Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Learning And Loving Go Hand In Hand"

When we enrolled our daughter Josephine in cooperative preschool (13 years ago), I explained how it worked to a friend, telling her that there was one professional teacher in the room and a dozen parent assistant teachers. She freaked out saying, “How can you let amateurs teach your child? I only want professional teachers near my child.” She feared that the parents of other children would somehow damage her child’s educational prospects. So while Josephine spent her 3 years in co-op, her son attended a preschool in which parents were not allowed into the classroom, even to observe.

I could no more have made her decision than she could have, apparently, made mine. Even as a new parent who had no inkling that teaching was in my future, I knew I wanted to be there with Josephine as much as possible, and when I wasn’t, I wanted her to be surrounded by the love of a community. I didn’t care about her having a teacher who could teach her how to “read” or identify Norway on map before she was 3, like some kind of circus trick, I wanted her to be in a place where she simply got to play with friends and be guided by loving neighbors.

The more I teach, the better I feel about my decision.

What parents may lack as pedagogs (and, indeed, many of them are masters) they more than make up for by bringing love into a co-op classroom. And as Mister Rogers puts it:

Learning and loving go hand in hand. My grandfather was one of those people who loved to live and loved to teach. Every time I was with him, he’d show me something about the world or something about myself that I hadn’t even thought of yet. He’d help me find something wonderful in the smallest of things, and ever so carefully, he helped me understand the enormous worth of every human being. My grandfather was not a professional teacher, but the way he treated me (the way he loved me) and the things he did with me, served me as well as any teacher I’ve ever known.

My friend also thought that our co-op sounded too much like “play school.” She wanted her child to go to “real school.” Again, as a new parent, my thoughts on the subject were not well-enough formed to answer her with logical argument (not that it would have done any good), but I just knew she was wrong. Today, with the longer perspective, I know that to undervalue the importance of play for young children is to make a tragic mistake. Frankly, I think that goes for older children and adults as well. The times in life when my mind has been the most shut down are those times when I felt compelled to do “work” proscribed by others. When I've been playing, however, even if dressed up as hard work, I've learned the most about myself and the world.

Again, from Mister Rogers:

Play does seem to open up another part of the mind that is always there, but that, since childhood, may have become closed off and hard to reach. When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. We’re helping ourselves stay in touch with that spirit, too. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.

It’s love and play that form the foundation of a good education. Without that the rest is meaningless.

Bookmark and Share


cyberksmith said...

Once again, you've hit the nail on the head. Others (especially children) don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Christine Natale said...

Great post, Teacher Tom! Thankfully, there have been lots of posts in the educational stream about the value of play. In olden days, children could roam about in a city, town or village and visit old people, artisans and shop keepers. They had lots of food for their imitative impulses. Not so today. Few young children even have a daily relationship with anyone outside their immediate family. I love the community model and I think it should be expanded even more. : ) Christine

jwg said...

I agree with everything you say, but I do have one concern. My grandaughter went to a co-op. There were about 21 kids, 2 progfessional staff, and 2 "helpers" each day. This seemed about right. There were lots of opportunities for kids to play without adult participation or intervention. You have so many more adults. How do you keep it from becoming about the adults and not the kids?

Teacher Tom said...

@jwg . . . One of the ways we keep the focus on the kids is that each adult has a specific job each day, a station for which they are responsible. I encourage them to think of themselves as a mom keeping an eye on the kids playing in the backyard while washing dishes, to intervene only when someone is getting hurt or mistreating someone else. We also spend a lot of time talking about how to speak informatively with children and how to allow them to struggle both personally and interpersonally.

Every parent, however, brings in a different style, different skills, and a different "image of the child" (per Reggio) and that greatly informs how things flow. It guarantees that the same materials or activities become different each day, opening new windows for the children as well as the adults.

That said, our model really is about raising kids within a multi-aged community. That means sometimes the kids are leading and sometimes it's the adults. Most of our days are child-directed, but sometimes the adults will just take on a project (like the day we recently build a lemonade stand) making space for the children to get involved when and where they can and chose. I like that we get to role model creativity and problem solving like this, demonstrating that it's a lifelong skill, and we wind up with something "big" that we did together.

We also have a lot of grandparents and older siblings joining us on any given day, so the only generational group we miss out on on a regular basis are teenagers, which is an aspect of our co-op that I think if very special.

I've been in cooperative classrooms nearly every day now for the past 14 years. And each day is an community experiment.

Carrie said...

I'd be curious to see if there is a difference between the two children now that they are older based on the early experiences they have had. Parents want such structured experiences and don't realize that's not necessarily what's the best way for children to learn. I just got through some parent surveys and several commented on having the children doing more reading, writing and math type activities. These were all from parents of young 3's. It's all about the product since that's what they can "see".

Becc said...

Of all of your posts, this is one of the most moving that I've read. The idea of a child growing with the love and values of the community in which they live is beautiful. This type of model isn't readily available in Australia but the values seem immeasurable.
thank you for sharing

Suzanne H said...

Ohhh can I quote you on that last it!! I love it.

"It’s love and play that form the foundation of a good education. Without that the rest is meaningless."

Aunt Annie said...

Are you getting tired yet, Tom, of me screaming 'YES! YES! YES!' at the bottom of your posts? lol

I have a total loathing of the syndrome where parents steal their children's childhoods by over-subscribing them to 'work' at any age. I find it almost beyond belief that some try to do this when their children are as young as 3. Outrageous.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post so much I reposted on our school's blog at
Meadowbrook is a Waldorf school and so much of what you write about resonates with our philosophy. Thank you!