On play, pressure and preschool homework

I was, the other day, bemoaning the fact that my daughter's public high school seems to have an all-pervading atmosphere of mediocrity. There's not much challenge for the bright kids and there's not much incentive to do well or strive higher or think smarter.

A local teacher told me that it's kind of a 'south coast' mentality, which made me even more depressed about it, because it seems that even if she changed schools, things might not be too different. 

I rang my friend who lives in a part of Sydney that is home to well off and up and coming successful people and had a little whinge about it. But then she told me about her four year old, who is being given preschool 'homework'.

Yes, it's true. Due to constant requests from parents, the preschool began assigning five sight words per week for children to learn, read and write. The poor little boy began to get worried and cry at night because he 'couldn't do' his homework. It was too hard for him and he felt too pressured.

Surely there has to be a happy middle road? It's no good for a kid to waste hours of her energetic young years doing things that are too easy and unchallenging. But it's equally no good for a child to be pressured at the age when they learn through play, and then to continue the pressure for 'success' and 'achievement' throughout his school years.

The RDI way is to take and guide a child just to the edge of their competency and, above all, teach her how to think. My challenge is how to do this with my daughter, but not to pressure her to anxiety level.