I really enjoyed reading this article. It is a well-written account of what a toddler would say to a parent if s/he could. With as much experience and training as I have had with this age group, you’d think I would already understand and practice this. I do understand it, but often in the heat of the moment my “instincts” tell me something else, and I don’t always practice what I’m about to preach. Of course, these are not instincts speaking, they are the voices of strongly imbedded traditions of child rearing practices, that I was raised by, and I instantly revert to them because it’s been in my experience for so long. It’s difficult to break these habits, but essential for the emotional development of our children that we do. I always find that re-reading articles such as these are important reminders of the vision that I have to change the course of childhood education to a more peaceful journey.
It’s often difficult to use labels, but if pressed, I would say that in my school I use a combination of Montessori and unschooling philosophies. I love the Montessori philosophy and the Montessori materials, and I believe the philosophy is closely related to the unschooling themes presented in the article above. My experience with Montessori schools, however, rarely matched with the teachings of Montessori, especially regarding following the child’s interests regarding their own learning. I often saw children forced to do lessons or work that was not of interest to them. And, in a Montessori classroom, it’s difficult to follow a child’s interests when there are 28 children in a classroom, and space for materials is limited. It’s hard to pinpoint why this happens, and I think there are actually many contributing factors. Even though there are no tests, grades, or homework assignments, many parents still insist that their children work on, and make significant progress in specific lessons, mostly reading and math. Under this pressure from parents and administrators who fight to keep the parents happy and the children enrolled, teachers basically have to violate the teachings of Montessori, and instead of letting the child direct his own learning, his tasks are dictated by the teacher and the child is forced to learn. Sadly, the joy of learning slowly fades away. Whatever label I put on my teaching method, the most important component is the child’s learning. Whether it’s through use of Montessori materials, playing outside all day, or taking a trip to the zoo, allow the child to follow her interests and enjoy learning in her own ways.
I love what this mom has to say about her child’s apparel. Children should wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable, can be put on and be taken off easily and independently, and can get dirty! Kids need to be able to move, run, and play. Restricting them with fancy clothes and shoes not only does not allow freedom of movement, but it also sends the wrong message by putting emphasis on looking good instead of just being a child. Children shouldn’t be afraid of getting dirty!
Here is an article that addresses the some of the main reasons why dividing children by age in traditional schooling systems does not make sense. When I was a public school teacher there were many things that I did not question at first, and this was one. Even though I knew there was something wrong, tradition is strong in the area of education these days. But just because something has always (or seems to have always) been done a certain way, does not mean things have to continue that way. I had the fortune of being an orchestra teacher, where, although my individual classes were divided by age, the performing group was a combination of grade levels. Primarily 6th – 8th grade. On occasion though, I could invite a 5th grader from the elementary program, or even a 4th grader who was ready, to perform with the middle school orchestra. Proof that age was not a true indicator of ability. Not to say that younger is better or smarter, just in the area of music performance, there were many levels of ability spread out among several age groups. Many 8th graders would have been happier playing and learning the music I gave to my 4th graders, because of the age they started, or their interest level in learning the instrument – a variety of reasons. And many 4th graders were thrilled to be playing in an ensemble performing music of their ability level, which happened to be music that my 7th and 8th graders were playing. It’s simple. Learning does not happen according to an age chart. So, why would you design your classroom that way?
There’s a phrase that was always tossed around when I was a teacher-in-training: “Children don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.” I always thought this was a great thing to keep in mind as I planned lesson after lesson to “cover” all the important topics. I tried to act on this idea as much as I could, but unfortunately, public school teachers don’t have the structure to provide such necessary attention to their students. I couldn’t show how much I cared without sacrificing the limited amount of time I had to teach the necessary skills. And if the students could not show evidence that they had learned from me, I would be in danger of losing my job. Even though I believed they would have learned much more, if I would have been given enough time to develop a trusting relationship with them first.
I am so grateful to be able to teach at my in-home school where I do have the structure, and the responsibility, to tend to children’s social and emotional development. They will be interested in learning what I know, after they know that I will always be there for them to provide love, care, and support in times of need.
Parents can provide this same support at home knowing that after a busy day at work, and after their child’s busy day at school, the child just wants to be loved. Especially in your child’s early years, make it your priority to develop a strong and trusting bond with your child. The learning will happen, happily and peacefully, in the absence of stress and chaos.