Mar 19, 2013

Don't worry about teaching him that...

This post is a response to a funny video I've been thinking a lot about.

It's funny!  It's a bit over the top.  But seriously, what an awesome Mom!  And by the way, we really like Fisher Price toys.  The part about this video I want to comment on is the line at the end,

"Hey, don't worry.  Learning happens."

Who's worried?

Does the mother look like she's worried?  Granted, she's an actress, but to me it looks like she's having a lot of fun with her kid.  And what toddler doesn't want to spend that much time with their mother?  He looks happy too.

If anybody is worried, it's an onlooker who is judging the mother for being too involved in their child's education.  And really, it's none of their business.  Even so, as an early-learning advocate, I have heard many people tell me not to worry about teaching my kids such and such a subject, and I think it stems from a western cultural misconception that kids learn best when their parents just leave them alone and let them play.  It also stems from a cookie-cutter timeline mentality.  1-year-olds begin to talk.  2-year-olds stack blocks.  3-year-olds are potty-trained.  4-year-olds run and speak well.  5-year-olds start kindergarten.  Sadly, some people will worry about how you parent your child no matter what you do, whether it's to validate their own parenting style, they are competitive, or because they are trying to cover up their own insecurities.  There isn't much I can do about the last group, but I do want to touch on the first two.

Young children should just play.


I agree that children should play.  They should play a lot.  They should be able to explore their world on their own terms.  They should have a safe environment where they are allowed to explore.  One of my favorite blogs is, which has lots of fun activities to help children learn through play.  It's an awesome, awesome site.

It's the just part that doesn't fit my parenting approach.  I think young children instinctively want to learn.  I think it is my duty as a parent to teach them.  They have what Montessori calls an absorbent mind- they are like little sponges eager to learn how to survive in this big world.  Learning is a game for them, why shouldn't I be allowed to play?  Why shouldn't I give them the tools to accelerate their learning?

In fact, that's the key to successful early learning- introducing educational topics in a playful, age appropriate way.  It's not wrong to teach a toddler to read, as long as they enjoy it.  I doubt a 2-year-old would learn much if they didn't want to sit with Mommy and would rather be somewhere else.  If, when you try to do flashcards they are squirming to get away, let them, evaluate your approach, and try again later.
I often witness a big misconception when people see my 2-year-old reading.  They think I must have worked hours and hours teaching him through traditional schooling methods.  It must have been very hard.  The poor kid should have just been allowed to play.  The reality is that we simply use products like Little Reader, Your Baby Can Read, and MonkiSee for a few minutes every day, we've been consistent with it, and because he enjoys it, he learns and progresses with it.  Teaching a young child to read is easy, if you know how to do it, and/or have the right tools to get the job done.  The same goes for any academic topic.

I can sympathize with the overall message of articles like In Preschool, What matters Most- Education or Play?, however, I think we are missing the boat when we think that one precludes the other.  I venture that children should have structured educational play, and that such play shouldn't end with preschool.  Learning should be made as enjoyable as the subject matter allows, whether the child is a preschooler, or an adult.  We retain more and learn better when we relaxed and are having fun.  Having said that, it is no sin to teach our children how to work, and expect them to have a good attitude.


Age Milestones

Milestones have a useful purpose.  Knowing that 1-year-olds typically learn to walk is good to know if your 18-month-old is still crawling.  Maybe they need more time on the floor.  Maybe you could spend more time helping them.  Maybe there is a developmental problem.  Maybe a child is talking late because they have a hearing problem.  Maybe their struggle to focus is because of a dietary issue.  Maybe they struggle with reading because they have dyslexia and they need a different approach.  Parents don't know to look for alternative solutions unless they have milestone guides.  Three cheers for milestones.

One of the reasons that people may choose to homeschool, however, is to get away from society's expected milestones and let children learn at their own pace.  I applaud parents who recognize that it's not the end of the world if their 9-year-old homeschooled child struggles with reading.  I recognize that they have probably learned a lot of other valuable lessons, those things which the family holds to be most important.  I recognize that children are individuals and that their parents know their children best.  I trust that in the vast majority of cases, parents have their children's best interests at heart.  They love their children, and they want them to grow up to become successful adults.  While there really are homeschoolers who let their kids play video games all day while they drink booze and gamble online, I haven't met any of them personally.  I haven't met a singe homeschooler who wasn't homeschooling because they thought it was what was best for their child.  I know a lot of homeschoolers.  

I also recognize that regardless of what kind of education a child receives, if the parents aren't involved and don't care, that child will inevitably suffer for it.  The kids who struggle most in public school are the ones with parents who simply don't care.  The children who are at the top of the class have supportive parents at home.  One of my public-school-teacher friends suggested that the reason homeschoolers score better on average than public-schoolers (80th percentile) has less to do with the quality of their schooling and more to do with the parental involvement.  Few of the parents who simply don't care about their kids homeschool them.  Public school is like free babysitting.  That fact alone will shift the testing results.  I think he made a good point.  But that's a tangent.  My point is, we shouldn't judge parents or children based on a child's "slow" academic progress.  Chances are, that parent is fully aware of the status quo and how their child compares, and they have provided for it in their own way.  They know and/or are discovering what that child needs and are providing for it.  (by the way, brain gym has helped a lot of struggling kids.  That's a post for another day.)

Many homeschoolers are aware of this.  There is a lot of support offered for children who are "behind", and collectively we are eager to reassure those parents that each child is unique, that they learn at their own pace, and that we should simply be looking for progress.  In a word we say, milestones are a handy reference, but don't take them to heart.

So, backing up a little, why am I making a defense for children who are behind when this article is more about accelerated children?  Because I have been hurt a few times when the same people who reach out with affirmations that we shouldn't compare our children to society's expected milestones turn around in the same breath and tell me I shouldn't "worry" about teaching my 5-year-old such and such because he doesn't need to know that yet.

According to whom?

Early Learning children have different needs than their peers.  If they aren't moving forward, they are regressing.  I'm not teaching my 5-year-old his multiplication tables because I'm "worried" about him becoming a math genius when he grows up.  I'm teaching him multiplication because that is where he is at academically.  The end.  Yes, a typical child in kindergarten is learning cvc words.  That's great.  But Peter has done that already.  He has moved past that.  He is ready for chapter books.  When other people tell me I shouldn't worry about introducing him to chapter books (or whatever), it doesn't encourage me to relax my draconian educational approach.  Heavens, I'm not that organized.  Much of the day my son is playing with his legos or digging in the dirt outside.  No, all "don't worry about that yet" comments really do is show me that they don't understand where my family is at and what the needs of my children are.  We've done cvc words.  We've done the story books.  I'm not worried about his reading progress, I'm eager to take the next step.  It's a good thing too.  A very real problem gifted children have when they enter school is that they easily soar through it.  School is super-easy for them and they can get lazy.  By and by, their peers catch up academically AND they have learned how to work.  EL kids need to learn how to work too.

If we truly want to eliminate milestone dependency, we need to give on both sides of the spectrum, and allow other parents to do the same.  Reserve judgement.  Encourage and applaud parent's efforts, no matter where their child is at.  Where they are is not as important as where they are going.  In the immortal words of Walt Disney, "Keep Moving Forward".


Mike Spackman said...

Wow, very well articulated! As the father I can vouch for what she says. Sometimes Tamsyn thinks really big, and sets high goals for our children, but in actual practice of teaching, she makes it very fun and non-stressful for our kids; bravo!

Mario said...

Hello, I'm Mario from BrillKids forum. This post is simply perfect. I'm new to EL but I'm tired of hearing I shouldn't worry about it when the subject is healthy food, DHA, ARA... I don't know why people worry about me. I think they are really trying to value their parenting way. I'll start to follow your blog.

Tamsyn Spackman said...

Thank you, Mario. Yes, going in to healthy food is opening a whole new aspect of parenting, but it is so relevant. We are what we eat. I don't know what it's like in Brazil, but it's something we battle here in the states, and something I still struggle with. The more you know about eating right, the more you know that you don't know. :)

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