Early Year's Child's Learning Assets
by Linda Dobson
When I asked my boss if he'd visited the campground where his sister and her family joined other homeschooling families for the annual homeschoolers' camp-out, he said he had ventured out the evening of the same afternoon I went for a visit.
That afternoon I witnessed the ever-growing collection of children play soccer, basketball, volleyball, go swimming, and generally enjoy running around a Girl Scout camp completely overtaken by homeschoolers. My boss added, "All those kids played soccer the whole time I was there. I got tired just watching them!" On the go, morning 'til night, doing, doing, doing. The early-years child's energy is as impressive as it is amazing. As I would fall into bed exhausted after a full day with my own three early-years children, I often wondered why this was nature's way.
These formative years seem to be an information gathering time, and young children use their energy as physical, sensory beings. Their focus on the "concrete" - what can be touched, tasted, heard, smelled, seen - makes perfect sense when you consider the early-years child doesn't yet think in the abstract. He spends his time collecting "data" through sensory involvement.
The natural order of things is that children do their learning "job" by first collecting information so that when it comes time to think in the abstract (to sort and more precisely "file" the data), they have lots of information to work with. After all, what good are a dozen filing cabinets if you've got nothing to put into them?
Homeschooling gives natural childhood energy a chance to flow instead of damming it through compliance to the unnatural behavior government school requires of this age group. Unhindered, this energy bubbles to the surface as curiosity, creativity, imagination, enthusiasm, a sense of wonder and joy of discovery. These traits, so helpful to the little "information sleuth" your early-years child is, are without doubt his most important learning assets, much more important than a computer, state-of-the-art classroom, or any other "thing" you might provide for his learning.
While the early-years child's curiosity is a source of information for him, it's also an open window on his mind for you as his homeschooling parent. He asks questions about whatever interests him at any given moment. Think of these as daily clues as to what books, activities, and field trips will hold his interest. They'll hold his interest because they promise answers to his questions.
Homeschooling uses childhood energy instead of constantly trying to dam it. Now, curiosity creates interest, interest increases attention to the task at hand, and attention gives rise to learning.
As a bonus, curiosity-generated questions also give you a chance to observe and assess learning. Who needs to administer weekly tests when the early-years child's questions reveal what information he's gathering and trying to work with? One question might tell you that he was not only listening to but comprehending the news report on the radio - and it looked like he was just sitting there painting a picture! He'll show you he's getting the background information from the Laura Ingalls Wilder novel you're reading together when he asks why the family made their own clothes instead of running down to the mall to buy them.
With childhood energy flowing, imagination and creativity turn your child into a learning scientist who puts the information he's gathering to the test. He'll hypothesize, investigate, analyze - then do it again - and, likely, again! Creativity then allows him to expand the thinking process to bring ideas together in new and unique combinations.
When homeschooling families nourish natural learning assets, they witness in their children a refreshing enthusiasm about learning. I think this is because they don't focus on the "learning", like we parents do. Remember, their focus is using their information sleuth assets.
Approached this way, learning isn't a chore but merely a "by-product" of pursuing an activity - any activity - with a fresh, eager, hungry mind.
Early-years children bring these assets to learning because they are part and parcel of this developmental stage. Part of homeschooling's charm, its beauty, its secret, is that homeschooling is a natural way to allow natural energy flow to happen. Does it make sense to bottle up all this energy, even if doing so serves "school rules?" Or does it make more sense to nurture and encourage the resulting learning assets so they can serve your little learner's needs?Copyright 1999, Linda Dobson
This article first appeared in her former column, The Early Years, in Home Education Magazine: Home Education Magazine.
Linda Dobson, homeschooler since 1985, Linda was Home Education Magazine news columnist for 8 years and currently writes the magazine's “Notes from the Road Less Traveled” column. Linda coordinates the New York Home Educators' Network. She has authored seven books on homeschooling:
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