Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thinking about learning

I was just reading a post from SweetGingerMama, a friend of ours from birthing class a few years ago, about her education philosophy. She was homeschooled through 10th grade. She lists benefits to experiencing homeschooling, and they are some we all should envy. They gave me some things to think about.

"I am convinced the sense of safety and security that home school provides in those very early years of development plays a major positive role in building a child's sense of worth and self-confidence."

This observation hits close to home as we consider preschool options for Starboy. You may remember, I'm having some reservations about our second-choice school, which I'm calling the Constructivist Co-op. What was our first-choice school, when I made the search last year, has maybe four openings this fall in a weird twist of fate. And probably 18-20 families applying. I'll call that one the Play-based Co-op. Fantastic campus; it's the back yard you always wanted as a kid. And the tremendous time commitment offers rewards in getting to know a community of families with some things in common. But it's a numbers game to get in this year, so much so that I wonder: is it really so important to try to stuff Starboy into a program, just because that's what everyone else does when his child is around this age?

There's a new player to the party, though, as we discovered a local Waldorf school's pre-pre-school program. This program also is play-based, supported by RIE philosophy, with lots of song. The program educates both the parents and the child in creating and enjoying rhythms of the day in the home, and creating rhythms to ease daily transitions. Waldorf philosophy hinges on perpetually sharpening the saw; the parents are continually learning as the child grows and the family travels on its bonding journey together. (This bonding is so important, the formal preschool program requires children to be six months older than most mainstream preschools, allowing the children more time with family at home before formal education begins.) The class is for parents and children together, supporting that safe atmosphere that SweetGingerMama talks about in her post today.

This is so appealing to me: learning together and building family rhythms that are about our community as a family more than being about "well, this is what everyone does, right?"

"There were many more opportunities for play and creative expression throughout the day that just cannot happen in group and classroom environments."

Any organized schooling will have a flavor of this type of limitation, but I cringe to think of Starboy stuck, sitting criss-cross-applesauce, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting most of the day to say a few words then move back to his chair to sit and do a worksheet. And then only 15 minutes or so a day of running around on asphalt outside. In the Waldorf philosophy, the day is paced to balance out active and thoughtful styles of learning, and the students sing all day long, which promotes tremendous language skills.

The creativity of handwork and music is especially appealing (though I think compulsory guitar might be more interesting than pentatonic flute, even if you were stuck knitting your own case for it), and so is the creativity of being outdoors with natural materials. It struck me when we visited the local Waldorf's program that at least a quarter of the school was working outside: moving, skipping to the next class, playing in the dirt, swinging with song in a goodbye ritual.

"There are many opportunities for instilling your personal values and worldview, as well as fostering spiritual development and character building.....My brothers and I were also very involved in the youth programs at our church and always looked forward to opportunities to....participate in the various trips and activities....This ended up shaping a lot of our priorities and friendships around those that had similar values and beliefs, and all three of us grew up with strong core groups of friends that were 'good kids.'"

SweetGingerMama's family is more religious than ours, but the opportunity to learn in a supportive environment that cultivates respect more than it suggests it is something that I don't think should be a luxury. It shouldn't be a concept reserved for private schools and homeschooling. Often, however, that type of support for true values is cast aside in a universally accepted spirit of Social Darwinism, where bullying is "just a part of growing up," and teachers are too pressed for time to get to the root of the issues a troubled student wrestles with.

We hope to find a community like that for Starboy, and things being as they are in Los Angeles' public schools, I imagine we're only going to find it at a private school or a charter.

I really enjoyed SweetGingerMama's observations—I think there is a perception out there that homeschoolers are often nerdy and under-educated, and the benefits that are so hard to quantify aren't fully articulated. True, a lot depends on your teacher, and it's clear hers was top-notch. What a lucky legacy to live and pass on to your kids. We hope Starboy is just as lucky in the program we find for him.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Great post! So glad to inspire.

    This is a huge part of the traditional education system:

    "Often, however, that type of support for true values is cast aside in a universally accepted spirit of Social Darwinism, where bullying is "just a part of growing up," and teachers are too pressed for time to get to the root of the issues a troubled student wrestles with."

    I recently read "Raising Cain" (great book!) and it really got me thinking more and more about some of the glaring problems with how kids are educated, and in what kind of environment, especially when it comes to boys.