By Pat Montgomery, Founder
Editor’s Note: From time to time, we’ll “look back” through our archives to share articles that are as relevant today as when they were printed. In this piece that was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of The Learning Edge, Clonlara’s founder speaks to parents’ concerns about teaching their children.
Somewhere along the way I heard a wise person say, “There are no answers; only questions. The challenge is to learn to ask the questions which will reveal most about a subject.” I put this into practice at a home education conference session I presented in the mid-nineties. My presentation attracted numerous young parents—the median age was mid- to late-twenties. Many of them had already begun home education; others were planning to do so. From the questions at the end of the presentation, I discovered that the biggest concern they shared was how they could possibly teach their own preschool and kindergarten-aged children when they didn’t even have the background of teacher education in college nor did they possess teaching credentials. How could they breach that divide between babyhood and toddlerhood into SCHOOL?
I was somewhat taken back at the level of fear and ineptitude that several verbalized. So, I employed my “better questions” approach. What do you do that you see your little ones imitating?
- Make a grocery list to take to the store.
- Look under the hood of the car to change the oil.
- Write checks.
- Read books.
- Draw, paint, sculpt.
- Pare potatoes.
- Clean house.
- Work on the computer.
- Play musical instruments.
- Manage a situation so that they got what they wanted out of it.
And on and on went the listing of critical life skills.
Then came anecdotes and explanations of how adept this little one was at the skills she saw her dad using, and how intelligently that one was in connecting all of the pieces of information he needed to solve some problem that arose.
So, one must ask, since you detect that what you have been doing with your little one has produced a capable, curious, involved human being up until the age of five, why would you consider stopping that whole process to introduce SCHOOL? What sort of cultural practices have we Americans unconsciously tolerated that have resulted in young adults questioning whether or not they are capable or so natural a role as teaching their own children?
One of the most precious aspects of being a home educator and/or an adult who works in a campus school like Clonlara is the freedom to observe. When I taught in conventional schools the only times I was able to stand back and observe each individual child at work was when I did recess duty or administered a battery or tests. Parents at home have the singular opportunity to watch how children make sense of their world, how they attack a puzzling situation—in short, how they learn. This allows the adult to be a learner, too. She can amass lots of information about this child and build upon it to feed the whole process: What tools could be used to nurture his interest in such a thing? When is it wise to play an active role; when should she fade into the woodwork and let things unfold without adult interference?
Does this not transform the definition of the word “teacher”?