Education starts with a relationship based on respect. We must remember that every child has a voice that deserves to be heard.
Please note, I am a human being, ever growing and changing and my vision and demands for education given below are a work in progress. I would love to hear your input to help us grow together!
For some, homeschooling is something planned way ahead of time or, perhaps, a fall back option after facing problems in school. But for us, at the beginning of our preschool home school, it was more of an “only option”, eventually followed by a debilitating thought of “I don’t want my child in a school like that.”
For a little background, our lives have been less than settled for more than a year and a half now. We left our last home in Maryland, USA to stay with family in India while we awaited a permanent posting. We waited and waited.
As it turns out, we are still awaiting that feeling of “settled” and my investment in home school materials reflects that (it’s been pretty minimal!). We are comfortably housed in a beautiful, yet semi-temporary arrangement, and still waiting. In our current position, we have the option to enroll our eldest daughter, who is now 4 ½ years old, in a play school or similar educational institution here in India which is the typical option for a family of our means to choose. But we were left with the feeling of compromise, a compromise we were not comfortable with. While we would love for her to be able to learn and collaborate with peers, if we enrolled her in a school to “socialize” her and begin her academic endeavors, as many recommend, we would risk creating unnecessary academic and emotional stress as well as giving the view that learning is a sit down, memorize, and regurgitate endeavor. A view that learning is something to be undertaken in a separate institution, compartmentalized, standardized, force-fed, and, frankly, rather boring. In traditional education styles, learning is something that is undertaken among peers with different abilities, yet who have the same expected outcomes; outcomes that are brought about with bribery of reward or with fear of punishment. Learning becomes scary for those who cannot meet the standards (which happens so easily in the preschool years as standards are set much higher than many young children are physically capable of) or overly inflating to those who can, both of which have the potential to squelch self-confidence, creativity, curiosity, and, most importantly, a child’s own unique voice. All of this bestowed upon a child at the young age of 4, whose only desire is to play, observe, explore, and learn, yes, they want to learn!
So home school it is. I was never opposed to the idea of it, but I hadn’t really considered it seriously until after D’s 4th birthday and we hadn’t found a school that we liked. You see, the culture of education in India, and in many places in the world, is focused on educating human beings in a standardized manner, human beings who are inevitably NOT standard, with the end goal being to mark high on exams, rather than promote intelligence! The institution was created to instill a public with the ability to follow directions, complete tasks given to them with average proficiency, and remain in order with the masses. These are not attributes that I want to promote in my children, or any child, for that matter.
Finally, this winter I got more intentional with D’s preschool learning years, and after a year of unplanned, un-researched and occasional “study times,” as we called them, it was time to go full in on the decision to home school. Beginning in January of this year, I started researching, learning, and educating myself as well as reflecting on my own vision of what education is; after all, I was a college-level educator and always have wanted to return to education in some regard. After reflection, I realized that the best way to come close to this vision of education for my children (the vision of education that I think ALL children deserve) was to home school! This vision, while I know that it can be and IS met in many early childhood education facilities across the globe, it is not the majority and it is not present where we reside. I want to mention that if we were to find a facility that met our demands of a school, I would certainly send my children there. But these facilities are few and far between, especially in India.
A Vision for a Better Education
There are 6 aspects of approaching a relationship with a child and their learning that I would demand from an education center. Taken together, these aspects are my vision for Early Childhood Education:
This is of absolute and utmost importance. I believe a child is a whole, complete, and capable human being. We often claim to have respect for our children, and I’m sure there are many schools that also claim this, but do they show respect in their actions? I demand respectful speech, which means no use of bribery with rewards or artificial praise of “good girl/boy” for completion of tasks, no threats of punishment, and no comparison to other children. I demand respectful listening. EVERY CHILD HAS A VOICE THAT DESERVES TO BE HEARD, whether at home, during play, or in the classroom. Children are capable of contributing to their own process of education, including how they communicate their knowledge, the subject matter that they learn, and even creating a learning environment that reflects their ideas.
“What adults think children should learn usually has no correlation to what children want to learn.” – Julianne P. Wurm. When children can follow their own interests and ideas about what they observe and are trying to figure out at that moment in time, then learning remains a natural process. Let us not forget that children, since before birth, are innate learners: tiny scientists ready to observe, question, try, fail, and overcome. Child-led investigation that is both individualized and in small collaborative groups cultivates that innate curiosity and desire to continue learning as a joyful (and playful!), focused, and enriching experience.
Freedom to Try and Fail:
This is such an essential component. We see babies and children doing this every day. The ability to learn from failures creates resilience and when given the freedom to fail, while still receiving support, children are given a model and repeated practice that encourages them to move forward in the face of difficulty and become innovative problem solvers.
Learning Through Play:
Recent research shows that play-based learning allows children to engage with their learning in meaningful ways. The Room 241 Team at Concordia University-Portland wrote that “Neuroscientists have found that play activates the brain in meaningful ways that rote memorization, testing, worksheets, and traditional classroom techniques do not.” Children can learn through dramatic play, pretend play, story-telling, games, block-building, the list goes on! Children learning through purposeful play engage with the material and information in a holistic way, which can incorporate multiple subject areas (math, language, science, problem-solving, etc.) in one play session.
True Creative Endeavors:
So many “arts and crafts” currently accepted in the majority of traditional early childhood education do not allow children to fully express their deepest creativity. Activities that better support creativity are open-ended, multi-faceted art, construction, or scientific projects that are based on a child’s perception of a concept or idea. Furthermore, they are focused more on the process rather than the end result. No more cookie cutter crafts that impose an adult’s idea of an artistic result on a child. (Did I mention scientific activities employ creativity and innovation?)
Free of Dogmatic Principles:
This aspect may not be everyone’s cup of tea because it is so much more messy. However, within the gray area, an approach can be established that is more suited to the current students, teachers, parents, and cultural surroundings. I believe it is possible for an educational approach to be flexible and adaptable within a set vision so that it may grow with a society, across generations, and across cultures and economic boundaries.
What would be the end result of education that looks like this? While I have more recently made this list of Preschool level demands, I’ve been thinking about what education should offer students of any age for many years. In my opinion, education is not about the skills needed to pass a particular standardized exam – passing an exam is the simplest thing one could learn to do.
What I want, so deeply, for my children is to have an education that:
Nurtures creativity, individuality, curiosity, and a human’s unique voice.
Teaches skills needed for discovery in any topic. This means they would learn to research an interest, analyze the data for quality and relevancy, and most importantly, question the results and refine their own questions, communicate their findings followed by making a plan for and communicating a way forward.
Lastly, this is perhaps an idealistic desire, and that is for an education system that does not use domination tactics or create a dominion of teachers/educators over students. I dream of an education system in which each person – teacher, student, parent, staff, etc. – is seen and treated as equal, where the line between student and teachers is blurred and co-educators and mentors emerge, where students collaborate instead of compete, and where students learn to identify their own passions and strengths at a particular moment in time (knowing that they may shift with experience and knowledge) so that every person can contribute in a unique and valuable way.
Why is this last point important? Because in order to build a society that is just and inclusive we must raise a generation that doesn’t have to overcome the same sort of personal battles that we have on a daily basis, like with low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, jealousy, anxiety, inability to perform on exams…these very things result from an educational system that is based on rewards, punishments, and domination tactics. We need an educational system that sets the bar higher than efficiency and standardization and focuses instead on individuality, collaboration, and creativity.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Help me refine this vision! Share this message on Instagram and Facebook and let me know which aspect stood out the most to you. Make it known that you want a better education for your child!