Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Discipline of Learning…

…or the Learning of Discipline

(aka The Post with More Questions than Answers)

What can I expect from a three-year-old in terms of academic work?  What consequences should I apply when she doesn’t meet those expectations?

Don’t stone me just yet!

Honestly, what is the magic age when you start to “teach” a child?  When life becomes more than survival and play?  (Yes, play is learning too… I’m not getting into that argument here.)  When you expect the child to buckle down and learn and complete a task?

(I’ve been fascinated with the whole “unschooling” concept.  And I will deal with it in another post.  It ties in so well here…)

I may be a little lax in discipline with my daughter, but even I have certain expectations and requirements.  She WILL wipe herself and wash her hands after going potty.  She WILL take baths and brush her teeth.  She WILL help put her toys away.  She WILL NOT kick or hit people.  She WILL NOT run into the street. 

Don’t we all have expectations of our kids from a very very young age?  How we enforce those expectations may vary, but I have a hard time believing ANY parent lets her child do anything he wants at all times.

So WHEN do we start enforcing each of those expectations?

I don’t expect my daughter to write a novel just yet or wash the dishes by herself.  But I WILL expect her to achieve things within her capability.  Not within the guidelines of what kids her age “should” be able to do – but within HER capability.

Why should this hold less true for academic work (e.g. letters, numbers, science) than for other areas (personal hygiene, cleaning up, etc.)?

Which brings me to a realization – my position on academic learning (until recently) is that it should be fun.  My MO has been to introduce a whole lot of activities, let Esmé run with the ones she likes, and let her stop when she wants.  “School” has been more of a means of entertainment (packed with learning opportunities) than a discipline. 

And I’m still for the concept of including fun in learning, but – life is NOT all fun.  We’ve all gotta do things we don’t wanna do.

(You could argue that statement and say we don’t HAVE to do anything – we’re adults and can make our own choices - but sometimes the choice is to do something that’s not fun in order to avoid something that’s even LESS fun.  Seriously.)

So real life learning, including academic learning, is going to include stuff that isn’t fun.  Stuff that takes discipline to accomplish.

It’s a two-way street.  Real life requires discipline.  Academic learning requires discipline.  Real life teaches discipline.  Academic learning can teach discipline.  (In fact – if you go back through all that Latin word origin stuff, you’ll see “discipline” has a WHOLE lot to do with academia.)

Maybe the same way I enforce “real life” rules should be used to enforce “academic” expectations?

So what does this mean to us personally?  Well, it means that as I’ve started taking a harder line on discipline in “real life” things, I’ve started using the same tactics with academic work.  Cut out the disciplinary inconsistencies, if you will.  (I have drawn a personal line at punishment – no spankings or timeouts.)  Here are a few examples.

“You want to watch Dora?  Let’s finish these worksheets, and then I’ll turn it on.”

“You want a piece of gum?  First read this book for me.   Yes, you DO know how.  Alrighty then, no gum…”

“It’s your nap time.  Do you want to do this craft with me first, or go straight to your nap?  Taco Bell is NOT an option!  The park is NOT an option!  Portland is NOT an option!  The airport is NOT an option!  Craft – nap?  Craft – nap?  Which one?!”

Not ALL of our learning experiences are like this – learning CAN still be fun!  Even worksheets!  (Which will probably be the subject of another post.) 

We do a lot of spontaneous learning, too.  If we’re studying clouds this week, and Esmé asks to do art one evening, I’ll pull out the white paint and blue paper and let her have at it while talking about different types of clouds.

There is scads of time for learning through play, too.  Lots and lots of free time, surrounded by outdoors and learning games and toys and blocks and play dough and art and people and all that.

As for actual expectations – Esmé is pretty bright.  Her standard response to a request 80% of the time is “I don’t know,” “I don’t know how,” “I’m too tired.”  It’s not true…  The other 20% of the time proves that she CAN write her name and other letters, she CAN sound out simple words, she CAN say her memory verse, she DOES know how to count to 100 multiple ways.

So it’s entirely reasonable for me to expect her to write her name before granting some privilege.  Just because she’s only three doesn’t mean I should back down on having her read a simple sentence.

Fun, joy-filled academic learning is terrific.  It’s something I strive for.  But life is not all fun.

I’ve got a strong-willed, determined chickie who has some lessons to learn in discipline.  Why not include and use academics in that learning process?

Kids tend to live up to your expectations.  So make ‘em high.

That’s not the end all, by any means.  But that’s all I’ve got for today.

Questions?  Answers?  Arguments?  Bring ‘em on!


Jacque said...

Wow! Beautifully put. I'm nodding my head still! I have struggled with wanting to unschool but also including discipline to make sure they are living up to their potential. I feel like we do have to encourage them to do things they don't necessarily want to sometimes or they will not come to realize that they CAN do all these things.
Thanks for sharing this post - its nice to know I'm not alone. :)

ShEiLa said...

I think you are doing an awesome job. I would do things... or did do them somewhat the same way.

I do believe in expectations and give and take and teaching your kids that life is tough... otherwise it will be a rude awakening when the arrive in the real world.