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A passionate plea for more mud pies

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.

Posted in Culture, Education, Homeschooling.


6 Responses

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  1. Viva Harris says

    This is an interesting read for me, because I’m “homeschooling” my daughter in the sense that she is home with me instead of attending preschool. (I do plan on sending her to a public school Kindergarten.) Attending preschool has become such a norm that people are always surprised when they hear that my daughter doesn’t attend “school” yet even though she’s only 4 years old. I have self-imposed pressure, too- I feel guilty on days when I don’t do any academic worksheets with her.

  2. Suki says

    Homeschoolers sometimes say things like “we have homeschooled from birth” to emphasize that homeschooling is a continuation of what all parents do starting at birth. We all educate our children in what’s important to us. Homeschoolers see a continuum from the sort of teaching we do to babies through kindergarten and on up. It’s only schools that have set up this idea that learning needs to be “different” at school, and many of us have internalized this idea that anything that’s fun can’t be learning. These days, people even seem to think that preschoolers need to practice going to school. If you don’t need preschool to keep you from going insane (which is why *I* needed preschool!), it’s great that you are part of her “preschool education.”

  3. Tammy McCroskey says

    Then again, if your child (and you, in the case of Parent Coops) attend a developmentally appropriate, play-based preschool , you can have both play and preschool!

  4. Suki says

    HI Tammy, That’s true. Both of my kids were in cooperative, play-based preschools. At the time, I though of preschool as “necessary,” but now I understand Viva’s point of view, as well. There are lots of ways to raise kids, some of them further from the norm than others. The great thing is that there ARE options for many parents, depending on their needs. I’d like to see the conversation stay at the level of serving all parents’ needs rather than at the level of “this is what parents need,” which is where so many conversations about education start. It would be great if there were enough preschools, and enough funding, so that all parents who need them could have them available. On the other hand, preschool is not necessary for every family, but these conversations about “universal preschool” seem to start at the assumption that all families want full-time care for their kids.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. iPotty, uPotty, we all scream for iPotty! – Avant Parenting linked to this post on December 11, 2013

    […] A passionate plea for more mud pies […]

  2. Learning through play – Avant Parenting linked to this post on June 1, 2014

    […] “A passionate plea for more mud pies” from my blog […]



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