In the UK (or at least in England, where I currently am living) there is a fair amount of debate about curricula for primary aged children (here, about 4-11). This week, new proposals will introduce a foreign language and more complex mathematical concepts from an earlier age, and whilst this is met by applause from many, there are others who are concerned that it removes the freedom of childhood (unfavourable comparisons being made to Scandinavian countries who start formal education much later) or that it prejudices against those who do not come to school with the basic 'building blocks' of literacy and numeracy concepts in place.
If you read this blog, you know I spend quite a bit of time musing over what makes a 'good' childhood - one which allows the child freedom to discover and explore life at his or her own pace, and to have a delight in learning. Paradoxically, through our home-education child-centred approach, we are doing many of the things proposed in these newer curricula which are suggested to remove childhood freedom. Our boys are thriving as they learn Spanish songs and go to a lesson with a small group once a week. Most of the books they choose from the library are on science (my four year old loves 'experiments') or ancient history. We spend many hours wandering through woodlands, parks and meadows discussing the wildlife - both flora and fauna, the weather and geographical conditions encountered, the history of that part of the country, practicing our numeracy skills by counting different types of flower or bird and adding them together, and generally using each opportunity to build. Am I depriving them? Or rather, is it good to encourage a child to the level of their understanding?
As a young child, I spent many hours bored almost to tears in a classroom setting. My father decided to teach me calculus aged seven, just to see if I could do it. I had no fear. I had no appreciation that this was supposed to be a challenging concept, and mastered it with ease. Now, aged 37 I am attempting to learn some mathematical modelling techniques for the analysis of scientific data, and how I wish I had learnt this as a child. I know I would have mastered it then, whereas now I struggle and my brain feels sluggish.
I think the key is that there cannot be a one size fits all. My own experiences, and those of my boys, are tailored to the individual. You perhaps cannot expect every single five year old to be able to write and debug simple computer programmes. But many can do this. Similarly with foreign language learning, one could argue that in some regions of the country, five year olds are barely fluent in their mother tongue; however it is well established that the best age to start a second language is in early childhood, and I see that borne out in my own children as they sing along to their Spanish CD with little apparent difficulty.
Once more, I see a huge benefit in home education; that the depth, structure and pace can be tailored to the individual child, and to maximise the resources available at that time. And rather than being an academic hot-house of pressured targets and goals, I really believe that there is the freedom to enjoy childhood in all its freedom and fullness.
- I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.