They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heaven; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this-that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder-and grow.
-Home Education, pg.44
As I read this passage in Home Education, I couldn't help but reminisce about my three years as a Kindergarten teacher. This passage rings so true to me because I have been the one cackling and feeling guilty about that cackling all at the same time. As a new teacher under observation by the administration, I felt the pressure to check off of my list all the children were supposed to be learning. The list of requirements for a five year old was quite long. I never truly understood how long it was until I had my own children.
Many a days as a teacher, I was rushing to get the lesson plans completed. In the end, there was not any time left for a child's sense of wonder. I was required to teach all of the five year olds in my care to read...and progress was monitored three times per year. Reading is a very necessary part of education, but I wonder if it is so necessary to teach a young child to read at the expense of time alone in nature. Miss Mason thought that cultivating in a child a love and appreciation for nature prepares that child for more formal schooling as they grow older. A child who has spent time outdoors examining flowers, insects, and animal life are learning the important skills of attending to detail, classifying, and observing.
These skills are all but lost in modern education. Miss Mason talks of what usually happens in the Kindergarten...
Indeed, I am inclined to question, whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergartnerian is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children.
Everything is directed, expected suggested. No other personality out of book, picture or song, no, not even that of Nature herself, can get at the children without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part.
Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower pots.
I know all to well how easily these things can happen in the Kindergarten. I well remember the little girl who could read on a fourth grade level being very intelligent. But the little boy who could barely read a word was undervalued in his intelligence, although he could have told me anything I needed to know about farming and gardening.
These things Miss Mason warns against could very easily happen in a home if we let them. As moms, we sometimes prefer to check off items on our to-do list for each child, rather than let them explore outside. We look and see lots of cute ideas that we want to incorporate...letter of the week, unit studied, lapbooking, etc.
These are all tools that we can use, but if we are not careful we will become that cackling woman. Let's not plan activities to take up all of our children's time. If we have to, we may have to write in a quiet growing time on our to-do list.