Laying the foundations of education

Thought I’d do a two parter about education – for parents with little ones at home. And all those who are wondering about it.

It doesn’t seem that we’ve had our babies long when we begin to worry about education.

How much, how soon, how clever are they going to be, what can we do to help? These are the kinds of worries all parents have. But whichever route you decide on for your child, whether that route be conventional schooling or home education, the experiences that have the most profound impact on their educational achievements are those when they’re at home with you.

Now, no way do you need to panic and rush to get books out and start doing formal lessons with tiny tots. This not what education is about, although this is how it’s sometimes perceived.

Education is about something broader than that which extends beyond doing writing, maths and other similar academic exercises. This article is about laying the foundations of a holistic education; the holistic development of a living being, as indeed education should really be if it is to be of value.

For a holistic approach when your child is mostly with you is what makes a more formalised education work well later on.

What do I mean by holistic?

To take a holistic view means to consider the whole of something rather than parts in isolation.

In terms of a child and their education, it means that we need to consider the whole of their development rather than just the development of their academic abilities. And we need to consider education, not as a race or competition to get qualification, but rather as part of a developing human being.

To be holistic education needs to be about developing a rounded human being who has many skills that are as important as academic skills – skills which will enable children to use their education to enhance their lives. Thinking skills, for example, or the skills required to integrate, socialise and be a good person. The skills required to show compassion, care and commitment to others. The skills needed to be responsible, maintain good moral standards and understand how we fit into the world and how the world can support us, what we need to contribute to it in return. The skills required to express ourselves, be articulate, self aware and self confident so that we can lead good and happy lives and find fulfilling work. The skills needed to maintain our health of mind and body and be responsible for our own wellbeing.

These are the kinds of skills we need to be human. Being human is a vital part of being educated. And these are all vital skills that enable an education to be successfully used to enhance lives and gain achievements.

If you think about it, an education in itself is of no value unless you have these personal skills with which to use it. Using education is what matters. Paying attention to the whole of the person’s development is what makes an education more useful and more holistic.

And much of what happens during a child’s time at home is what lays the foundation for that.

How can we do that at home?

It is really very simple to lay a foundation of skills which will help your child to get the best out of education. In fact it is so simple it is probably what you do already. It is what you do as part of your parenting.

Preparation for education is not only about priming your child ready for academics. It is more to do with teaching your child about living a life.

Living our lives we are learning all the time, although as adults we probably don’t realise that thinking that the majority of our learning took place within the school walls. However, many people say that they learnt more after they left school than during the time they were in it. And that is because once they left ‘schooling’ they began to learn the real skills needed to lead real lives.

For example; leading real lives we don’t often use some of the maths or science which was drummed into us at school for the purpose of exams, unless we’ve followed professional careers that require them. But we do use the skills needed to budget or understand nutrition and our bodies enough to know what food keeps us well.

Another example; we don’t necessarily need to be able to understand Shakespeare but we do need to be able to read, interpret instructions, and communicate in a variety of forms.

These life skills like communication or budgeting are the ones that are most important and they start at home. You can encourage them by simply chatting about what you’re doing each day and why. That’s why spending time at home with young children is so valuable, because actually, you are your child’s first teacher.

During those first five years it is not essential that they can read fluently, but it is essential they enjoy books, that times with books and stories are happy experiences. It is also essential that they understand a variety of social rules and can communicate appropriately, that they are able to manage their behaviour to a certain degree and why, understand what respect is – by being respected.

Small things that you do and discuss in your daily living teaches them these kinds of things. And the way in which they learn these things best is by being involved.

By being involved with what you’re doing, by chatting and questioning, they begin to interpret and understand how lives are lived. Interpreting and understanding things is the basis of learning. This is how you influence their learning and their education, both right now and for the future. All you have to do is to allow them to be involved. Spend time. Explain. Talk. Listen. Show.

As well as doing this another powerful influence on their learning is play. In order to learn children first need lots of opportunities to play.

And that’s part of what I want to talk about next time, along with ideas for simple activities, and some thoughts about their future!

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