I ceremoniously dedicated my blog to writing about writing and you’d have to believe that I meant it. And I will keep at it but such is life: Things happen and they take us off track for a bit. Intermittent is the word. That is my disclaimer and I’ll ask to use it today and whenever the situation calls for it. Intermittent at writing and other things. Breaking out of the self-established blog boundaries for example, like I do now.
And here’s how I do it. It starts with my walking to the library. Aside from a book and some wicked movies for the boys, I picked up a magazine that contains one of my latest articles, always good to see that. I leaf through the magazine, almost bump into a parked car – you’d be less amused if you knew how often I do that because I read while walking, but that’s another story. On one of the pages an ad stops me in my tracks. Literally. It’s about a junior kindergarten institution, by now a network all over the Lower Mainland. Obviously a successful business. All good then. What stopped me and made me frown was the mentioning of an early learning program for infants and kids under 5. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, perhaps, but biased me gets her feathers ruffled. Biased because I don’t believe in preschools and I will tell you why. My boys are not preschool graduates. Tony was enrolled for a short time and when I could not escape the uneasy feeling inside anymore I pulled him out and he was happier that I could ever explain it in words. Sasha never made it close to a preschool.
Why ruffled feathers you ask? Because it gets me to see “early learning programs” and “”enriched curriculum” when it’s about kids 5 and younger. There’s a severe clash between the word “infant” and “curriculum” especially when the curriculum involves fine arts. No kidding. A special method is involved in teaching the kids. Special methods scare me. What’s wrong with letting children find their way through playing and asking questions when they feel like it? This particular program also “boasts” (don’t ask me if I resent the very word, I do) on-site chefs too. Not sure how to feel about chefs in kindergartens. Actually I do, I don’t think they should be there. I have yet to meet a child who expects chef-prepared meals. Or cares about that. Yet it is out there, it is popular enough to have become a network already and I suddenly feel alone in my refusal to give a program like this one more than my criticism. Who wants all of that, the superior education of infants and young children, chefs and fine arts and core subjects mixed into a concoction that is promised to go down young throats without any pain or resistance for that matter. Certainly not the kids themselves. I am sincerely scared of how we have lost touch with ourselves and we push children into doing the same. It’s playing they learn best with. They learn through playing more than we can possibly understand and definitely more than it can be fit into a “core subject curriculum”. I can’t even say that whole thing with a straight face because there are too many consonants and it hurts the inside of my mouth almost.
What if we let kids play, just play, no restrictions. I don’t mean dedicated playdate time (sometimes with kids they don’t even want to play with but have to because the moms get along or who knows what other reasons) or set time for playing (here’s half-hour before your piano lessons), but simply “get out of bed in the morning and play until you can play no more or you’re too hungry” kind of play.
It gets me, I admit it. What are we teaching children through something like this? That life is a rat race and you’d better get ready to race because every day of mindless playing is a lost day? How can be possibly hope to raise free thinkers with inquisitive minds if we don’t allow for discovering the world at their own pace based on what makes them vibrate with curiosity and excitement? Why would a young child care about fine arts more than he would about playing in the mud no time restrictions whatsoever. Yes, I argue that wallowing in muck, among other things, is a great learning experience and if it so happens that the only chef on-site is the child handing you a muddy leaf speared by a mucky stick saying “Here Mom, I caught a piranha and cooked it for you” then there’s no finer dining or educational setting that that.
What are we afraid of? Kids not learning their colors and numbers by the time they’re potty trained? Who cares? Not learning to read by the time they’re six? Who came up with that and why? Kids learn because they’re curious, just like we do too. Or we should anyway. They resist learning when we impose it in a way that makes them feel inadequate and incapable. The ones that get it right away are the lucky ones. They might get stuck with other things but at least they know their colors and letters. Does that make them better prepared for what’s ahead? If we’re talking only academics then maybe, but maybe not. If they learn letters and numbers because they love it and it comes naturally to them then they will be just as well prepared for what’s ahead as the child who’s figured out how cars move before being able to read it in a book.
Being academically educated is one thing. Being resourceful, creative, curious, passionate, resilient and able to expand both mind and heart as they go through life, always ready for a challenge. That’s what I want for my boys and for all kids for that matter. Not sure where “educated” comes in but I am sure that if it’s all by itself it resembles a lonely tree in the middle of a barren land. Any wind, not even the strongest, can easily uproot it. And then what? I don’t know, do you? Well, yes, I am biased, I admit it, so please feel free to challenge me and I will do my best to oblige. No gauntlet will remain on the ground. I am after all, throwing mine and I should expect nothing less from you.