Children are self-motivated to learn and will teach themselves — fact?

September 12, 2012 · 12 comments

unschooling childI chose not to put my almost-4-year-old in preschool this year for a few reasons.

First, he’s done a couple of stints in preschool before, and while he loved learning and having access to new learning tools, we could tell it wasn’t a good fit for him. One of the local Montessori school sent the youngest kids home with worksheets. They weren’t expected to do them, but the idea that they needed to “get used” to working on sheets of paper when they were barely out of diapers didn’t sit well with me. The other local Montessori school makes use of a “thinking chair” and boasts about the after-lunch structure — no free-play time after carrot sticks for those kids!

The other local preschools had even more emphasis on academics, they all cost a lot of money, and I wasn’t thrilled about any of the snacks they served. In the end, I just wasn’t ready for that much outside influence on my son before he had a chance to develop into his own person.

I grew up in a family that put a big emphasis on academics, so in the back of my mind I worried my son wouldn’t be ready for kindergarten when he starts in a year or two. Many of his peers are already reading, counting past 20, or even writing and doing addition and subtraction. It’s hard not to be pulled into the competitive aspect of learning.

It’s taken a lot of effort for me to sit back and just trust the process. While all of those skills are fantastic, my son has lots of time to learn them.

Did I mention he hasn’t turned four yet?

He spends his time on lots of activities. He loves to ride his scooter and his bike, and is always coming up with new tricks — on his scooter he’ll balance on one foot and do figure-eights with the other foot high up in the air. On his bike he started tentatively jumping off curbs and if he sees a cute girl he’ll zoom by with either his feet out to the side or holding on with only one hand. He loves flipping through books and repeating the stories, and he loves to help me in the kitchen.

We talk a lot. We talk about all kinds of random things. Sometimes he asks me about stuff — what fruits and vegetables I cook with, how the strainer works, what the different signs on the side of the road are. Sometimes he tells me — making up stories about the clouds and the birds and what the different kinds of trees are. I never correct him or tell him he’s wrong — I just let his imagination go.

We play. There aren’t too many toys left after The Great Household Purge, but there are enough to be creative with: Duplo blocks; a wooden train set; a couple of Matchbox cars (literally only a couple — I only let his brother and him have one at a time now); some sand trucks, paper and pens; bowls, funnels, spoons and a bag of beans; a few play silks; and counting toys. I love the games they come up with. Sometimes their toys take on characters, sometimes they want me to tie their play silks around their necks like capes so they can be superheros, and sometimes they sit and count or name colors.

We do things. We ride bikes to the park; we take walks; we go to Dad’s softball games; we go to the lake, the river, the desert, the hills; we go to the county fair; we go see friends and all the different things they have in their homes (a microwave! a fish! a cat! a dog!).

And sometimes we watch tv. I only let him and his brother watch Sesame Street and SuperWhy, and they only have a few episodes to choose from. It’s an occasional sanity-saver that I’ve used a little more than I wanted during this pregnancy, but I also like that the shows expose them ideas and images they wouldn’t normally see in our little desert town.

This is the learning I’ve been rewarded with this week:

L asked to spell his name. He wanted to do it both on the keyboard (because yes, I spend a decent amount of time on my computer) and copy the letters I wrote on a piece of paper.

L wanted to know how many hamburgers we were going to eat after I told his dad the boys would have one each and the parents would have two each. We counted on our fingers to come up with six.

L wanted to know what time it was, and asked how we know. I showed him the numbers on my phone and made a note to buy a regular clock with hands.

I have no idea if these things are “on-track” for a preschool curriculum, but they excite me so much because it’s my son who wants to learn them. They aren’t things I put in front of him and tried to teach him — it’s his natural curiosity about the world that prompts him to ask questions and discover answers.

I can’t help but worry that I’m not doing enough for my kids — that we don’t have the money, the time, the energy, or the lifestyle that will give my son the resources he needs to succeed. But slowly I’m learning to let that go. I don’t need to give my son those resources — he has them inside of him. What I have is enough, and what we are is enough.

I just have to trust, and watch him learn.

Photo credit: vastateparksstaff on Flickr

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 the full montessori September 12, 2012

Yes, fact! :)

OK, those Montessori schools are NOT Montessori schools (grrr…). Ever heard of Montessomethings? As a Montessori guide, I would never in a million years give any child a worksheet (not even in elementary school)! And as far as the afternoon structure, there should be a 2-hour work period in the afternoon for the older children (4+ yrs), but it works like the morning work period in that they can choose what to do. “Thinking chairs” are useful if you have a child who can’t control his impulses and needs a place to slow down and think about what he’s going to do next, but they are not mandatory for children who don’t need them (nor should they be used for punishment as in “think of what you did wrong”.)

It sounds to me as if your child is enjoying a privileged upbringing! My suggestion (in case you don’t do this now) would be to involve him in the work you do at home. Invite him to fold laundry, sweep, cook… Yes, it’s a PITA and it slows you down, but he will reap great rewards in terms of ability to concentrate, increased self-esteem, ability to complete a cycle of work, experiencing consequences, etc.


2 Suchada @ Mama Eve September 12, 2012

Yes, I’m glad you brought that up about the Montessori schools. It can be frustrating to have the name used by anyone who wants to open a school. There were parts of both schools I really enjoy, but too many other things that didn’t jive with my philosophy about educating my children, so I decided it wouldn’t be worth it for us to stretch our budget to send either of our boys.

Thank you so much for saying it sounds like they are privileged. In an economic sense, our family is middle class, but not able to afford many of the “extras” that often go with that title. I want to give them the absolute best I can, and it’s good to know that I can give them what they need without the private-school tuition.


3 Meagan September 12, 2012

I was thinking the same thing about those Montessori schools described… I would run screaming. I’m hoping to start my toddler in a local Montessori in January, they’re lovely and I can’t wait to see what my son makes of them. I don’t agree with everything in the Montessori philosophy (at least as I understand it), but this school feels right for us and it’s only a few hours… I still get him for most of the day.


4 Suchada @ Mama Eve September 13, 2012

I wish we had different ones close by. We live in a very small town so there aren’t a lot of options . . . plus we’re on a budget anyway. I would love to hear what you think after your son starts!


5 the full montessori September 12, 2012
6 Suchada @ Mama Eve September 12, 2012

I love the recent Paul Tough articles I read! Thank you so much for sharing this one. More than anything, I try to develop perseverance and character in my boys, but I often just wonder if I’m nuts because I always seem to be the “weird” parent. Articles like this help me feel like I’m on the right track :)


7 janetlansbury September 12, 2012

Kudos to the sensitive and thoughful way you are handling your boys’ education, Suchada! This is about a ZILLION times better than “on-track for preschool curriculum” (whatever that means). Your boys are learning HOW to learn by being trusted to learn through their interests, and at their own pace. They’re learning that learning can be natural, easy, fun, something they’re good at and love to do.

Have you ever asked someone a question and had them give you a much longer answer than you wanted…veering on a lecture? Then you never feel like asking the person anything again, right? When this person is our parent, a response with an “agenda” attached can make us never want to ask anyone ANYTHING again! Really, all it takes is something that small and simple to turn something that should be joyful into “uncomfortable” and “dull”.

Then there are those subjects we take in school that we are excited to learn about and pick up easily because we WANT to know. These things have meaning to us. We’re interested… and that makes all the difference.

Children can adapt to learning according to other people’s agendas later, but right now you are sowing precious seeds that need to take root… Keep up the great work!


8 janetlansbury September 12, 2012

I meant “Kudos to you for…” <3


9 Suchada @ Mama Eve September 13, 2012

Thanks so much, Janet! I appreciate your mentorship so much — it’s one of the things that’s given me the confidence to move ahead against the grain <3


10 Jen September 12, 2012

Came across your blog today and I love this post. Watching my son bloom has been such an amazing experience and a lesson in patience. He walked later than all of his peers at 13.5 months and it felt like an eternity at the time compared to the other babies we knew. It was so hard to trust that he would do it when he was ready and not feel like he was “behind”. Comparing is so hard to avoid, but so necessary for my sanity as well as my child’s. Of course, he walks, he runs, does summersaults amasing me daily with what he seems to know at the tender age of 19 months. I checked into what montessori schools are in our area just to see what was available last week actually. I thought I’d like to give him the exposure a couple of days a week if we have another baby into his third year, but I just don’t think I can do it. Our walks, trips to the grocery store, dog park, cooking and cleaning give him so many opportunities for learning. I am excited to see where his interests take him as he builds his vocabulary and starts to ask questions like your son.


11 Suchada @ Mama Eve September 13, 2012

The toddler years are such an exciting time! It sounds like you guys have so much fun together. My son was a late talker to, and then went through a period of stuttering. We were just patient with it and now it’s unbelievable how many questions he asks :)


12 Kristin September 12, 2012

I loved reading this, kudos to you. I work 4 days per week and my daughter has been 3 days to a home sitter and I day with family, she is 3 andhas 2 full years before kindergarten, the pressure that they ” should” be in preschool is unreal. I looked at a few schools near me, one Waldorf and a Reggio Emilia based program. I loved them both and my daughter would love them and the approaches both resonate with me, but one is too far and one too expensive for right now, maybe for a few days next year. I feel that kids stayed home for generations, there was no preschool and that was good enough and there were plenty of smart adults who grew up this way. I also feel my daughter is well cared for in a small environment w familiar peers and she is happy. My daughter also does tons of experiential things w us, Audobon and trail walks, libraries, visits w friends, we bake and shop and clean, go to playgrounds and play places, there is so much to learn from daily experiences and my daughter is so smart… Yesterday she drew a picture of a geyser and then told me what it was. I also try to limit TV, found a great new PBS show based on mr Rogers called Daniel tigers neighborhood. I am not popular by any means but feel better parenting this way, less overwhelming for my daughter. Next I would like t pare down the toys too. Did you blogg about that.. I would love to read more about it. You are not alone out there, just feels that way in the tide of everything else we encounter in parenting.


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