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Learning and Teaching and Where to Draw the Line

Now that Little L is three (3!), I am starting to get some extra free time on my hands. She can play more independently, she sometimes wants to be alone, and she is physically capable of doing more without my assistance. Just today she ran off to use the washroom without telling me; she whipped off her own undies and found herself a seat on the potty.

With this extra time and mental energy, my teacher brain has started to kick into gear. I'm thinking about curriculum, lesson plans, and learning objectives. I'm missing the classroom and the energy of eager learners discovering new things. I'm itching to drop some serious money at the local educational supply retailers and dollar stores. And I'm feeling a little restless.

The problem is, I'm not Little L's teacher. I'm her mother. And while of course I should be helping her learn new skills and developmentally-appropriate tasks, I want home to be a sanctuary and a place to relax, not a classroom. She will be in school until she's at least 22, so it's not like she won't have an opportunity to do the academic things that I have in mind. I'd rather her learning be more organic, albeit intentional at times, rather than totally pre-planned and structured.

But I feel a tension fueled by social media, and all of those "pins" and posts on fun toddler "hands-on" activities and educational preschool projects and 1001 ways to teach your child how to read/write/print/do math/become a genius. Prior to the accessibility of the 'Net, I'm sure parents have given their littles a couple of crayons, a stick of glue, and some construction paper and stickers, and let them go to town; this is not a new practice by any means. However, the desire / pressure to go above and beyond and teach word families with LEGO or create 20 different kinds of sensory bins or engage in constant, over-the-top activities requiring visits to the craft store are new to our generation. The underlying implication of these sorts of posts is this: if you're not doing these activities (or activities like these), then you are not doing enough for your child.

And that, of course, tugs at every parent's guilty conscience, because what parent in their right mind doesn't want to do right by their kid, and provide them with the best possible opportunities for success?

Here's the thing. If we, if I, had never come across those ideas online, would my parenting be any worse for it? Would I judge my child-rearing choices as "not enough"? In this case, maybe ignorance is bliss.

And so, I wrestle with these ideas internally. As a teacher, I already have an archive in my mind of educational tasks and projects that I "should" be doing with my girl, but to be further bombarded by additional "great ideas" just fuels the madness. The rational mom voice inside is telling me to chill out, and to remember that I turned out just fine, despite not even speaking English until I was 6 and not having a lot of "educational" activities to do prior to entering kindergarten. A smart kid is a smart kid, and early supplemented learning doesn't make an average kid a genius any more than not supplementing with early learning will make a brilliant child dull.

It's also a little sad to see 3 year-olds in tutoring classes. These children should be learning to hold their pencils, not write in perfect small letters. I really, truly believe that early lessons take away from a child's play time, which is also their learning time. In reducing this valuable time, creativity and imagination are killed in favour of those skills that every kid will eventually learn in school anyway. What's the rush? Little L will figure out how to print her name at some point.

My brain yo-yos back and forth, and I debate with myself constantly, wondering if I "should" be doing more and making plans to be more intentional with some of our play time.

Here's a reference for those of you with 3-year-olds, in case you wonder (as I do) whether your little one is on track:

Physical growth and development

Your child grows at his or her own pace, and healthy growth is different for every child. Your child's natural growth rate may be slower or faster than the example below.

Most children by age 3:

  • Have gained about 2 kg (4.4 lb) and grown about 7.5 cm (3 in.) since their second birthday.
  • Begin to look leaner as their prominent belly gradually flattens.
  • Have a complete set of baby teeth .

Thinking and reasoning (cognitive development)

Most children by age 3:

  • Know their own name, age, and gender.
  • Follow 2- to 3-step instructions, such as "pick up your doll and put it on your bed next to the teddy bear."
  • Grasp the concept of "two." For example, they understand when they have two cookies rather than one. But they usually aren't yet able to understand the concept of higher numbers.
  • Memorize a string of numbers rather than actually count. The same is true of the alphabet. A child may say the letters from memory but may not be able to recognize a written letter singled out from the others. But some 3-year-olds show great interest in and ability with numbers, counting, and the alphabet.
  • Enjoy working with puzzles that have 3 or 4 pieces. Most children can also sort objects by shape and colour.
  • Have active imaginations and a rich fantasy life. For example, they may imagine that their toys or stuffed animals can talk and play with them.

Emotional and social development

Most children by age 3:

  • Experience a wide range of emotions.
  • Separate easily from their parents.
  • Express affection openly. They may show affection for familiar playmates spontaneously.
  • Understand the concept of "mine" and "yours." They may have trouble sharing toys at times or have conflicts when playing with others.
  • Can identify a person as a boy or girl. But they do not yet fully understand the distinctions between genders.
  • Are interested in toilet training . Many stay dry when they are awake.

Language development

Most children by age 3:

  • Learn new words quickly. Most recognize and can name common objects.
  • Use plurals, such as "books" for more than one book. Also most children use pronouns (I, you, me, we, they) and use complete sentences of 4 to 5 words. Strangers understand most of what they say.
  • Often ask "why" and "what."
  • Understand most of what they hear.
  • Are not yet able to fully express their feelings with words.

Sensory and motor development

Most children by age 3:

  • Develop more large muscle movements (gross motor skills). These generally include:
    • Running.
    • Climbing. Most children alternate feet when going up or down stairs.
    • Jumping in place.
    • Pedaling a tricycle.
    • Kicking a ball.
    • Bending over easily.
  • Develop more small muscle coordination, which involves their hands and fingers (fine motor skills). These skills may include:
    • Copying a circle.
    • Using a cup, fork, and spoon with ease.
    • Getting dressed, although they usually still need some help managing buttons, zippers, and snaps.
    • Turning the pages of a book one at a time.
    • Building a tower of 6 blocks.
    • Holding pens and pencils using thumb and forefinger.
    • Screwing and unscrewing lids 
And if you're like me, and want to see a "curriculum," here is the Early Learning Framework for the province of BC. The last few pages offer some good questions to get parents thinking about how they can incorporate these objectives organically into their everyday life. And here is a great resource from the Albert Shanker Institute to reference as well.

How do you navigate the balance between wanting to nurture and wanting to teach your kids? Where do you draw the line between active instruction and organic learning?


Sharon said…
Wow - you and I are so different ;)

Having said that... for me, I just provide the materials that will foster developmental skills. I leave these activities/materials available, and occasionally will explore with the materials myself to entice LO to give it a go. I am not at ALL bothered by pinterest worthy projects I should be doing with my toddler, though if it looks like something he might be interested in, I may attempt it (e.g. sensory pans! because I had old oatmeal...)

I really, truly, sincerely do not want to negatively impact his natural curiosity and interest in learning and exploring. So while I will always look for opportunities to extend what he's already showing interest in, unless it's a life skill (like swimming), I can't see myself pushing him in any direction.

But I'm sure you're already doing the best thing to support her learning at this point: scaffolding. That is the BEST way to support their love of learning and exploration at this early age.

Mrs. Loquacious said…
You're right, Sharon. I know that I'm doing my best to support her learning. Sometimes I just wonder if she's getting enough stimulation; she seems to be craving additional challenges now that she's older. I want to be able to foster those desires in a way that isn't coerced or that kills the fun and intrinsic satisfaction that she seems to derive from learning new things. *sigh*

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