Saturday, 25 February 2012

Early learning

So there are a million products out there to make your baby smart. I'm not sure where the drive for smart babies is coming from. Maybe parents are worried that if their children aren't ahead of the curve from day one, they'll never catch up. (In Japan, parents are signing up in droves for "kindergarten prep" - a school to help your toddler be academically ready for kindergarten!) Maybe it stems from every parent's desire to have the best baby on the block. (Of course, "best" is subjective.)

At any rate the whole craze got me thinking about my own educational philosophies for my kids. I mean, I do believe in parenting with a purpose - the task is then for me to define my own purpose. I was able to break it down into 3 areas, and surprisingly (or not so much, for me) none of them have anything specific to do with "academics":

I want my kids to have wild imaginations. I want them to love story telling and thinking outside of reality.

I want my kids to be inquisitive and ask a million questions. I want them to ask "why" about everything. I want them to be aware of the world around them and in which they live and want to know everything about it.

Critical Thinking
I want my kids to apply what they learn and know to life. I want them to question facts. I want them to see things from different angles.

Really, each of these three areas work in harmony together. Imagination breeds curiosity, and curiosity with imagination encourages critical thinking. And I truly believe that these three skills are what will lead my kids to success in this life. There will be 30 other kids in their grade school classes, and likely 300 other kids in their university classes, who can memorize facts their teachers spew out in lessons and lectures. But if my child can take that information and do something unexpected and different with it, that's what will set them apart.

And so, during these early years, I am trying to fill our house with opportunities and toys and experiences that will encourage these skills to develop. I didn't worry about whether or not my 3 year old knew how to write letters when he entered kindergarten, or if he knew all his colours by age two, or how high he could count as a toddler, or if he learns to read before grade one. Because I can pretty much guarantee you that all these "skills" will be in place sooner or later. My teenager will be able to recognize the colour red, count to 20, write his name, and be able to read. But there are lots of children out there who don't know how to make up a story, or ask thought-provoking questions, or apply a math skill in every day life, and lots of these kids grow up never really knowing how to apply all the things they spent their school years learning.

If any of this makes sense to you, and you were worried about whether or not your child will be academically prepared for kindergarten, hopefully you've been able to take a breath. Childhood is about being a child. Our kids will spend enough of their lives having to work. And the great thing is, imagination, curiosity and critical thinking actually all come very naturally to young children. In order to help them develop in these areas, the best thing we can do is just let our kids be kids!

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