There’s a little girl in my neighborhood who is six years old. Her mother has carefully guarded the girl’s childhood from the stress of early learning requirements.
She believes that school should not be forced upon a child’s happy youth until social expectations demand it. Sally recognizes her name when it’s written down, but cannot write it herself; nor can she read another word. The very thought of starting school this year is a source of great fear and anxiety for the little girl. Were you to ask Sally if she can read, her face would lose its usual animation, to become clouded with doubt.
During the summer, Sally’s three-year-old cousin, Jimmy, came to visit her for a month. As soon as he entered her house, little Jimmy headed straight for the bookcase. He passed by the half-dressed Barbie dolls, the pile of cartoon videos, and even the sing-along record player. He pulled a stack of dusty books off of Sally’s shelf and sat down in the middle of her floor. She stood about three feet away and watched him pensively. What?! was written all over her face. Jimmy quickly went through the pile of five or six books. He tossed three of them behind him in disfavor before settling on a dinosaur book. Jimmy opened the book and looked up at his cousin curiously.
“You wanna read with me?” he asked her cheerfully. She looked dubious.
“Can you read?” She asked.
“Yep, I can read.” He assured her.
“No, he can’t.” came the voice of Sally’s mother from the kitchen. “He just thinks he can.”
“I can read!” insisted Jimmy, without losing his good-natured composure. His confidence was not the least bit swayed. Sally hoped her Mother was wrong. If Jimmy could read... maybe there was hope for Sally! She sat down beside him. Jimmy smiled at her and pointed to the first page.
“ ‘D’ is for dinosaur... there’s the ‘D.’ And there’s the dinosaur. He’s a Brach... brach...bracho-dino-saurus. He’s a good dinosaur. He doesn’t eat the other dinosaurs; he eats his broccoli like a good boy.” Sally stared at Jimmy in wonder. She knew that what Jimmy was reading sounded different than the first time she had heard the book read to her. But it was also strikingly similar, and possibly, more interesting. Jimmy read the whole book to her. He pointed out alphabet sounds and characters regularly. When he finished, Sally turned to find her mother sitting in a chair behind them, listening.
“Did he really read it?” she asked her mother. Sally’s mother looked at Jimmy for a few seconds. There was a funny expression on her face. Finally, she nodded.
“Yes, he read it pretty well, all right.”
The moral of this story is that familiarity gives confidence. Whether Jimmy could read or not wasn’t even the issue. Jimmy’s confidence, and Sally’s lack of it, was the issue. Reading was not an unknown fear that lay ahead of Jimmy. It was a familiar area of progress. He could look back in his memory and recall learning to recognize that “D” is for dinosaur. He could recall dozens of books that he read at home with his daddy, until he could quote them by heart. He could remember Mama helping him draw “A” is for Alligator all over a sheet of paper with a red crayon. If Jimmy, at three years of age, and Sally at six, had both started school the next day; who do you think would have the advantage?
So many things in life are traumatizing because of the cold-turkey manner in which they are introduced: potty-training, musical instruments, work and chores, reading, writing, math, cooking, etc... Children who hate school are usually children who never experienced learning as fun. School can either be a frequent time of quality interaction and fun with a parent or sibling; or, it can be a designated time of tension and stress. When it becomes a time when the student is required to perform for the parent and meet their expectations or a time when they experience disappointment and shame by failure, it’s no wonder that they hate school!
Imagine having your private parts covered and warm in a diaper your whole life. Suddenly, when you turn two years old, someone strips you bare and places you over a large empty place, big enough to fall into. They tell you that from now on, you have to do your business over that big yawning hole. Your stomach is in knots; you couldn’t pee if your bladder was bursting. But, what if, from the time you were tiny, you watched your mama sit on that big hole and heard the tinkle, tinkle? Sometimes she lifted you up in front of her and said “peepee.” Sometimes she took off your diaper and dribbled warm water down your belly while you sat there and applauded when you peed. Finally, when you learned to toddle to the bathroom on your own, the transition from diapers to potty seat would be a breeze.
Learning is not a race that you begin when the gun goes off and the flag comes down. Nor can one ever say, “I’m finished learning now. The race is over. I won. Or, I lost. I’m done.”
Learning will go on as long as life does. Life is a sponge, and knowledge is a liquid. As parents, our desire is to make life as absorbent as possible, and spill knowledge all over the place. Start now...today. Whatever you do, let your child do it with you. Teach dishwashing, tub scrubbing, and floor sweeping. And most importantly, keep soaking up your own puddles of knowledge as you go.
God says it like this: For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little (Isa. 28:10).
Rebekah Joy Anast