Right around mid-May, I started to get anxious. There were only a few more weeks left of school, and I was worried about how we would all adjust to this change in our routine. The girls (3 and 4 years old) attend preschool twice a week for four hours each day. It’s not a lot, but it is a significant part of their lives.
Simultaneously, I was also starting to hear about the schools our 5 year-old friends would be attending in fall which led me to realize that by this time next year we would need to know what school Greysen would be attending. One of our options is homeschooling.
The appeal of homeschooling my daughters is the opportunity to provide them with an education that strives to keep their passion for learning intact.
Over this last month, I met weekly with different groups of children and parents for the mutual benefit of our children, but my ulterior motive was to figure out what I really wanted for the girls if we were to participate in a homeschooling co-op.
I will be sharing over a series of posts what I really value in a homeschooling co-op experience. There are lots of other guidelines I have for schooling on our own, but these are all relevant to the benefits of children learning in groups.
If I were to narrow down all the things I care about regarding education to a single thought, it would be that I want my children to be active partners in their learning.
Thus, I’ve come up with my five rules for educating during the early years, which I’ll share throughout a few upcoming posts. Let’s get right into the first:
Refrain from being the all-knowing teacher.
Adults can easily fall into the all-knowing teacher role for many reasons. Most often it’s because that was our experience as students. From their seats on the rug, children still often watch their teachers at a blackboard or easel as they direct the learning and impart knowledge.
There is another way.
Consider a comparison between two teaching styles.
The Authoritarian Teacher
What do children learn when I teach?
• Facts and information
• I (the teacher) will have the answers
• How to sit still and listen
Learning facts and information is great. Kids love to learn about the world around them. We have these kinds of learning opportunities all the time, but its only part of the way children can experience learning.
There are many areas of our lives where my children look to me and my husband for the answers. Mike and I do provide guidance and flat out limits when it comes to our daughters’ health and safety, so there is no discussion in that arena. However, anything else is pretty much fair game, and we encourage them to research topics in which they are interested, which often necessitates a trip to the library or a seeking out an expert in the chosen subject matter.
When children are fascinated by something, they can stay engaged for a long time. Sitting and listening develops with maturity, and occurs when children are capable of doing so on their own.
What can children learn when I don’t teach (and instead assume the role of guide)?
• Facts and information
• I can help them find the answers, but won’t provide them
• How to listen and lead
• How to hypothesize and think of possible solutions
Facts and information are important to learning, which is why I try to help children learn that there are many ways, in addition to using me as a resource, to find answers. It’s a valuable life skill!
- We regularly make use of reference books, and the library in general.
- Occasionally we use Internet resources, especially to find images of something we are learning about. I fully expect that we will further incorporate the Web as a resource when the girls are older.
- We ask experts. Asking others what they know about something is a great way to get information.
In addition to meeting community members or speaking to professionals about their questions, we also look to the children as relative experts. When a child asks you a question, we might suggest speaking to another child who might have the answer. Every child is an expert at something, whether it be at building the highest tower with blocks, writing, or helping other kids feel better. Learning that children can be a resource can develop confidence and foster relationships between children.
We Learn How to Listen.
Children learn how to listen and express their ideas when they can practice speaking within a group of children. Hearing other children’s ideas may inspire their own. By explaining themselves, children can develop communicative skills integral to leadership and participation on society at large.
We Learn How to Hypothesize
When children are not taught a lesson, but rather are proposed with an idea, they have time to hypothesize. A group of children can generate ideas that a lone child might not think of.
To illustrate between a lesson taught with the teacher as an expert versus a teacher as a guide, here is an example lesson on the life cycle of a frog.
Scenario 1: With the teacher as expert, the teacher would explain the life cycle of a frog, likely using visuals or realia. The children would participate in a follow-up activity of some sort, coloring a life cycle worksheet, or reviewing what they had just been told in some way.
Scenario 2: With the teacher as guide, the teacher may start by gauging what children may already know about a frog’s life cycle. In letting children talk about what they know first before teaching, the teacher finds out if they have any questions or misinformation about the subject. Most importantly, the teacher guide can find out what the children are most interested in learning about pertaining to the frog’s life cycle. Perhaps the group will be most excited about how the frog spawns eggs, or why some animals have tails and others do not – aspects of the frog’s life cycle that the teacher expert may not have even included in the lesson.
When children participate, they learn to find the solutions to the questions they have. Which animals have tails, and which don’t? They may take a survey by going on an observational walk of animals in their neighborhood. They might research a reference book, or seek an expert’s opinion by asking a vet to come in and answer their questions… The possibilities are limitless, and so is the learning, which cannot as easily be said for when teaching as the expert.
“For Dewey, education also [had] a broader social purpose, which was to help people become more effective members of democratic society. Dewey argued that the one-way delivery style of authoritarian schooling does not provide a good model for life in democratic society. Instead, students need educational experiences which enable them to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society.”
For me, the first priority in the early years is how children are learning. Learning about a frog’s life cycle is valuable, but teaching in a way that best helps retain that information and how to find that information again is a skill that they can use throughout the rest of their lives.
Neil, James. (2005). John Dewey: The Modern Father of Experimental Education