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Revisiting Preschool-What We Can Learn From Finland

Before I share my thoughts, I must tell you where I’m coming from. A little history is needed for you to understand the process that got me where I am today. I don’t want to come across as if I believe the way I educate is the only way. I do have to share what I know in the hopes that someone needs to hear it. I’m often asked by friends what they should be doing with their 3, 4, and 5-year-old kids. They want to home educate but they don’t know where to start.

My heart is to give you rest and release from unnecessary pressure if you choose to embark on this journey called home education, or if you choose an alternative educational path. I remember the beginning. I remember the concern, the worry, the feelings of inadequacy and I had loving women who helped me. They guided me in the right direction and gave me hope for the future.

My aim is to give you wings so you can take flight.

Many moons ago when I was attempting 3-4 hrs a day of kindergarten with my rambunctious 5 yr old boy, a wise and kind neighbor introduced me to Charlotte Mason, the education reformer of the 1800’s. She told me her wisdom, which at the time seemed crazy. She mentioned things like “delayed academics“, “play-based learning“, “long, unstructured outdoor time“, “living books“, and “15 minute lessons“. Though I loved this dear woman, and though she did have 4 kids far ahead of mine in their homeschool career, I mostly thought she was a little crazy or maybe even a little lazy. This was not how education worked, right? You can’t start later. You can’t let little boys wander outside for hours a day. They can’t really learn by playing, right? What about their ABC’s and what about reading, writing, and arithmetic? What about getting them ahead while they are young?

More than one educator advised me to give my son another year before starting school. “Let him play for one more year”, they said. I didn’t listen. I was nervous and insecure of my own abilities, unsure if I could even homeschool at all and I was afraid he would be “behind” if I waited. It’s interesting how time has a way of changing us. I am now that crazy older (okay, not that old) homeschool mom. I am the one telling friends, “give them another year”, and using terms like “delayed academics”, and “just let them play”. I’m sure I make more than a few eyes roll.

What happened to me? I was challenged to discover my educational philosophy and I studied Charlotte Mason’s ideas on how children should be educated. Charlotte Mason believed “the child is a person and we must educate that whole person, not just his mind.”  In her words, “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life. I looked into Dr. Raymond Moore’s theories after listening to Carole Joy Seid speak at a homeschool conference. These ideas resonated with me. The science behind the theories was sound and I was convinced.

I realized after spending 3+ years struggling through phonics with my first-born, around the age of 8 everything just clicked. It was like magic. I could’ve waited until he was 7 to start the process and ended up at the same place. We would’ve spent those years free of tension and frustration and simply enjoyed learning together. Hindsight is 20/20.

A few years later, when my second born was 4, I was trying to teach him to write his name (because that is what a preschool child should do) and another seasoned mom shared her wisdom. She had a set of twins. She waited until they were 6 to do any formal schooling with them. She told me they picked up concepts so much faster than her older children who started earlier. Where the other kids needed much repetition, these two got it the first time. I was intrigued. Could this be? I immediately stopped trying to make my 4-year-old write, much to his delight as he hated it. I waited 2 more years to school him at all and it has made all the difference. At 6 he was more than ready and eager to learn. No tears, no frustration, just readiness.

What I’ve learned, and this is backed up by science that I will share later, is there is little to no benefit to starting school early. In fact, there can be more frustration, tension, anxiety, and stress associated with school when children start young. You can read more about that in Dr. Moore’s book Better Late Than Early.  Starting school at 5 began when people needed more childcare hours because of work not because it is what the children needed. I realize many people have to work outside the home these days and I am in no way knocking that. I’m simply sharing what happened to our educational system.

Charlotte Mason knew this over a hundred years ago. She didn’t need Harvard or Princeton, or Stanford to tell her that the optimum age for starting formal academics is 6 or even 7 or 8. Finland has rediscovered this in recent years. I know you’ve seen the videos. If you haven’t yet, the link is below. Finland is topping the world in their student’s test scores at the age of 15. They are literally leading the globe in education. They do not start formal education until 7 years old. From 7 yrs and up their kids have no more than 20 hours of school per week. They don’t have homework. Kindergarten, which starts at 6, consists of songs, games, outdoor play, learning responsibilities and the like. Not reading, writing, and arithmetic. Not busy work. Not desk work.

Are you catching my drift? What America is doing shouldn’t be the standard. We are not topping any charts in education. Our common core standards and tests are not producing well-educated, thinking adults. I heard an interview recently with a college professor. When asked what his students were lacking he answered, “The ability to think. They want me to give them the right answer so they pass the test. If I pose a question and ask for thoughtful discussion, nothing happens. They are ill-equipped to think for themselves.”

If you are beginning the journey into home education or looking into alternative schools, let me put you at ease. Your children will learn far more working alongside you throughout the day, playing outside, and listening to quality literature being read to them. They will not be behind. You really don’t need to concern yourself with them being “up to the standards” of the public school system. You can do much better than that. Of course, you want them to be well-educated, but the standards of our public school shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should be a whole-child education, one that addresses their emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. This is why Finland is topping the charts and this is what we should be striving to achieve. We should be asking, “what can we learn from Finland?”

Now that the history has been shared, let me list the things I think preschooler needs to know.

-They need to know that they are part of a bigger plan and they have a role to play. They have a purpose and a destiny.

-They need to know how to find bugs and how to turn sticks into swords and build forts, or how to make doll houses out of towels and how to make up plays.

-They need to learn how to listen while a story is being read and learn that quiet busy-hand activities are good for these times.

-They need to know how to run, jump, twirl, roll down a hill, climb a tree and ride a bike.

-They need to know that they are loved, always and forever, by a never-changing God.

-They need to know how to be kind, how to help a friend in need, how to serve.

-They need to know how to help in the kitchen, how to help clean up their room, and how to take care of animals.

-They need to know how to get dressed by themselves, how to wash their hands, and how to brush their teeth.

-They need to hear a lot of words being spoken to them, they need to hear the great books being read to them.

-They need to know that they can learn about anything and they need to know that questions are good.

-They need to know how to follow instructions and learn how to behave in different situations.

-They need access to dress up clothes, paper, pens, and markers- anything that helps them create and imagine, even wood and nails and hammers.

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who let their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.” Vol 1, p. 136

If you have a 3, 4, or 5-year-old, spend your days building good habits. You will secure for yourself easy days. I wish I had started earlier with good habits. We are continually working on improving in this area.

For some of you, this may not resonate as a style of education. That is perfectly fine. There are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak. If you are intrigued by any of these thoughts and wish to research further I am providing you with a list of links. Some are the studies done on childhood development and education, some are videos, and some are websites where you can find more information. As always, let’s discuss in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

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Why Finland Has the Best Education by Michael Moore-

The Cost of Ignoring Developmentally Appropriate Practice- http://notjustcute.com/2013/10/30/the-cost-of-ignoring-developmentally-appropriate-practice/

Washing Post Article about The Gift of Time? School Starting and Mental Health- http://www.nber.org/papers/w21610

Carole Joy Seid and Home School Made Simple- A great resource on literature based education and simplifying your homeschool.  http://www.carolejoyseid.com/store

Simply Charlotte Mason website- More information on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and lesson plans. https://simplycharlottemason.com/what-is-the-charlotte-mason-method/

Educating the Wholehearted Child by Sally Clarkson-

Better Late than Early by educator Dr. Raymond Moore, loads of scientific research including the studies cited above-

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer McCauley- A practical application of Charlotte Mason’s ideas in our modern world.

 

Is Common Core Developmentally Appropriate by Dr. Megan Koschnick-

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