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How Challenger Equips Students—Without Stress—for Success
Some education philosophers contend that today’s academic rat race is overstressing children and creating anxious, depressed humans with a resistance to learning. These theorists further believe that preschool and kindergarten should not be academic; instead, these early years should only be for socialization, play, and discovery.
Academic preschool, however, is not the culprit. For more than 50 years, Challenger School has proven that it is possible to teach academics in a precise and logical way with so much fun that students look forward to learning and love to show off what they can do!
The problem isn’t that children aren’t developmentally ready. We at Challenger know—as shown in many studies and explained in Siegfried and Therese Engelmann’s Give Your Child a Superior Mind—that the window of opportunity to set a foundation for cognitive skills is early and brief. Although children are born with 100 billion neurons (nerve cells), most of the 1,000 trillion synapses (connections between neurons) are made after birth. The stimulation that the brain receives after birth creates the connections for intelligence. Challenger advocates starting early because we realize that the first five years are a crucial time to establish foundational language and numerical concepts.
For example, most children are ready to learn letters and sounds at three years old or sooner. As our founder Barbara B. Baker said, "It’s just as easy to teach young children that M says ‘mmm’ as it is to teach them that the cow says ‘moo.’ And they are just as excited about ‘mmm.’" Once he learns a vowel sound, a three-year-old can blend the word mom, and he has the skills to unlock many more words.
It is difficult to start teaching children to read at age six or seven. At that age, children’s interests are far beyond what a B says. They are interested in space, dinosaurs, and other mysteries! Thus their intellectual level far exceeds their reading skill.
However, simply starting early is not the answer. Early academic education is only effective if it is done right. And that’s where Challenger stands head and shoulders above other schools. Challenger understands that to best educate children, learning has to be logical and fun.
The name Challenger was chosen because at the very base of a joyous learning experience is the excitement that comes from having overcome a challenge. Not to be confused with pressure, a challenge is a stretch that can be successfully accomplished in small, incremental achievements. Here is where many schools are dropping the ball. They expect outcomes from students without equipping them with the tools for success! They create stress by requiring children to complete oversized tasks for which they haven’t the skills or knowledge to accomplish.
Teaching reading without phonics, as many schools do, is illogical—a massive game of guessing and memorization. Beginning readers are left confused, frustrated, and unmotivated as they wonder how, for example, the letter A can make different sounds in ant and ape.
Challenger School teaches students to differentiate between vowels and consonants and to apply phonics rules. Then, by integrating that learning into fun songs and drills, students can explain why a word is pronounced a certain way, such as "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking. It makes a sound just like its name; the second one goes to sleep."
At Challenger, we understand that in addition to being logical, effective preschool learning requires music, body movement, and fun. Concepts flow across subjects as our students draw in art class what they have learned in science. And social relating and play time provide opportunities for interaction and skill development. When students have fun as they accomplish their achievements, they love learning!
We know that to best educate children, learning has to be intellectually stimulating, logical, and precise. We strive every day to exemplify these characteristics in a challenging yet achievable and stress-free way that is infused with joy and laughter. By starting early and starting right, we foster confident, curious, happy learners at Challenger School.
2021 National Blue Ribbon School