You’d think that hanging out with homeschoolers, as I do, would insulate me from people who feel the need to do academics with kindergarteners. However, amongst new homeschoolers you hear this common refrain: I really don’t know how to homeschool, so I just want to find a curriculum in a box I can do with my five-year-old. The people saying this mean well—they really think that a curriculum-in-a-box will be better for their children than just hanging out with mom and doing whatever lame stuff she comes up with. But those parents have fallen into the same trap as the administrators of our public education system. They think this is some kind of race, and they’ll be hurting their children if they don’t get them on the track and running as soon as possible.
I should have read it long ago, but I recently read what should be required reading for new homeschoolers, Tammy Takahashi’s Deschooling Gently. Takahashi’s book is considered a classic amongst homeschoolers, who see the process of “deschooling” a child who has attended school before homeschooling as key to homeschooling success. However, I found that the book had a lot more to say to me as an adult: How many of my ideas are residual bits of misinformation planted by my many years in school? All of us have this stuff stuck in there, even if we’ve consciously denied its validity.
Our feelings about “academic” education, in particular, are strong. Many of us inherently believe that “earlier is better” and that there’s something wrong with letting a child play if he can’t read yet. We haven’t turned out in mass protests as our public schools are pushing academics earlier into the curriculum, forcing out such kindergarten staples as finger painting, story telling, and free play on the playground.
The thing is, every single educator worth listening to has read the data and knows this simple fact: The most educated people in the world are not necessarily the people who had academics shoved at them at an early age. Forcing academics earlier into the American public schools is not going to slow the decline of our kids’ education. In fact, it might hurry it up.
Finland is an oft-cited example. There, they don’t even start teaching reading till around the age of 7, and academics, such as they are, are hands-on and cooperative until the higher grades. No tests, no grades, just fun. How can that be?
Well, I can give you plenty of examples closer to home: Millions of successful adults in America. If you went to public school in the 70’s, it is very unlikely you did any sort of academics in kindergarten. Sure, you probably sang the alphabet song and learned to write your name, but you spent as much time learning how to tie shoes and, yes, doing finger painting as anything academic. Those Americans who were educated in the 60’s and 70’s are no sorry bunch. You’ll find them at every successful technology company, in every important medical lab, in government buildings making decisions about our national safety, and making fabulous art, music, and literature.
Keep in mind, these people did not do academics in kindergarten. They didn’t get recess canceled because they couldn’t read. Their schools didn’t get denied funds or have every teacher replaced by a stranger because of their parents’ socio-economic status. And yet, here they are, leading the fastest technological and scientific change ever before seen by humankind.
There are better ways to educate than to force five-year-olds to study. I say, Let them make mud pies! Let them develop their minds at the same time as their hands, their bodies, their hearts, and their souls. There will be plenty of time for them to sit in front of a computer. But as we adults know, there’s limited time later in life to contemplate the wonderful feeling of mud between your fingers.