Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Read, Play, Learn. With Confidence!

A great piece in the New York Times about education was recently brought to my attention. It was about how misguided current educational policy is. It made some really great points about childhood learning, such as:

"developmental precursors don’t always resemble the skill to which they are leading. For example, saying the alphabet does not particularly help children learn to read. But having extended and complex conversations during toddlerhood does. Simply put, what children need to do in elementary school is not to cram for high school or college, but to develop ways of thinking and behaving that will lead to valuable knowledge and skills later on."

It goes on to specify what kids ought to have mastered by the time they're about 12:

"They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college."

It then describes an ideal 3rd-grade classroom, one that would foster the attainment of the goals stated above. Basically, there would be lots of time for reading, conversing, playing, and exploring, with a bit of time for writing (specifically, writing things that are actually meaningful to the child--stories, letters, cartoons, etc.) and basic math skills.

If school were really like that, I probably wouldn't be homeschooling! Actually, George did attend a school like that (and if you've read this blog for long or if you know George you surely know all about it), if all too briefly.... But in any case, this line of thinking pretty much mirrors my own, and the description of the ideal classroom is quite close to what I aspire to do with George's homeschooling days much of the time. (Apart from the times when he's taking a non-self-paced course and is devoting much of his time to one particular subject, that is.)

And I have to say, it's nice to see that point of view articulated and advocated, because even though most of the time I'm fairly confident about how I'm proceeding with George, it's still too easy for me to second-guess myself sometimes, and to feel like I ought to be making sure he has a lot more structured learning.

I wish I could have that old second-time confidence the first time around! I mean, I'm so much more relaxed with Ben, having been through all of this baby stuff before. It's not that I was an uptight mom with George; I really wasn't. And I very much followed my own instincts with him, even though they didn't exactly coincide with what I had been told or was being told about parenting (though that changed when I eventually discovered, many months into it, that what I was doing with him was actually a "thing," and it had a name: "attachment parenting"). But even though I knew deep inside of me that my parenting approach with George was what was right for him, there was still a level or a layer of self-doubt, however subtle.

This time around, with Ben, that's completely gone. And I don't miss it one bit! It's not just a matter of "this feels right to me"; it's that I've done it before, and I know it works. I wish I could bring that level and consistency of confidence to my directing of George's homeschooling, even though it's my first time through.

But I guess the trail has to be blazed first....

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