The Longer Answer

radical one mudpie at a timeWhat follows is roughly my longer reply to the question about curriculum for Kindergarten:

While I believe there is a place for the academic pursuit of subjects like grammar, algebra, biology, and economics, I prefer natural learning for the youngest children, and I think that Formal Preschool and kindergarten, whether at home or in an institution, is kind of artificial, like growing a tomato indoors under lights, with no soil, no sunshine, no fresh air, and lots of chemical fertilizers.The results are about the same, too. The hothouse tomato is pretty. It gets an early start, and you can have tomatoes much earlier than otherwise. The roots are not terribly strong, but we can’t see them, and they don’t need to be strong for a hothouse. The flavor of a hothouse tomato is insipid, but you don’t know how it tastes until it’s full grown and you take a bite.

I know this sounds harsh, and I don’t mean it to, but I think there is no comparison between a tomato ripened under the sun (tangy, juicy, loaded with flavor, and it just bursts on your tongue), and a tomato grown under artificial conditions (insipid, watery, tasteless).
I think formal preschool programs compare similarly to natural homelearning. The formal preschool programs (even, to some degree, those at home), present some earlier obvious results, but the results are not long lasting. When children have grown a bit more, there is nothing to show that preschool curriculum was worth the time and money.

We have confused real intelligence with rote memory. We think the 4 y.o.child who can write and recite the alphabet, count to one thousand, name the 50 states, all the continents and the oceans is somehow further ahead of his peers. We especially think this is better than the child who cannot do these things, but who can and does play in mud puddles, create rope traps to ensnare passing siblings, build elaborate block castles, and who can enjoy sitting and watching ants around an ant-hill for an hour or more. We are wrong.

The child who squanders, or has squandered for her, her `play’ years can never gain them back completely. The play that occurs in the early years is invaluable, and it cannot be replaced by pen and paperwork.
More than once I have seen one of my 4 y.o. children compared unfavorably to one of these little ones early seated to pen and paper work. The other children can recite things mine cannot, have learned the alphabet three or more years before mine ever do, count to a thousand, know the gross national product of Chile, and can perform other impressive feats of rote memory. Mine are spending that time in trees and mud puddles, paddling in the creek, chasing grasshoppers, watching fireflies, skipping, climbing, jumping, and running free, and many grown ups think that they are wasting their time. I have been told by certain relations that I need to ‘hurry up’ and teach my 2 or 4 year old the alphabet. But I’ve noticed something else. By the time the children are ten, often sooner, you either cannot really tell who learned her alphabet first, or, if you were to guess, you would guess wrong.

I also observe that my children’s play is far more free and creative and self-sustaining than that of children in formal preschool programs. I see mine figuring things out and making connections that their preschool and formal school at home little friends do not. Being able to recite impressive facts and write calligraphy at 4 is flashier, showier, and more obvious at first glance- but these are skills easily and quickly obtained when the child is older. What my children are learning now as they spend their time digging holes, playing in the water, running in the grass and watching ants, is less easily shown off, but more long lasting in results.

This kind of free childhood play builds a solid foundation for later learning.

A child who has spent lots of free time paddling in puddles at four really will understand something of the properties of water, of the meaning of island and tidal wave, of islands and peninsulas and the fact that water seeks its own level that a child who has not had the same freedom will not. One child is learning head knowledge, rote facts- the other is building a relationship with the world around him, the world of nature.

To those who have done formal preschool, I’m probably very irritating. I am sorry to be such an irritant, I really am. I do feel passionately about this, and I have done a lotof reading on the subject. Play is vastly important to little children, as is lots of free time- this will do them far more good than sitting at the table performing small motor tasks that they often simply are not developmentally ready for yet. More and more we are cheating our young children of their birthright, and at the risk of irritating some very nice people I wish to shout from the rooftops a plea that we not discount the incredible and incomparable educational value of play for children. Blocks, leggos, puzzles, dolls, stacking cans, washing dishes and doll clothes, sand and water play, fingerpainting, stories and more stories, singing songs, climbing, running, jumping, marching, helping you cook, playing with a bit of breaddough- lots and lots and lots of pretending, imagining, cutting and pasting and working with real stuff- activities such as these build brain power in a way no workbook or program can duplicate.

The research on this is plentiful and well-documented. It is a shame that just as we are learning that all this ‘playing’ is actually what builds a good, solid foundation enabling children to really deal well with book learning later the schools are trying to go to all day kindergartens and substituting fill in the blank workbooks for the activities that build better brains, that give children the power of reflection and imagination and thought.
Spend time talking with the little folks, letting them talk to you and share their observations, their ideas. *Tell* them the Bible stories, folk tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Gingerbread Boy, The Littel Red Hen, Little Red Riding Hood, Aesop’s Fables, and The Time Mommy….. You can tell them while you work together setting the table, stirring the soup, tossing the salad, sanding a piece of furniture, building leggo towers, and walking around the neighborhood. Get ’em outside and let ’em explore. Tell ’em real stories, read Beatrix Potter, Milne- books that stretch the vocabulary and bring the child up rather than dumb the language down. Look at pictures together, listen to good music- ask questions (what does that sound like, what does that look like, what does that make you thinkabout?). Do *real* things, not workbooks with your little ones.

One of the lovely things about this sort of curriculum is that it is all free.

For more ideas, consider the suggestions from this website

Read the first volume of Charlotte Mason’s series available online as free e-text

Get thee to a library and read Jane Healy’s book, Your Child’s Growing Mind.=)

Postscript: Please do visit Wittingshire and read this post by Amanda, where she tells a very sad little tale of one of her childrens’ friends and what she did not know.

horrible: on average, children now spend less time outdoors than a prison inmate.

Children’s real world cognition skills have dropped severely, probably due less time spent in making messes and engaging in free outdoor play.  Note well- they *sound* smarter, being able to recite things and answer questions on most tests.  But they have no idea how to apply what they recite, and there’s one test which cannot be gamed, and they are showing drops in cognition of over five _years._

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