I don’t know about you, but I often feel guilty that I’m not teaching my children enough. Only having 7 flashcard decks seems pitiful somehow. I’ve never bought an expensive educational DVD to teach my kids Mandarin or multiplication. I don’t do a daily “lesson” with my 2-year old. Of course, I read to my kids a lot, let them watch kid shows, ask lost of questions to provoke critical thinking, etc. but it has just somehow never seemed enough. I feel a pressure to have them reading at a third grade level before Kindergarten. This day in age, I don’t think I’m alone.
Do you ever feel pressured to be a mother, referee, MENSA tester and 5th grade teacher all at once to your 3-year old? Are you distressed that your child doesn’t know that the animalia vertebrata reptilia testudines cheloniidae lepidochelys olivacea is – in fact – a ninja turtle, like your neighbor’s kid? If you are taking the time to read this kind of blog, then you can probably relate.
I read this article recently saying research shows that bright children shouldn’t go to school until they’re 6 because forcing it earlier can have counterproductive effects. I don’t know about that, but I do agree on principle that the earlier you force information into your children’s head does not equal the smarter they become. I’ve touched on that a little in my post called Are Smart Children Naughtier?
I think that providing a foundation and framework for learning are way way – I will repeat in case you looked away to sip your Diet Coke – way more important than giving your young children information in the early years. Let me give you an illustration.
Imagine Barn 1. It is being constructed and during the process supplies, tools, and scrap lumber are put haphazardly inside along various walls and on the floor. Sometimes things are hung on pegboards, other times they’re thrown in the corner. As the barn is constantly undergoing construction the stray debris keeps piling up until there isn’t a clear pathway through it all and you aren’t really sure where to find the things you know you’ve left there.
Imagine Barn 2. It is also under construction, but in contrast to Barn 1 the tools, supplies, and lumber are placed purposefully and carefully in good order. Things are separated into easily identifiable and organised areas so they can be retrieved. Pathways are created, not blocked, and shelving is created so things may be stacked with precision and care.
Now, both barn owners need to store a lot of bricks (I’m not sure why, you’ll have to ask them yourself) in their barn. That is why it’s being built.
Barns = foundation and framework for storing, processing and learning information
Bricks = knowledge + factual information
Barn 1 is now being filled the bricks, and while they can go in quickly, there is little organization. A big pile is created in one corner of the barn, but soon there isn’t any way to continue stacking the bricks higher than arm’s length- the farmer can’t find his ladder – so they go to another area of the barn to stack some more. The farmer quickly moves a pile of scrap lumber to one side and creates another haphazard brick pile. This goes on until there is even less room for manoeuvring in the barn, and quickly piling up the bricks becomes a very big chore. Not only is there wasted space, the organization is such that when a certain sized brick is desired, it’s not obvious where to find it.
Barn 2 is also being filled with bricks. They can go in quickly and efficiently because the space is organized optimally for storage. Stacks are made along walls meticulously according to size, shape and use. The tools and equipment needed to stack and sort the bricks are readily available and certain areas are designed as pathways so that trips in and out with the bricks can be done with ease. Scraps of lumber and materials that are no longer necessary are discarded so there is more room for what’s necessary. There is little wasted space and, as such, capacity for stacks and stacks of bricks.
I believe that Barn 1 symbolizes a child (the farmer) who is attempting to learn (store bricks) without a proper framework and foundation (organized barn). Though bricks can surely be brought in and stored, it is haphazard and random at best. Bricks of a particular kind are not easily identifiable and instead of all the energy being used to actually haul in and stack the bricks, energy is being wasted trying to figure out where to put and stack them without them falling or blocking the pathway.
Barn 2 symbolizes a child (the farmer) who is learning (storing bricks) with a solid framework and foundation (organized barn). Because the barn is organized, clear of debris, and made ready to store as many bricks as possible, the energy spent is in the brick transporting, not figuring out where things go and how to find them later. When the farmer needs a certain type brick, he simply goes to that areas of the barn and gets it. The pathways are clear, unobstructed, and not cluttered with un-useful and out of date equipment and debris.
Since I know you guys are sick of my country girl barn analogies, I’ll bring it back down to earth. Even if the farmer in Barn 2 started storing bricks years later than the farmer in Barn 1, Barn 2 will ultimately end up with a lot more bricks and a lot more usable space.
It is far better to create a structure that supports efficient storage than it is to start shovelling bricks into a space without a good method for store and retrieval. Basically,it’s far better to give your children a good foundation, framework and tools for learning than it is to attempt to shovel lots of trivial and factual information into them so they impress their Kindergarten teacher.
(1) What exactly makes up a framework and foundation for learning? I must say that I don’t have Ph.D. in education here, but these are my thoughts. I believe the foundation a mother can lay that will help their children learn to their potential are developed in the following areas: critical thinking, independent reasoning, self-control, patience, focusing skills, being starter-finishers, and the ability to follow instructions and directions. This is clearly not an exhaustive list, but these are characteristics that will help your child be able to absorb and learn optimally. And – most importantly – these are things that school won’t teach them. These are things they need to know to excel in school! With these characteristics and skills learned, they’ll be able to sit still, focus on the teacher’s instruction, finish assignments, think for themselves, and will be more self-motivated. In in my opinion, it’s a teacher’s job to pass on information. It’s a parent’s job to train their child in a way that they can receive and retain that information successfully.
(2) Factual knowledge will not make them smarter in the long-term. Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, not how many states and capitals you know or how may different types of extinct dinosaurs your son can name. Of course, these things are great and it’s not wrong to teach our children, but I believe the goal is to help our children reach their potential. Force feeding trivial knowledge and information out of our own sense of guilt or neurosis won’t ensure they get into college. Sure, they might know more than the rest of their Kindergarten class for a few months, but the children who will genuinely learn and excel steadily will be those who can continue to retain more and more.
(3) Release yourself from the idea that you are your 3-year-old’s only hope. Their acceptance into Harvard does not depend on whether you have had them memorize 100 animal names and sounds. If you don’t teach them to read by their 4th birthday this does not mean they will not graduate high school. The entire future of your child’s education does not rest on how much information, knowledge and facts you can shove into your child’s brain. Be released! Know that these young years are a time where you can teach valuable life skills (that you are probably already teaching), and leave the burden of teaching on the teachers. Unless of course you homeschool then, yeah, you’re both. Life skills include the skills listed in (1) above, as well as teaching them general common sense, street smarts, health, safety and moral lessons that need to be learned while they are young. Of course – OF COURSE – you will end up teaching them many things. In fact, young children can’t help but learn. I’m simply saying it’s more important to focus your energies on the bigger picture (solid foundation) instead of the smaller picture (facts and figures).
(4) Focus on being a mother, not an educator, and then you’ll naturally become both. Now, life is about learning. I’m 31, ahem, and still learning everyday. Society, culture, and our own desire to give our children the best possible future often combine to create an unnatural and burdensome idea that we should do everything and be everyone all the time. Mothers train in life skills, critical thinking, thoughtfulness, self-control, self-discipline, responsibility and beyond. These things will stay with a child for life. Out of these things will flow lessons and opportunities to teach about other things. Your child will learn many new things by going to the zoo. However, you don’t take them to the zoo just so they’ll know more facts about animals, do you? Don’t feel the pressure to have your child reading, counting to 500, and knowing their multiplication tables by Kindergarten simply out of fear that they’ll be at a disadvantage. They’ll be at a far greater disadvantage if you don’t help them to become the type of children who learn well.
(5) Make your activities twofers. Many times throughout the day you’ll have the opportunity to build a framework and teach things. Structured activities like memory, reading books, and talking with your kids after TV shows or movies not only helps build skills of critical thinking, focusing, and growing their attention spans, it will also inevitably expose them to new things and ideas. Here you’re doing both. But know, that even setting up an indoor bowling alley in your hallway and playing with it for 20 minutes can be just as developmentally important. They learn how to focus, they learn they cannot flit from this activity to the next after 3 minutes, they learn hand-eye coordination, and they are exploring and having fun.
We mothers put so much pressure on ourselves to be the ‘saviors’ of our children and protectors of their future. This is a right and normal instinct. If you’re still reading then you obviously care enough about your role as a mother to do what you think is best. I hope you can feel less pressure, less stress, and less responsibility to shove facts, information, games, DVDs, TV shows, videos, and flashcards into your child’s brain “just because” that is what is supposed to help make them smart.
I hope you feel released to just be a mom, teach the moral lessons that teachers aren’t paid to impart. Teach the character building lessons that aren’t the teacher’s job to teach anyway. Love them, play with them, and help them learn to think for themselves. That will be far more beneficial to their futures than the latest over-priced educational toy.
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