This week, as I reported on our family blog, was pretty much enveloped by Rhiannon's third birthday.
We celebrated all last weekend, on Monday with our dear friends Leah and Jayden, and again today, a week later, with her little 2- and 3-year old friends. And what I didn't mention in my post on the Dragonfly blog was the little preschool celebration. It was wonderful. The preschool organizes to have the children's "special helper days" near their birthdays, so they can bring a special treat and be celebrated at school. The event gave Rhiannon and I a chance to make cake (actually apple-cake-muffins) for her friends, together, to think about what others would like and to prepare a snack for all of her friends. When we arrived at the school two of her friends had made a birthday crown for her, which she wore with pride. The most special thing about that crown is that her two friends made it. She brought her beloved "baby" to school in a homemade sling, for sharing, all carefully hidden in a sharing-bag, bunting style. And from this bag baby frequently peeked out and said, in a wee little Rhiannon-voice: "Hello! I'm baby!" to passing friends, most of whom smiled appreciatively and answered baby.
At snack time everyone including visiting-big-brother-Taliesin sat down and sang happy birthday to Rhiannon, then indulged in some of the gluten-free apple muffins with cream-cheese and veggie-sticks.
It was a perfect day. And it was a pretty normal preschool day, actually, which brings me to my point: It is my firm belief that the way a good preschool like this one is run should be precisely the way a good elementary school is run: a small class that is managed like a family: all of its members are celebrated and encouraged to be thoughtful of all of the others at all times, and the learning space is a place of being together. Projects are not about learning particular skills so much as they are about learning to express oneself, to be compassionate, and to enjoy the experience of other people, and of learning.
Why does it seem to me that once our children leave preschool, the focus shifts instantly from interpersonal and personal learning to academic learning?
I hope I'm just very misguided in these thoughts. But it seems to me that if we spent our time and resources helping our children to find joy and inspiration in the world (and people) around them, and to feel and know their own value in that world, then the academic learning would come naturally -- without sitting in desks practicing letters.
And in my experience it does come naturally. Taliesin's teachers are constantly amazed at his letter-proficiency. Every day one or more of them comment to me about how delighted they were to see "how advanced" he is. But it's just who he is. I haven't spent a moment pushing him into academic learning. If I can take any credit at all for the ease with which he writes and prints, etc, it is only that I've allowed him to follow his inspirations (within certain safety- and practicality-limits), and most often jump on the bandwagon and go along with him, furiously researching or helping with the adventures he's started -- just like my mother does with her preschool class. Taliesin has learned to write because I took the time to help him at the odd moments he said "Mama, I need to write 'this is a John Deere backhoe'", for example. And when he doesn't feel like it I don't push him. Tal also has a very easy time with fine-motor activity. Not so with gross-motor, and social skills. Those things worry me, sometimes, and I have to admit that I have not only thought long and hard about how to help him with those, but have also spent a good deal of time trying to steer him into activities that I thought might help him grow stronger and more socially comfortable. And for all that -- for all my concern -- he's suddenly beginning to emerge in both of those areas, too. His experience with circus school is bringing out both. And to some extent it's apparent that he's just more ready now than he was before!
Hm. More fodder for my unschooling imagination.