Sunday, January 21, 2007

“I can sum up in five to seven words what I eventually learned as a teacher. The seven word version is: Learning is not the product of teaching. The five word version is: Teaching does not make learning. As I mentioned before, organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false.”
Learning All The Time, John Holt

I love Holt's quote, and have found it to be quite true in our house. I have tried so hard to get Reese to sit down & practice writing with a penicl...tracing lines, making shapes, forming letters...anything! Only when I just put some blank papers & some preschool workbook pages out on his table with a marker & just left it alone...only then did he have any interest in figuring out what it was & trying to do some "homework" (Jessie had homework last weekend, so he thought it was a novel idea to do his own homework).

Reese has completely learned his alphabet from his own desire. A Leap Frog video that teaches the alphabet & the sounds, different electronic games with alphabet sounds, The Cat In The Hat computer game, etc. He has NO interest in sitting down with Mommy, on Mommy's schedule, to do what Mommy has planned. Perhaps his strength in fighting that type of learning stems from the fact that I don't push it if he says no.

Jeff & I had a great conversation the other night about learning, and just "when" a child "should" know something. We both feel strongly that not every child is ready to read at 6...some master it at 4...others at 8...some even later. Who says that 6 is some magic age to learn to read? And can you really "teach" the reading skills necessary anyway? Or will a child process them & absorb them when they're ready, just like learning to speak?

In a book I read the past few days called Free At Last was a moving account of the philosophy behind the Sudbury Valley School. What really struck a chord of "rightness" with me was the underlying philosophy of the school. That children WANT to learn, they are naturally curious, and will SEEK ways to learn the things.

Reese has not been forced to sit & learn his alphabet or how to write it. He's learned all his letters and each sound because he chose to watch the Leap Frog videos over and over until the patterns presented started to make sense, and all those lines & curves started forming "letters" that meant something. Reese delights in making letters his own way...with sticks, or pretzels, or spaghetti noodles...but surely not in any contrived situation I can come up with.

Reese knows World War I & II, the Vietnam War, Guadalcanal, Mig fighter jets, barrel rolls, and the Japanese...not because we had some intricate History lesson. Reese truly loves war planes & the story behind them and wants to know more and more. He loves watching the show "Dogfights" on the History Channel and can remember so many things I didn't even know he heard. Would I ever dream of sitting down with a 3 year old to "teach" history? No way! But does Reese find great delight in reading the Encyclopedia of Air Force History with Mommy? You bet! It's this TRUE knowledge that Reese has that is amazing...because it came from his interest, his desire, his motivation. Not mine or Jeff's.

Reese can tell you all about the Chicago Bears football team, their players & their numbers, offense & defense, fumbles, the endzone... If I tried to "teach" Reese about, say, baseball and the same types of information he could care less. But because he loves football & wants to know about how it works (and the patterns that make the game work...much like reading perhaps in the future?), he holds onto that knowledge and plays with it, makes it his own, and holds onto it.

So what's my long winded point? One, I wish I had read some of these books when I taught. I would have actually taught less, and let my students lead more. Two, and more important, I am seeing the benefit of letting Reese show ME what he wants to learn, and how he wants to learn it. I would have argued strongly that a video is no way to learn your should do workbook pages, and letter tile games, etc...but music & dance & patterns speak to Reese and he has proven that he can MASTER the alphabet & sounds from a video and ONLY a video. Of course we work together & I love it when he wants to show me letters and sounds, but we have never and will never sit down & "worksheet" letters. He's not that kind of kiddo. Period.

Maybe he'll change someday. He found great joy in some worksheets I had just laid on a table with a marker the other day. But again, it was what he wanted to do...not what I had "planned".

It's a scarry thing to call ourselves "unschoolers"...but it seems that's what we do currently. Does "unschooling" mean we don't school? NO WAY! It means that we don't plan like doing "school at home"...instead, life is our school & our adventure is learning from daily things. Am I brave enough to keep it up for years? I don't know. I would like to think so. The more I have read, the more I truly believe it's a beautiful way to help children learn & grow up confident in making choices.

If you're curious about Unschooling, or the Sudbury Valley School, or the philosophy of a "free school", I would love to chat.

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