I thought I was the only one who really dislikes hearing "they need more structure." I cringe everytime I hear someone say this. Ironically, this evening I was reading John Holt's Learning All the Time when Nathanael (my four-year old son) came up to me with computer paper and a a ball-point pen. He had been drawing pictures to the music on his McDonald's KidzBop CD. He drew a picture for Taliesin. Then he drew a picture for Mommy. He then decided to draw a picture for Riley and Princess, our dogs. He asked me, "Mommy, how do I write 'Princess'?" I quickly, using all my teaching knowledge, dotted a "P." He traced it. I then dotted an "R." Then an "I." He decided he wanted me to hold his hand and write the rest without dotting. He then asked me "How do I write 'Riley'?" I asked him if he wanted me to dot it. He replied that he wanted to write it. So I told him to start at the top and draw a line going down. He did this. I told him to draw a circle at the top of the line. He did this. ThenI told him to make a tail going down. He did. And he was so proud. We next went to "I." I explained to him step-by-step how to write the letter "I." By this time, he was so excited over writing that he forgot all about writing the name "Riley" and made a "Y" and an "X." Maybe it was Holt's influence, but it dawned on my that when I dotted the letters, it made him feel as though he could not do it. I had to do it for him. But when I allowed him to write, he was so excited to see what he could do! Ironically, after my writing lesson - I say mine, because I learned a lot from Nathanael this evening - I read this in Learning All the Time, "Often when small children become bored and distracted, at home or in nursery school, adults will decide that they 'need more structure.' I tend to be wary of that term, since those who use it generally mean only one thing: some adult standing over the child telling him what to do and making sure he does it... Children need to see things done well. Cooking, and especially baking, where things change their texture and shape (and taste yummy), are skills that children might like to take part in. Typing might be another, and to either or both of these could be added bookmaking and bookbinding. These are crafts that children could take part in from beginning to end. Skilled drawing and painting or woodworking might be others. Adults must use the skills they have where children can see them" (pgs. 130-131). I read a few pages later about a letter that Mr. Holt received from the mom of a six-year old, an eleven-year old, and a thirteen-year old. The mother of these three boys wrote that she had witness real learning occuring with her sons' interest in a puzzle of the world. One son, who was facsinated with WWII, was putting Germany and Japan together. One son added the then communist countries. The youngest son was putting together South America. When the mother saw the learning that was happening naturally, she did what I did when I dotted Nathanael's letters. She began taking advantage of this "teachable moment." Soon all three sons left the puzzle and went on to new projects. Mr. Holt wrote, "This story illustrates a very important point. Thousands of parents teaching their own children have learned from experience, just as this mother did, that interfering very much in the play and learning of children often stops it altogether. Parents learnthis lesson easily. Why is it so hard to learn for people who teach in schools? The answer is simple. The reason that this mother could see right away that her meddling had, for the time being at least, spoiled the map game for everyone was that her children were free to leave the room. Suppose they hadn't been; suppose it had been a regular classroom, and the children had been compelled not only to stay, but to go on doing the assigned work with the map. What would have happened is that they would have begun to do as little as they could get away with. Instead, they might have daydreamed, or bluffed, or played the old classroom game of 'I don't get it,' or bugged the teacher by putting the map together wrongly. But to the teacher all these fake activities would have looked as if the children were still working on the map, and so the vital lesson would have been lost" (page 144). I found this next part very interesting. It just makes so much sense, "With any captive audience, there is a lack of feedback. If you're running a restaurant and put fish on the menu, you learn very quickly whether or not your customers like fish. If you're running an army mess (or school lunch cafeteria) where everyone has to take the fish whether they like it or not, you don't find out - unless like good mess cooks you pay attention to the garbage and happen to notice that there's a lot of fish in there. Observant parents can pay attention both to the left-overs and to second helpings. Even if they make mistakes at first, they have the opportunity to become effective teachers, because they get from their children the kind of feedback that tells them when their teaching is helpful and when it is not" (pge. 144). Tonight I definitely learned that my teaching with Nathanael was not helpful. When I allowed him to take the lead, amazing things happened! Lesson learned.
Holt., J. (1989). Learning All the Time. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Books.
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