Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why a good preschool is a perfectly natural part of Unschooling.

I am certainly not unbiased. This is about my mother, and I think my mother is just excellent. She has devoted her life to children's development and welfare, has been a preschool teacher, a music therapist, and an infant development consultant, just to name her major careers. Now she teaches preschool once again on our Island, at our local (Reggio Emilia) Bowen Children's Centre. She brings not only great passion, dedication and concern to her work, but also the knowledge of an educated woman who has spent nearly 40 years learning about how children grow and thrive. And she cares.

Most parents do not have the background to know why our children behave and develop the way they do. There are doctors and therapists to help us with their bodies and specific issues, but even then, we often don't know when it's time to pay them a visit. My mother pointed out very early on that my daughter was having difficulty standing, and, because physical development is not her specialty, suggested we take her to an OT or Physiotherapist who specialized in infants. We did, and a few months down the road she was well on her way to having her hips facing the right direction. She's fine, now, thanks to an early intervention that I myself would never have known was needed.

So it's a treasure to have a teacher (and grandmother, in our case!) whose insights into our children can help us to help them more. Her explanations, especially about their intellectual, social and emotional development, have made clear many confounding situations we've faced.

Many parents have been surprised to hear that my children attended preschool, when I consider us to be unschoolers. Unschooling isn't about shunning the rest of the world; it's about giving our children the gift of freedom to follow their own paths and to nurture their own authentic selves. There is no better place to do that than in a preschool where they can engage in all sorts of various types of play with various different children, where their thoughts and experiences will be celebrated, encouraged and shared, and where they can learn to do all of this opening up to the world in a safe, supported way. Once upon a time, when my mother first taught here, the Bowen Preschool was called the Bowen Island Child Enrichment Centre. Doesn't that just sound so much like what we want for our children? Times change, and apparently the name did too, but that beautiful child-centred name still expresses the core of what the place is: A place to enrich our children's lives.

Not despite, but BECAUSE of being a wholehearted radical unschooler, I wish that all parents had the option of bringing their children to a preschool like ours (where, yes, parents are welcome and encouraged to stay), to engage their children in thoughtful, social activities with dedicated caring professionals and other children, and to learn as much as I have from these dedicated professionals. My mother is certainly not the only preschool teacher out there with a good education, a lot of experience, and an honest loving dedication to what she does. But too many people are unable to give their children the experience of a good preschool. I hope that, as our species matures, we will value infant development and the knowledge that could make us wiser parents and caregivers, enough that one day the excellent preschool teachers of the world will be lauded and supported for their truly essential gift to our future generations.

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