I live in a culture which values speed and quantity. Do more, quicker. Achieve more, sooner. Slowing down and living with intention (or at least conscious reflection) is for fringey types, and can be looked upon as an excuse for laziness.
Or at least it can feel that way sometimes.
My beliefs about education and child-rearing have been in a constant state of re-evaluation for years--starting well before I even dreamed of having children (ask me sometime why I dropped out of the Education major I'd gone to college to pursue) and intensifying once I finally did. I don't believe in One Right Way. The notions that I once valued I've since questioned and often discarded in favor of approaches that can raise some eyebrows...especially when they deviate from the norm.
When people who have known me for years hear that I'm homeschooling, it is typical for them to assume that I'm an early-instructing, flashcard-weilding, stuff-their-heads-with-data type of parent. And because of our cultural value on this approach, they often try to offer support with suggestions and well-meaning gifts. Using these tools or pursuing those goals can sometimes be difficult to resist. When my son's age-peers are being drilled in the three R's, it is very tempting to panic that I'm not *teaching*...and therefore he's not *learning*...and to pull out the workbooks to give our learning journey some sort of quantifiable Evidence. Insecure, suddenly, with just watching my child sort his toys, I instead puzzle over whether I "should" compel him to complete a worksheet demonstrating the ability to classify items...as though that is somehow of more value.
The spectre of Reporting To The State looms ever closer, as well. At some point, I'm going to be required to quantify learning, and in an easily-recognizable, culturally-expected form. Even outside the box, we're often sucked into playing the game by the standards and rules of the System. You're not learning unless you're Doing School.
But, I keep reminding myself, we are. Learning, that is.
What's more...an enormous part of my mission in homeschooling is to postpone the "earlier is better" notion that has crippled this nation's educational system. If kids are failing to grasp information, the answer seems to invariably be to work harder and demanding proficience at an even younger age. It's absurd, and I reject it.
All of this is way too much background for a little anecdote from our lives. My eldest (now 6) recently remarked, "I have really learned a LOT!"
Well, that was neat to hear. We haven't done much of the same things that his age-peers are doing in their Kindergarten classes, but yes, we are learning some incredible things! I expected him to mention the different types of dinosaurs, the feeding habits of various bats, or some other fascinating and specific and "impressive to trot out at social gatherings" trivia. But he continued, "I learned to tie my shoes and zip my jacket and buckle my seatbelt all by myself!"
Reminder, folks: Life is not all about (nor even "mostly" about) academic learning. It has its place, and its value. But these are CHILDREN we are talking about. When we hear studies about how much learning is possible in the early years, we seem to want to take advantage of that "sponge" period by throwing data at our kids. What we should be doing is recognizing all of the much more difficult learning that they're already tasking themselves with:
Learning to crawl, walk, run, climb.
Learning basic body-care (wash your hands, use the toilet, get dressed).
Learning to speak, proficiently, in the language of their environment. Or several.
Learning to use caution in physically navigating their environment.
Learning how to behave appropriately in a myriad of social situations, each with its own set of expected behaviors.
Learning how to effectively communicate their own needs.
Shall I go on?
They're learning how to be people! Should I interrupt their role-playing games or "aimless" investigations to drill them with curriculum? There will be appropriate times for that...and I am not anti-teaching (man, I can be pedantic with the best of 'em)...but I'm not willing to put such a heavy focus on the "book learning" that I rob them of the "life learning". Nor do I believe that any of us should discount any experience which is not part of a curriculum as without merit.