How Do You Defend Your Relaxed Approach?
The other day I mentioned that I’m an advocate of a non-academic early childhood. In the comments, Betsy wrote:
I have a question about your relaxed approach. I have been relying
on this for years and every one has looked at me like I have three
heads. I got into quite the discussion after Mass on day when two moms
were playing the competition game of what they were going to home
school their soon to be 3 year olds. I chimed in talking about waiting
until the child is ready and being relaxed…you should have seen the
look of horror on their face!!! How do you handle the "neglectful"
response that people seem to give me all the time.
You know, I really love it when people give me an opening like those looks of horror, Betsy. I enthusiastically grab all opportunities to jump up on my soapbox!
In my experience, if you answer skepticism with an eager flood of information, people will nearly always reframe their initial response. Quite often, the are-you-crazy looks are a gut reaction, but when the skeptic hears that you have actually put some thought and research into the issue, her response changes. She may still disagree, but at least she acknowledges that your point of view is an informed one.
So, for example, if someone said, "Are you nuts? Everyone knows that you’ve got to give kids a strong start from an early age or they’ll be behind their peers and never catch up," I’d say, "Actually, there are many educators and scholars who believe just the opposite. Have you read the works of Charlotte Mason? No? John Holt? John Taylor Gatto? Montessori? No? Oh." (Brief pause to digest this astonishing fact.) "Well, if you’re interested in how children learn, you’d probably find them quite fascinating, especially Mason; I know I do."—And then I’d launch into a brief but fact-packed description of Charlotte Mason’s vision for children under seven, emphasizing the richness of a young life filled with storytelling, nature study, cheerful housework, and song.
I have never, ever presented that picture of early childhood to someone without having the person respond positively. "Oh, that sounds so nice!" is a typical response. I really think people—especially mothers of little ones—recognize the beauty of that vision, even if they remain in disagreement over the issue of early instruction in reading and math.
You know, that touches on an important point. In such conversations (and they occur with surprising frequency), I’m truly not out to convert anyone. I don’t initiate them; but if someone opens the door I will jump through it as if there were chocolate on the other side. My aim in this kind of discourse is simply to show that there is thought behind my opinion. It’s amazing how much that relaxes people and shifts the tone of the conversation from confrontation to exchange of ideas.
What happens is that people begin to ask questions—specific questions like, "But what about math?" or "So when do you start teaching reading?" Which means I can respond with specific answers, and suddenly, instead of being on opposite sides of an abyss, we’re two interested parties discussing learning strategies. It’s a whole different kind of conversation, because it naturally leads to book and idea recommendations. ("Oh, gosh, my kids have learned so much math just from playing store or cooking. You learn a ton about fractions from making cookies!")
And that kind of conversation is just FUN.