In a recent post, I discussed the nature of learning and growth with children. As a follow-up, I’d like to share my thoughts and our policy on how we’re approaching this issue of making our children learn something.
In a hurry? Read the digest version.
First, the obvious. Forcing anybody to do anything isn’t ideal, and is to be avoided. We as parents don’t make up rules just for the sake of having an authority over our children. We reluctantly force our children to do some things only because we feel that we must.
What My Children Must Know
That said, I do force my children to learn some things. The big themes that immediately come to mind are:
- Safety/Health. Need I say more?
- Social manners/etiquette. We definitely do enforce these. It is important to learn appropriate behaviors in public and even within our family, so they are not being disruptive, disrespectful, or making someone else uncomfortable.
Now that may not sound like much, but when you’re dealing with an almost-2-year-old boy, that takes up surprisingly large chunk of our interactions with him! 😉 From keeping him from running out to streets to making sure he doesn’t rip pages out of a library book, we are constantly watching, guiding, shaping and coercing behaviors out of him.
We believe that this heavy-handed involvement, especially in early childhood, is essential to their growth. Some parents go lenient because when they kids are young and cute, it’s easy to overlook and forgive their misbehaviors. But trying to shape them later will be much harder. The idea is to instill good habits, even before they can reason, by constant and reliably-enforced conditioning.
But really, we’re mostly talking about common sense stuff. We don’t let them get loud or obnoxious in public. My wife sometimes has to leave stores because my son doesn’t cooperate. 😉 We don’t let them cross streets on their own. They like to run ahead of us, but they have to stop and wait.
What We Don’t Force Our Children to Learn
Now, we do identify that there is a foundation to all education — the must-knows. But our definition may be much smaller than those conventionally thought of: literacy and fundamental math. These two are the absolute building blocks to everything else they learn.
But here is where we divert from conventional thinking. We place no mandate on when they must learn these basics.
We believe that they will naturally develop a desire to learn them in their own time.
Are we naive to think so? Perhaps. But we believe children are naturally learning beings. Curiosity is a built-in mechanism, not an add-on. So is their desire to grow. My son, for example, loves to try on my big shoes. My daughter constantly talks about how big she is. Children revel in recognizing their growth, the increase in their reach.
What we question is this idea that they must learn how to read by 1st grade, for example. Who decided that, and for what reason? We all know that children develop at vastly varying paces.
Or using examples brought up, here are some other things we didn’t force our children to learn:
- Stop breastfeeding. My daughter quit when she was 18 months, completely unprompted. My son is still at it at 20 months, and has no sign of stopping. 😉 We know children much older (usually boys) still breastfeeding, in the circles of natural-centric parents.
- Potty-training. We do create an environment in which they are likely to think about using the potty — like when it’s warm, letting them hang out at home with nothing on the bottom — but no forcing. If they say they don’t want to, then they don’t have to.
- Eating. Again, we encourage, but we stop when they say no. But we do forbid eating of junk food or sweets, especially before meals.
When we think of these behaviors or gaining knowledge, the only reason we can think of to force them to comply at a certain time is to conform to the larger society — keeping pace with others, saving our face in public, saving them from peer pressure or ridicule, and so on. We don’t recognize these as valid reasons to stress our children and rob the fun out of the inherently fun activity that is learning and growing. It’s like reading the end of the book without letting them enjoy the middle.
Now, one unfortunate but valid reason I can think of is the work-load of us parents. For example, there may come a time when it becomes difficult for my wife to continue breastfeeding my son — like if we have another child before he’s through. If that’s the case, I’m sure we’ll wean him. We have beliefs, but they are not absolutes. We as parents have to consider the good of all of us, including ourselves.
But we fundamentally operate from the point of view that forcing is undesirable and to be avoided. Children are senstive and fast-absorbing beings. We try not to dull their senses or rob their joy of learning.
By now you may have guessed, but it is our plan to homeschool, and more specifically, employ a philosophy called “unschooling.” The Wikipedia article is an excellent overview — I hope you take the time to read it, in the light of what many of us are discussing in the personal development/self-improvement circles. We believe that by staying out of conventional schools, we can allow more natural, individualized pace of learning and growth to take place.
I must admit, I was rather shocked when my wife brought up this rather extreme-sounding outlook, but as I reflected upon my own growth and removing of road blocks, and seeing the evidence present in my children, I have come to really embrace this philosophy and I am so excited that my children have the opportunity to grow in the environment we (well, my wife primarily) are going to create for them. Imagine growing up in an environment where there’s not much forcing, and no conforming to arbitrary standards! That said, as with “no forcing’ philosophy, if my children decide that they do want to go to school, we will support that desire as well.
What Do You Think?
Parenting issues bring up strong opinions — naturally so. In fact, I hope it does. We parents ought to do what we believe in!
Please know that it is not my intention to judge and condemn all school-goers. I am simply sharing my personal view on the issue of learning and growth, and some conclusions I reached for myself after exploring the issues present in my own life.
Now it’s your turn. Please, share your views — agreements, disagreements, questions, concerns, anything.