Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Balancing Act

I'm a big believer in learning through play. In getting your hands dirty with paint, glue, marker, glitter, batter, dirt, whatever the medium happens to be. I like taking Ethan places where he can learn about things by seeing them, touching them, and all that good sensory stuff. I believe in letting him learn at his own pace and about things that are compelling to him in the moment.

Part of the reason we are going to Hawaii in 10 days (ohdeargod, I am counting the milliseconds at this point, people!) is because earlier this school year Ethan stumbled into a fascination for volcanoes. I cannot wait to show him Mt. Haleakala (he, however, is not 100% sold on the idea of going to a volcano because he thinks we are going to fall in. Again with the learning at his own pace--he clearly doesn't understand everything about volcanoes).

Husband and I specifically chose a preschool with a Reggio play-based philosophy so that Ethan would be encouraged to learn by tapping into his own imagination, feeding off the imaginations of his classmates, and exploring, and never be put into a desk, given a pencil and told to trace letters.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, while Ethan and I were at Borders bookstore and when I asked him to pick out a book, he went for something like this one:

I have to admit, it made me a little twitchy. A workbook? A giant workbook filled with pages of phonics and letter tracing and picture matching?! Really???!!!

Yesterday, Liz guest-blogged over on Motherese about competitive parenting and over-scheduling kids for the sake of gearing them up for expertise and excellence. She talked about hearing two mothers in the bleachers of their childrens' sporting game discuss the curriculums they have their preschoolers on at home and the prestigious schools they've gotten into because of it, and the vast list of extra-curricular activities (or the one extra-curricular activity that is practiced incessantly) which leave no time for just being, just playing, just having a childhood.

I found myself shaking my head in disappointment at the description of these moms and nodding enthusiastically when Liz talked about how childhood should be a time of fun, and play and child-driven exploration. I wanted to yell at those mothers, "take your kid to the park, woman!! Put down the flash cards and the workbooks and go to the museum!"

And then we went to the bookstore, and my kid picked out a work book. And I thought about how Husband and I are planning Ethan's summer---school camp three days a week (because he will be lost without his school friends all summer long), community soccer (because he has been asking forever and is finally old enough), a My First Drum Class (also through our community, because I need more headaches in my life, people. Really.), gym class (because the cult known as The Little Gym has totally sucked us in), and possibly a My First Cooking Class (again, through the community, which is a serious enabler of over-scheduling parents).

That's a lot of stuff on a schedule for a 4 year old. And there's a workbook in there, too. Oy.

I don't know if, upon hearing me talk about this in the bleachers, a person might judge me to be "that" mom, too. But this is all stuff Ethan's come to naturally, on his own; we're just trying to foster the interests that he's naturally showing. And if we get into that soccer team, or the cooking class, and he hates it? Then he doesn't have to do it again--there are other things he can explore. And I'll happily over-schedule him with those things instead.

So I guess it's about balance. Yes, I want him ready for kindergarten and I want him to have a lot of skills to draw on as he grows up and continues to become this amazing little man he is. But I want him to come by it honestly, from within himself, even if what he wants to do most at any given point is sit at a desk and trace his alphabet.

It's okay to schedule him for half a dozen activities at a time, I think, as long as the desire for him to participate in them comes from him--and that should that desire fade, there are no confines on where he can go next on his path.

As for the workbook? When we got back into the car after leaving Borders, I asked Ethan what he wanted to do next. He said he wanted to go to the park. I was happy to oblige.


AJU5's Mom said...

I think you have a great perspective on things. You are taking your cues from your son, and that is what is most important. And remember that workbooks are very similar to coloring books. As long as you aren't forcing him to complete x pages a day, then it is just what he likes to do.

We are going to buy a homeschool PreK curriculum for AJU5 this summer, but my goal is to work through it over a few years. My thinking is if we start early then we can go at her pace without stunting any desire she has now. But, hopefully I won't get caught up in having her complete it too soon...

Sarah said...

OMgah. I am such an overscheduler. And Little Gym ROCKS, huh? We have that, school, tball, ballet, and swim. We're dropping school over the summer and not doing any camps, but then they BOTH go 3 days a week starting in the fall. Our new place is Reggio, too-- glad to know you like it :)
Oh! Harry and I did a cooking class, and it was SO MUCH FUN. Have you tried the ones at Whole Foods? We're thinking of doing a pizza class...

Crafty is the new black said...

Ok, the picture with the freaky conductor guy looking over Ethan's shoulder is kinda freaking me out.

Corinne said...

It's really tough. We signed Fynn up for a sports class (I wrote a bit about it yesterday) and it didn't fly. I feel like if we have more than four things planned in a week (playdates, visits w/ grandparents, story hour...) I get so overwhelmed, I can't imagine what it'd be like for the kids. And then I wonder if I'm putting my preferences in their columns, or if they really are like me... because they do get insane if there's too much in a week. Like mother like child... I don't know.
I think you've got it right in following his lead. If those half dozen activities work for you guys, then that's fantastic :)

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