I was asked recently if I would mind giving some advice/suggestions to someone regarding homeschooling their toddler. Are they planning on homeschooling? I asked. No, the mother just wants to ‘get a head start’ with her 3 year old son.
My first thought was that the mother in question will not like what I have to say. Then my brain engaged itself in a debate. Should I recommend that she read a couple of John Holt’s books? (How Children Fail and Teach Your Own would be my first picks) I know that what she is looking for is probably a kind of curriculum – the best ways to teach reading and math, etc. – and I briefly considered telling her what I’d done with Maya when she was 3, 4 & 5. (Parts of the Oak Meadow Curriculum, in case you’re wondering.) But in all good conscience I can’t just give her some sort of anticipated, canned answer.
I’ve met her son a few times and he is extremely bright and articulate. He loves the things most 3 years olds love, which is everything. How can I possibly tell her that what he needs most is what he already has? Playtime and lots of it. Read books to him but don’t expect him to read them back. Don’t quiz him on his letters and numbers and colors. Play games. Let him dig in the dirt. Avoid school as long as possible.
The problem is, when someone asks for homeschooling advice, they usually already know what they want to hear. They don’t want to be told to just let the kid be. They want to be told about mathmatics or phonics or ‘ways to get your kid interested in _________’. They want time frames, lesson plans, need to knows.
They don’t want to hear that their kid will learn everything on their own, if only given the freedom to do so. Toddlers are masters at learning about the world. John Holt says they are true scientists – they observe, they test and measure and weigh the results before starting again. They are geniuses and our attempts to corral their brains into some sort of pre-approved structure can only be detrimental.
If what you want is a child who learns very young how to respond to verbal cues in a way that pleases the adults and gets high test scores, there are lots of ways to do it. I’m sure the people at Kumon, for instance, would be more than happy to show you how. But if you want a child whose mind is flexible and free from the fear of being wrong, then just let them be. Answer their questions without feeling the need to turn the answer into ‘a lesson’. Help only when they request it, and observe how much they can discover.
Give it a try. The person who winds up learning the greatest lesson could be you.