For some reason, everyone always seems to want to know how old your child is. You strike up a conversation with a stranger while running errands, in a restaurant, at the Farmer's Market, at the doctor's office, etc… and at some point it seems like age is brought up.
Tiny is just a few days shy of 3 ½. When people we meet learn this, the immediate follow up inquiry is “is she in preschool?”
My response – “no.”
I then get “is she starting soon.”
My response again – “no.”
Silence followed by “you know there are free preschools right?”
My response – “I do but I won't be sending my daughter to preschool.”
My tone of voice usually indicates that the conversation is over. I don't need to justify my education decisions to strangers. Heck, I don't need to justify them to anyone.
I have always been drawn to the Waldorf approach to education. In a nutshell, children are given the opportunity to be children while academics are taught based on developmental readiness and in a manner which engages the entire person. It is a holistic approach to education really. (If you are interested in learning more, please check out my more detailed post on the basics of Waldorf education).
One of the most important aspects of the Waldorf/Rudolph Steiner philosophy on child development and education is that children under the age of 6 spend their days learning about life. Essentially, children learn the ins and outs of daily living. By watching their parents and/or caregivers, children learn basic life skills.
Tiny is in the throes of “life education.” She spends her days with me observing and assisting in everything from the preparation of food, doing laundry, gardening, caring for our animals, cleaning our home, sorting and organizing, simplifying, shopping, and everything in between. There are no formal lessons here. Just Tiny and I going about our work in life. Together we make our house a home. Together we live life.
Most parents do not consider “living life” a part of the education of their child. Quite frankly, this is THE MOST important part of a person's education. Learning the basics of living day by day sets the foundation for everything a child will encounter in life.
Tiny has been in my back pocket since the day she was born. Not a day goes by that she does not observe and/or assist with various aspects of daily living. At 3 ½ she is quite capable of doing most anything that I do on a daily bases. She can load and unload the dish washer. She can fold and put away laundry. She can dust. She can clean windows and mirrors. She can mop. She can vacuum. She can wipe off the kitchen table. She can set the table. She can clear dishes. She can wipe up spills. She can help measure and mix ingredients. She can unpack groceries. Shoot, Tiny can even grocery shop as she knows what we typically purchase.
My child isn't advanced in her abilities. I have simply given her every opportunity to participate in the running of our household. While some days she prefers to play or do something else, most of the time she wants to be involved in what I am doing. Some days she wants to completely take over what I am doing.
I never force Tiny to do anything. She will never have chores. She will simply play a part in our home life. That role will probably look different from one day to the next which is fine. The important thing is that Tiny has a solid foundation in life. She understands that life involves work. More importantly, she also understands balance.
We work hard but we play harder. We spend copious amounts of time outdoors exploring nature. I follow her lead helping her discover and learn about trees, plants, flowers, rocks, insects, birds, bodies of water, and so much more. We also engage in creative endeavors with crayons, paint, stickers, glue, glitter, felt, silk, wax, and the like. We experiment with “recipes” utilizing ingredients such as dirt, pebbles, bits of grass and plants, as well as spices from Tiny's collection. We build things. We stack things. We knock things down. We run, we roll, we swim, we swing. We dance, we sing, we drum, we read, we tell stories, we look at photos, we make funny faces, we build forts, we jump around, we hide, we seek, we rhyme, we beat box, we rub each other's feet, we nurture, we pretend, we play.
No matter what your view of education might be, it is important to remember that your child has ONE BRIEF period of time in which to simply be a child. Adulthood is loooong. Too long. Childhood is too short. And while education is certainly important, so is learning about and living life.
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