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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