If I hear one more word about preparing my child for prep I think I will burst into flames.
He is a child. Let him be one.
My little boy is three-and-a-half. He is the sunshine of my day and the most important little heart in my world. Nothing comes easily when it comes to making decisions on his behalf about his well-being. As long as you understand this, you will understand why I’m writing this post.
I want my little boy to be able to experience kindergarten (or pre-school) because it’s an experience he will love. He wants friends. He wants to play with other little boys and girls. He wants to learn. He wants to be a ‘big boy’ and step away from mummy and come home and show and tell me all the great things he has discovered without me.
But what’s with the education system’s OBSESSION to teach him what he needs to learn next year, ahead of time, so he’s ready to learn it next year? I’m ANGRY that they are pushing him to learn irrelevant nonsense about a possible experience in the future when today is the most important day in his life. I enrolled him in a kindergarten (a children’s garden of play) to experience play and fun. I did not enrol him in a school-readiness program. I don’t want him to learn to write his name. I don’t want him to learn to tell the time. I don’t want him to be able to spell his name backwards. I don’t want him to read a book by himself. I don’t want his report card to say anything other than how much fun he is having at pre-school, and how close he is bonding with his friends and especially his teacher.
Let him be a child.
Children are naturally inquisitive from the moment they are born, and most experts and parents agree that the young child learns the most in their earliest years. These are also the years they are emotionally most fragile and are learning how they fit in within their family, their environment, and their life. They are learning how to use their body, how to communicate with their verbal and non-verbal body language, how to express their emotions using their face and words and body, and how to express their personality. They are creating beliefs about their world and themselves. Because of this, they need more love than any other human being. More understanding, more patience, more devotion, and more tenderness.
I enrolled my son in kindergarten recently so he can get just one little day to play and learn next to other children his age, and enjoy everything that is great about being three. He has loved so many aspects of the Montessori pre-school method, such as working at little tables with activities that challenge his little hands to coordinate with his eyes and mind. My heart swells to see the look on his face after he completes a puzzle, when he started off so nervously. He is so proud. And he is ready for another challenge, and eagerly looks around at what his friends are doing to see if he can have a turn playing and learning another one.
From the research I have done, this is what Montessori is all about.
It’s about individualised pacing and allocating of activities to children that suit their emotional needs and mental capabilities.
It’s about letting a child master a skill and feel confident, and letting them naturally seek the more difficult challenge in their own time when they are ready to learn.
It’s about putting them in an environment that lets them enjoy the natural challenges of their age for the pure joy of it, NOT because it is a pre-requisite to learning something harder later.
So WHY is his class being ”prepared for Prep” already?
Being a mixed-age pre-school, from 3.5 up to Prep age (approx. 4.5-6 years), my son is unfortunately now being taught about prep and how to behave when he goes there. How to fit in. How to open and pack away his lunch. How to use the bathroom completely unassisted. How to recognise letters and numbers. How to tell the time. How to read and write his name. Oh, and this is all so important because teachers and parents will apparently be too busy to help him next year to open his lunch, tidy his area, help him pick his bag from the rack and gauge the time of day through daily rituals and rhythm. It’s a crock of shit that emotional nurturing and patience are abandoned this early.
I am so disappointed. When I picked up my little heart at 5pm and asked him about his day, he had nothing to report. No smile. I asked him what he learned and he replied, ‘We learned how to pack away. That wasn’t fun.’
The flyer that came home from pre-school said, ‘We are teaching our children to be ready for prep, just as the prep teachers have asked’. Well I’ll be! We’re preparing our children to learn what they will be asked to learn in the future, for the sake of the future. Montessori was just lost. I sense my Montessori teacher is disappointed that she has to do this to be approved and endorsed by the national quality framework. And so am I.
I am envious that he is a child and I am not. Let him be a child.
I want my son to explore his real environment, tailor fit to suit his size and abilities, in his own good time. I want him to be taught to use his imagination because this is what he loves RIGHT NOW. I want him to be told stories. I want to him to feel and express WONDER. I want him to look-around at his friend’s faces and see that they, too, are feeling and expressing WONDER. I want him to understand why the challenge he just completed is so important for his life right now. I want him to feel like he has achieved something WONDERFUL just by being himself, picking and choosing the challenges he is comfortable with, showing how much it interests him, and shining when he has completed his challenge because he was ready to learn and has won within himself.
What’s with society’s obsession with taking away childhood?
Why does the education system keep pushing our children to start school at younger ages? Why do children need to go to PREP to be ready for SCHOOL? Why must they enrol in PRE-PREP to prepare for PREP? Why must they partake in PREP-READINESS PROGRAMS in kindergarten? Why can’t they just be left to explore their environment – to play, sing, tell stories, do crafts, enjoy preparing and eating healthy foods, discover animals and nature, and learn how to interact with their teachers and develop loving, respectful and peaceful relationships with new friends?
I have a mentor who is a Waldorf-style home-schooling parent. She wrote once that the curriculum for a young child is absolutely laying a foundation. This is done through:
- Unrushed time
- Cuddling and Snuggling
- Singing, fingerplays and toe plays
- Playing, especially in natural environments where they can get dirty!
- Real work and helping you do real things
- Experiences that nurture and protect the senses
- If they are 5 or 6 years old, artistic experiences
- Physical play and mobility – riding a bike, running, climbing, balancing,
And in my opinion, this list is in order of priority.
Third: Unrushed Time.
This is something the nation’s education system has no concept of. Rushed time drives their pack-style system of teaching. And they keep trying to push it on everybody. Rushing time causes mental illness. It leads to anxiety, heightened standards, failures and insecurities, poor parenting and teaching, poor eating habits, negative belief systems, depression, school drop-outs (not necessarily a bad thing), terminal illness, suicide, blaming everybody else, and behavioural problems.
Child-development experts agree that children learn best when they are permitted to explore and challenge themselves when they are ready. In their own time. When their care-giver notices that they have found something interesting, they are wise to stop and share the joy of discovery (or step away to give the child uninterrupted time to explore) until they have fulfilled their hunger for learning and are ready to move on. Even if it means the child moves away from ‘the herd’ for a few moments.
From the moment babies realise they can move their hands, we surround them with age-suitable props and environments to help them discover what they can do with their body and their new-found capabilities in a time that suits them. When babies learn to crawl and walk, we let them stop on the pavement to explore leaves and ants, in their own time. When they are learning to talk, we know it works best to set a good example and assist them in finding and pronouncing words when they find a need to use the word.
Seeing an immediate reward that is usable in today’s life is what learning is all about.
What children are taught to learn NOW must be usable and relevant to their present life.
- My son learns how to wash his hands, because he needs this skill to be able to survive now in his environment. He can get his hands dirty and germy all by himself these days, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to select and eat fresh fruit, because he needs this food to fuel his play-time. He wants to play and use energy, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to paint and draw creatively and without rules and guidelines, because he needs creativity now to see what he is capable of producing for himself to feel wonder and satisfaction. He loves colour, crafting with his hands and seeing his completed work up on the wall now, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to speak to me and communicate, with his whole body and range of emotions, because he needs me to understand what is important to him. He wants to get along with me, to feel secure, and to feel understood, so this skill is relevant.
- My son learns how to sing the alphabet because he likes the tune and quirky riddle, and he can sing with his friends for fun. It brings a smile to his face and it’s a playtime activity we can all enjoy together today, so it is relevant.
- My son learns how to tidy his toys and clean up spills because he knows that a clean workspace gives him room to play and build. He wants to feel like he is helping and he likes his belongings to stay in good working condition, so it is relevant.
- My son learns how to sew with a needle and cotton, to cut paper and trim flowers with scissors, to make paper, to climb ladders, to build sand-castles and towers, to clean with a cloth and spray, to break-open eggs, and to feed the pets, because he enjoys using his hands, body and mind. He can see an immediate reward and can reach a new level of interest that he has his heart set on, so it’s relevant.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin
To involve, you must first engage. To engage, you must connect emotionally. To connect emotionally, you must be motivated to understand or reach a new outcome.
In my opinion, Learning Readiness is more important than School Readiness.
Why is this so hard for schools, pre-schools and daycare centres to acknowledge and practise? With the exception of the rare Steiner Schools (yes, extensive waiting lists), only children’s parents can give children the patience and respect for natural development that they deserve.
They deserve the chance to develop naturally.
Words by Joanna Becker, all rights reserved. Header photo of girls playing by Nir Nussbaum, some rights reserved.