an expandable frame : an approach to education

I don’t often write anymore about education as the focus of this blog is more on mindfulness and healing. However it has occurred to me more than once how my view and practice of education has shifted over the past few years, likely as a result of both experience, age, and better internal health. I think it sometimes helps us to clarify our thinking on why we do what we do and my doing so may prove helpful to someone else.

I spent more than two decades as classroom teacher, primarily in Montessori classrooms but I have had short experiences in middle school and university settings as well. I also have an MA in education so I am well versed in educational theory. But I was not prepared when my now senior in college age son asked me to home school him for high school. When he was in eighth grade, he began having a good deal of school related anxiety. He was a high performer, and received many academic awards that year. Yet the constant chatter about the end of the year test had him convinced that he was going to fail for the year. It seemed so incongruous, but his worry was very real and was destroying his school experience. I had (of necessity)home schooled my eldest for his last two years of high school as he was just not thriving in the school setting and was getting very behind. So it was not completely outside the realm of my experience.

I was still working half days as a language resource specialist at that time and spending the afternoons with my toddler daughter so when he practically begged me to home school him for ninth grade I was a little unsure. Thankfully, I had become friends (via my former blog) with a beautiful group of mothers who encouraged me to take the leap. It was one of the best decisions our family has ever made. In fact my toddler daughter never did start preschool, and has to this day never been to a traditional school. Much of what I now believe is a result of observing and getting to know her as a learner. So my own educational theories are part what I learned in my own university training but mostly what I have experienced in the classroom and at home with my own children.

Although my initial training was as a Montessori preschool (and then elementary) teacher, I no longer believe that structured preschool or school at all for kids under 7 is necessary or even beneficial. Programs for young children should have a good deal of Imaginative play, outdoor play, and creative play. Connection with family is also where the majority of learning happens at this age. After 7, I think the method of education depends on the learner and what works for them. This requires observation, and likely trial and error. I have been intensely attracted to certain topics and styles of education and I was convinced I would be using a blend of Montessori and Waldorf throughout my daughter’s elementary years. But I have had to really come to a place of letting go of my expectations of how she will learn. I honestly went through a grieving period last spring after I returned from a Waldorf conference completely energized and invested and everything I brought to her fell flat, and some lessons even caused heavy conflict. And so I made a very necessary shift.

Here are a few thoughts on how a mindful approach can work for a child’s education and parenting in general:

  • Let go. Really, truly ,release every expectation you have of your child. I promise they will learn to read and do all the things they need to without coercion.
  • Provide the frame for the learner to fill in with books, materials that interest them, and lots of unstructured time for experience.
  • Watch and wait for the child to ask questions. These are the KEY to what they are interested in. Don’t automatically reserve every single book on the postal system or whatever the current interest is as it can be counterproductive and overwhelming. A couple of books to start is plenty to see where the interest takes them.
  • Often, the child will pick up an interest that was previously a forced lesson once it becomes a choice. An example: I had to put away the recorders and penny whistle last year because the lesson was so badly received. Now my daughter has one out every day and is asking me to teach her to play.
  • The frame is dynamic. It can shift, grow, and even shrink as needed.
  • Trust the magic that is the human capacity for learning and wonder.
  • Take it one step at a time. This is my motto for everything, and my child’s education is no exception. Homeschooling is working well for us right now, but it doesn’t mean that we will follow this path through high school.

If this is helpful to even one person, I am grateful. I know it has been beneficial to me.

Peace,

Emmie

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