway.

I thought that I’d write an email back to you, ranting about how kids are having their creativity and zest for life sucked out of them, but I changed my mind. I’ve ranted plenty on that subject, and I’m sure I’ll rant again in the future.

Right now, I’d like to address Peter directly, if you don’t mind. I wrote him a letter, and I’m hoping you’ll read it to him, or help him read it.

Here it is:


Hi Peter,

It’s Mr. Matt. I’m really worried, because your mom tells me that you think it’s a waste of time to draw pictures and play with Legos. I’m sad that you feel that way, because I bet you could draw an awesome picture of a dinosaur or a spaceship, but now the world will never get to see it.

Here’s the question, though:

Can you draw a picture of a dinosaur IN a spaceship? Check out the doodle I sketched this morning:

photo (1)

OK, maybe that looks more like a big hat with a picture of a lizard on it, but I tried my best.

I’ll admit that a few people in the history of the world have made cooler pictures. Has your mom told you about the Sistine Chapel? Look at this:


A guy named Michelangelo painted those pictures on the ceiling 500 years ago. It took him FOUR YEARS to paint all of them. If arts and crafts are a waste of time, then Michelangelo wasted A LOT of it.

Your mom also tells me that you hate learning. That’s too bad, Peter, because I love to learn, and I bet there are tons of things you’d love to learn about, too.

Did you know that there’s a type of cat called a cheetah, and it can run as fast as a car or a motorcycle?

Did you know that the temperature on the Sun is 27 MILLION degrees?

Did you know that your brain is smarter and more powerful than every computer on the planet?

These are really exciting facts. My life is more fun and enjoyable because I know them. This is what happens when you learn. You discover more about the world and yourself. Learning is like going on a journey over an ocean, or through a jungle, except you can do it in your home or at school.

There are a bunch of things I haven’t learned yet, but I hope I will one day. For example, I’ve always wanted to know why people yawn, or why it’s impossible to tickle yourself. Maybe you can find those things out and teach me about them. Or maybe nobody knows, and you can be the first person to ever answer the question.

Also, can you figure out what this weird animal is supposed to be:

untitled (57)

I think it lives in the rainforest, but I’m not sure. I need help investigating this mystery.

See, I’m not even in school or college, but I’m always trying to feed my brain and increase my understanding of the world around me.

You should learn, and draw, and paint, and read, and play with Legos, Peter. I still play with Legos. You wouldn’t believe the huge tower I built last week. It literally touched the ceiling. Seriously.

Don’t worry about college and grown up stuff right now. You’ve got more important things to do. Things like:

-Running outside

-Rolling down a grassy hill

-Using your imagination

-Jumping through a sprinkler

-Jumping in a puddle

-Jumping on the couch (don’t tell your mom)

-Deciding what you’ll say if aliens land and you’re the first person to make contact with them. (I already decided what I’ll say. I’ll probably just tell them “hello,” and then I’ll ask them if they want some iced tea.)

-Painting and drawing pictures

-Writing poems and stories

-Reading books

-Playing games


-Eating ice cream

That’s at least 13 things that you should definitely fit into your schedule, especially playing, reading, and daydreaming. And ice cream, obviously.

My kids are just babies, but I hope they’re as artistic and creative as you one day. It’s a great power — a superpower — to be able to dream things in your head and then put them on paper. Sometimes it’s fun to dream something in your head, and just keep it there, and revisit your dream from time to time. It’s like you’re building a new world for yourself, out of nothing but your mind and your imagination.

I have a homework assignment for you: think of a story. Just make up a story. Any story at all. You don’t have to tell anyone, or write it down, or do anything with it. Just think of it. That’s all. Put yourself in your story — pretend you’re the main character. Think about it, just for the sake of thinking about it.

That’s the assignment.

When I was a kid, I liked to think that I was a time traveling ninja.

Actually, I still like to imagine that I’m a time traveling ninja.

My wife doesn’t enjoy it when I wear my ninja costume to the grocery store, or to dinner at her mother’s house, but I’m not sure why.

Anyway, I hope you continue to play, and draw, and learn, Peter. You’re a kid, and that’s your job right now.


Mr. Matt

P.S. I know what you’re thinking, but just because I’m afraid of spiders doesn’t mean I can’t be a ninja.

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285 Responses to Here are 13 things for little kids to worry about instead of college and test preparation

  1. Reblogged this on On The Way To There and commented:
    This is what we should all strive to do. Just touch one person – kid or adult – with love because that is what changes the world. ❤

  2. Bridget B says:

    Dear Matt,
    I am a high school teacher and I am ecstatic that you have responded in such a manner. I teach a tough but useful subject, Latin, which helps my students in many ways. However, I have often wondered whether my classroom demeanor was helpful or wasteful, but you have now answered this for me. We don’t simply learn a new language and vocabulary for SATs. We draw on the board, act out mock trials, make up new words and dress up like silly ancient Romans. I have found that my Latin I classes have expanded in size as word gets around that I am “fun.” Yet, throughout all this “fun,” the top two students at our school in Academic Decathlon are both my Latin students. I couldn’t be more proud.
    At first when my students began taking pictures of my less-than-artistic drawings of snerpents (snake/serpent), Troy in flames (one student named it OUR Armageddon), I was worried that they would post them on social media. However, laughs fill my high school classroom and students are engaged and learning, even when they think it is all just fun. That makes ME smile.
    Thank you again. Bridget

  3. Susan S says:

    I had a similar experience when my daughter was in 1st grade. I was getting daily phone calls from the school that she was sick and I needed to take her home. She’d be just fine once I did. I stopped doing it and told them to take her temp and then again in 15 min and to call me if she still had one. It wasn’t until the end of the year that I found out so many other kids were having a really difficult time and it was the teacher and her methods of “teaching”! After that I became a better advocate for my child. I changed schools and twice over the years had her move to different teachers when they weren’t a good fit. It’s so important to get to know other parents in the class so you can compare notes and definitely listen to your child because no one know him/her better than you do. Don’t be afraid to speak up when necessary.

  4. merelymel13 says:

    Your kids are so lucky.

  5. Margaret says:

    I’m calling bullshit on this letter. Stop making up characters and situations so you can have a “dialogue.”

  6. gogirl84117 says:

    First, I absolutely love everything you said. Yes, this is EXACTLY what a first grader should be worried about–having fun and experiencing life (and hopefully learning the difference between right and wrong and how to love all people and treat them kindly, also). BUT . . . I am a public school teacher, and it just makes me sad when people give public school such a bad rap and demonize the “system”. I actually teach in a public school in Abu Dhabi (yes, that’s in the Middle East) right now, but I taught in public schools in America for 4 years before moving overseas. And let me tell you, it could be a whole heck-of-a-lot worse than it is in America! But even though the public schools here leave even LESS room for creativity than what is had in the States, I still think there is a lot of good that happens in the public schools. I, personally, encourage creativity and unusual thinking every chance that I get. I’m constantly trying to find more kinesthetic ways of learning or ways to make grammar more accessable and enjoyable. And the truth is, I’m not the only teacher who works this hard to make learning fun and meaningful. I’m not the only teacher who believes that kids need to be kids. I’m not the only teacher who works my tail off trying to change a broken system while still working within the system. For every nightmare story there is about public schools, there is at least one (but probably more) success story.

    I really REALLY want kids to just be kids, and I would love it if the educational system would get back to developmentally appropriate practices. I hope my 1-year-old son loves to learn, but I also hope that he just loves being a little boy. Teachers do a lot, but we can’t do everything. We rely a lot upon parents to fill in the gaps of what we can’t do. And teachers also depend A LOT upon parents communicating with them. We try very hard to know what each of our students are thinking and feeling, but let’s face it, when I teach 200 students, sometimes kids fall through the cracks. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it happens. That’s why teachers need parents to be involved with the school system and tell us when a child has fallen through a crack. We need parents to get involved with the school system and help develop more creative, developmentally appropriate extracurricular activities for our kids. Teachers need parents who care enough to get involved, not just blame us when they realize that we don’t have superpowers and can’t do everything by ourselves. Most teachers want kids to just be kids. But we need parents to help us make this happen.

    All that being said, I loved your letter and the thoughtfulness to write to a disappointed little boy. Would that every parent could take that kind of thoughtfulness and apply it to helping their local school be more successful.

  7. “Mr. Matt”…that just might stick. Awesome as always.

  8. Amanda Wren says:

    Made me smile and cry. As a kid, I was creative and a dreamer and still am. My children are also, and I want that to continue. Not be snuffed out by the pressure to perform or the stress of making it to college.

  9. Sharon says:

    I was babysitting a second grader last week and he was talking about how much he hates school and how he isn’t going to go to college. I realize college isn’t for everyone, but I feel like this common core stuff is really discouraging him. I couldn’t even help him with his math homework, and I’m a senior at the top of my class in high school.

  10. littlehouseofpenguins says:

    My 7-year-old would *love* to tell you that that animal is a bushbaby, or something like it! (Maybe a tarsier.) She *loves* bushbabies and likes to pretend to be one. All day.

    I think that one of the issues with teaching to the test is that art and LEGOs *are* actually educational… they just don’t appear to be so, because they won’t give you answers to make you do better on this year’s test. Art helps your creativity, but also teaches you line, form, color, spatial awareness, organization, and all sorts of great concepts. LEGOs teach you many science and engineering concepts, especially as you move in to the Technic and MindStorms LEGOs as the kids get old enough. has tons of sets that teach simple machines, motors, pneumatics, robotics, and more. If you’re a homeschooler, the has deals on the educational sets every few months.

    I don’t think that Matt is arguing that every public school is necessarily like that, but that the ones that are leave people trapped in our educational system. She can’t just choose to put her child in another public school that is better–you’re districted to one public school, and if you go public, that’s your school. Private school is expensive, and she may have reasons for not wanting to homeschool (although in the current scenario, I’d be looking long and hard at it if I were her). Charters/voucher schools are an option in some areas but not in all. If we allowed public school competition, parents choosing their own schools, etc., then you’d have a mass exodus of people from that school, and the school would quickly get the message that they need to make major changes or they’ll lose all their funding and close. The best schools would have so much competition to get in that other schools would attempt to copy them.

  11. aunt j says:

    Watch the Mike Rowe interviews and speeches on You Tube. Puts college and work in a perfect perspective. Love him. (and you too Matt 🙂 )

  12. God Bless you, Mr. Matt. Your actual hero status is confirmed. And for the record, I think you should wear your Ninja costume to the grocery store EVERY TIME.

  13. What a wonderful response.

  14. DiamondJim says:

    Makes me want to quit working and help my kids homeschool my grandkids. I don’t need a retirement fund, I can just let my kids support me while I help them with their kids.

  15. 3hlearning says:

    Thank you Matt, I love the idea of a child getting serious with being a child (and of adults not forgetting to still be children from time to time!). Have you ever read Charlotte Mason’s books? She is an interesting Victorian British read. Perhaps you can offer her works for a more modern time? Thanks Billy for the clue on the animal – on first glance I thought it was a little Galago we get in Africa, never heard of a Tarsier, very interesting…

  16. Elissa says:

    It is Lego not Legos – go pick up a piece and check – is there an “s” anywhere on them?

  17. Janice says:

    This will be a turning point in Peter’s life. Good job, Matt!

  18. Christina says:

    What a wonderful response to this little boy! It is so sad that he has had a negative experience in public school. I am a 4th grade public school teacher of two years and taught 1st grade for 13 years, and I have looked at both sides of the public school/homeschool debate for years. The blogs that I read are mostly those of homeschool parents, so I draw on my own experiences and the experiences of my children to look at the pros of public schools. It breaks my heart that there are schools out there who focus so much on standardized tests that they make children feel defeated. But I, as an educator, try to instill the importance of good grades and learning practices to better their future but also encourage creativity. I want them to find within themselves what they love to do and strive to do their best in everything they do.

    I also have three children of my own who have attended public school, two girls ages 15 and 11 who are very musical, and a 7 year old boy who has worked hard at becoming a more fluent reader this year but is also comical, loves Spider Man, and loves to draw. Public school has been a positive experience for them because what they have been taught at home.

    I understand that each family (where there are options available) have to make the choice as to what’s best for their children, but the public school option is not always going to be a negative experience for them.

  19. mjloehrer says:

    I have a solution to these educational problems. Send you kids to the private/Catholic schools. You’ll sacrifice by paying tuition but in the long run it’s worth it; morals, values, spirituality. Trust me when I write I know of what I speak.

    • Penina says:

      Private schools have issues too. Lack of funding sometimes forces them to follow certain state standards, which leads to evaluations, standardized testing, limited resources available, and limited time available to teach the really important subjects the way they want. Trust me when I write, I know of what I speak, too.

  20. Poke says:

    Catholic schools, unless they are independent, are NOT the solution. Catholic schools have signed onto Common Core, vouchers and more. A good solid, independent school that is Episcopal, Presbyterian, Montessori or progressive does not implement the rigorous testing.
    A good education cost a great deal of money, $10,000 +, but is well worth it.
    If you live in a rural school district with good test scores, public schools can be a great option.

  21. I’m sorry Matt, but this time you’re wrong. Ninjas can not be scared of spiders. Spiders are kind of the ninjas of the insect world so if you truly want to be a ninja you will have to make peace with the spiders, come to an understanding. The rest of the post was great though.

  22. Erin says:

    Great thoughts Matt. As an educator and mom of three who have been public schooled, private schooled and homeschooled, I often find myself conflicted. Here is our plan for next year.

  23. Penina says:

    Amazing. My one goal as a teacher is to make sure the children are still curious. Without curiosity, there is no learning, at any age. To be curious, one must use all kinds of tools, including legos, paints, reading, hammers, etc. I love this. Sums up how schools should be – instilling a lifelong passion for the learning process.

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