Welcome to Part 12 of my series on Living a Simple Life. If you would like to start from the beginning, click on the “Simple Living Series” tab at the top of the page. (You’re welcome to leave comments on any of the “installments;” I read them all.)
I love requesting books from the library to glean inspiration and ideas for living simply. This week, I was reading “Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling.” Please note, this book isn’t written from a biblical basis, so I don’t endorse everything in this book. For example, as parents, we are biblically called to provide instruction and discipline to our children, and that “all have sinned.” It is our responsibility to teach them God’s commandments and truths.
However, this book does provide a semblance of our “Simple” perspective towards education, which we are pursing with Gen. The authors give insightful anecdotes of children who are allowed to naturally learn and experience life.
In the city where we live (as, I’m sure is the case in many other cities), we are regularly inundated with advertisements and articles urging parents to enroll their young toddlers (and even infants!) into educational/play programs. Preschools have waiting lists, requiring parents to sign their children up years in advance. After reading descriptions of these “opportunities,” I’m sure many parents feel obligated to enroll their children, and feel guilty when they can’t afford it.
Unfortunately, the glowing reviews tend to overlook the obvious: I don’t need to pay $100 per month (or even a “special admission price of only $7!”) to ensure that my joyful toddler is exposed to music, identifies her feelings and senses, exercises, and learns to share with others. In my opinion, these programs are “artificial learning centers.” It is surprising to me to see organizations go to such lengths to create educational experiences through “pretend play,” when the real thing can be found just down the road. (Why do we need a fake store, a fake nature walk, a fake kitchen, a fake waterfall, a fake restaurant, etc.?)
I’m not saying that children shouldn’t play pretend; my question is, if we have the option of allowing them to participate in a real nature walk or a real kitchen, why should we send them to a fake one?
We do enjoy an occasional trip to an “educational” place, such as the zoo, but we don’t go with educational goals in mind- especially at this age. To us, they are merely an enjoyable exposure to new things. (It’s not like I have tigers or elephants wandering through my living room, anyway.) We discuss animal sounds, for example, but that’s not the goal of the trip.
Gen is perfectly happy- and learning- when she chooses to discover the bugs in the dirt, taste the leaves from our lettuce, splash the cold water in the watering can, smell flowers on our walks, listen to the birds, dance to Daddy’s guitar music, wear Mama’s shoes, stir the pancake batter, wash her belly button in the bath, watch butter forming, pray about what we read in a Bible story, put away dishes from the dishwasher, select fruit at the market, and take turns on the slide with friends at the park. (Along with many others!)
These events are natural parts of our day. We are continually talking with her, explaining what is going on. Sometimes she needs a bit of urging to persist in doing “difficult” things- such as taking off her shoes or learning to hold a crayon- but she thrills in her achievements and new understanding. Her curiosity is boundless. She is not being trained to meet “achievement tests” or “milestone markers;” she is just simply experiencing life. She requires guidance to ensure her safety, as well as discipline in obedience and respect, but she already desires to learn about life around her.
Sometimes, I catch myself wanting to tell my adventurous child “No.” Thankfully, I often stop myself, as I recognize the learning that is taking place. Teach Your Own also reminds me how important it is that I stop and evaluate why I am saying no. Is it really dangerous- especially when I’m with her? Am I saying “No” just because I don’t want to share? Is she ready to attempt new things, as part of learning, but it will create more work/vigilance from me? Am I being overly cautious/permissive? I don’t want my unnecessary “No” to dampen her love for life and learning. Sometimes allowing her to experience the “cause and effect” or “trial and error” of a situation will provide new skills and understanding, that my “No” would have denied her.
Even when Gen was just a baby, we approached parenting with the perspective that these little ones are usually capable of more than we often give them credit for, and yet adults try to push many other “skills” on them that can be just naturally learned. As we watched Gen, she often proved this to be true. From the day we brought her home from the hospital, we placed books and toys within her reach- not to force “early education” upon her; but because she enjoyed them! We took her outside with us and talked to her when we picked berries, watered the lawn, or pruned the rose bushes.
We kept her close through baby-wearing most hours of the day, or keeping her right alongside us while we completed a task. She was able to continually observe and interact with us. She experienced life with us; not enclosed in a covered carrier or relegated to a fenced-in room. This form of parenting just seemed natural to us; it wasn’t part of some greater “educational plan.”
Even if I don’t enroll her in a program outside the home, I am not continually bombarding her with a series of “educational” things and quizzes at home. For example, I turn on a classical music CD- not for her brain development, but because we enjoy it. We run around and play chase for exercise; not a baby gym routine. Opposites are labeled and observed frequently as we “open and close,” turn things “on and off,” and go “up and down.” She participates in sharing and helping by assisting with chores.
It seems to me, that by providing her with authentic experiences, Gen is able to enjoy the quality of life by living simply. So many programs seem to be an early inundation to the “hurry up/ more-is-better” mindset, trying to teach these little people to “know more and do more” instead of appreciating a peaceful quality of life.
I’m sure, as she gets older, we will be incorporating more “curriculum-based” materials, as she learns to read, and enters “school-age.” As they said in Teach Your Own, the goal is to facilitate learning; teaching isn’t something that is “done to” a child, while they sit passively. Our main focus is on learning about life by living.
So, what are you doing to facilitate learning in your life or your child’s? I’d love to hear!
“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. … This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
(Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20)