Updated: Sep 28, 2020
"But when would they learn to read or write?" I bet this would be among the first questions parents will ask at Orientation Night at Cocoplum Nature School. I don't blame them. That would be my first question, too. Actually, that was my first question when I was studying alternative early childhood education programs in college.
Traditional schooling as we know it, with its typical set up and curricula, has programmed us to expect from the child (or impose on the child?) certain things at a certain time. Teachers' performance is often measured by how well children comply to such attainment schedule. In some places, school funding might also be contingent upon those "achievements." Children are given grades and maybe labels as a result of their attainment (or lack thereof) of those standards. Everyone works hard. Everybody tries their best. Sometimes all kids learn to read and write according to plan, and other times, it is an uphill battle.
I have been in numerous classrooms playing different roles. I have seen the proud child reading his first sentence, but I have also seen the anxious child feeling inadequate and very sad because he cannot. I have seen the stressed out teacher preparing the kids for the test, and I have seen the parents when they see the scores of such test. All these big feelings, right?
We all want children to learn to read and write.... but, how about we relax a bit about all these homogeneous expectations, these adult-imposed timetables? Isn't our common goal that children become readers to learn for life, and read for pleasure and information? Relaxing a bit about when a child will learn to read or write brings about not only the so-desired attainment of literacy skills, but a myriad of other benefits. I believe this wholeheartedly: we need the child to be in love with education and the written word first. Children need to be given the space and the chance to discover what they want to know and do first.
In his book Free to Learn (2013), Dr. Peter Gray, psychologist and researcher of biopsychology (particularly, the biology of education), wrote the following: "Children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education. When they are provided with the freedom and means to pursue their own interests, in safe settings, they bloom and develop along diverse and unpredictable paths, and they acquire the skills and confidence required to meet life's challenges" (p. 6).
My almost 4 year old surprised me the other day when he made a sign for his fort. He said he needed to write "No Trespassing." He got a stick, a piece of cardboard, tape, and his crayons. I watched him write the word "No" (and then scribbled the rest). He wrote the word "no"! I was so excited and honored to have had witnessed that. I was imploding with love and joy, but remained neutral on the outside. I kept on watching him play. My son did not have a lesson on letters. He has never sat down to trace a sheet of the N or the O. He knows not about grades, tests, or standards, and I sure hope he doesn't learn that from me.
I share this anecdote and ideas humbly, inviting you to trust the children and let them lead. These last words are from my mentor and friend Susan Caruso, founder of Sunflower Creative Arts: "let them lead!"
Let the children lead the reading, the writing, and their play. Trust the children to seek what they are interested in, and the reading and writing will follow, naturally. The learning process will be beautiful, enjoyable, organic, and truly theirs. This freedom and ownership are the strongest foundations of education for life.
What are your thoughts? Contact me on IG at @cocoplumnatureschool