In an earlier post, "Spring Sunshine, Challenge and Training Wheels", I wrote about a child's readiness to acquire a new skill, and how much stress and angst can be avoided if we can just wait until the time is right. Just as a baby learns to crawl and then to walk at their own pace, and we delight in their first tentative steps, so other skills might be acquired by different children at different ages. My second son is not naturally inclined towards numbers and mathematics, so we haven't pushed his maths too hard since he came out of school. However, I have noticed that he has acquired mathematical concepts naturally through living, learning and talking so that, now aged 11, he does not seem disadvantaged alongside his schooled peers. Telling the time, for example, can be pushed at a certain age by the school curriculum, but actually requires a number of skills to come together ... a concept of time, the 5 times tables, fractions ... It is actually quite a complex thing, and may cause problems for small children. Writing is another thing which is pushed so hard from such a young age in school when, actually, the fine motor skills required are still developing. I know from talking to other Mums, that writing can be an area of particular frustration to boys. So, what happens if we just back off?
Well, my third 'unschooled' son is now 8, and has recently appeared to want to write more. I have noticed little notes appearing around the house, and he has sat down a few times to write his "Minecraft" manual, both by hand and at the computer. He now has quite a good knowledge of words and spelling, acquired by reading, talking and just helping him to spell words when he has wanted to. So all the knowledge that is required to actually begin to put words and sentences together is now in place. Also, aged 8, his fine motor skills are much more refined than they were at 4. And, if the interest is there, then it seems to me the time is ripe for writing. What harm is there in waiting for this moment? Well, in school, children need to sit and be busied for long hours, many of them in confined spaces. That is just part of the challenge and nature of schooling the masses. But, in other countries formal schooling doesn't start until much later than here in the UK, and this seems to me a good thing. Why is there this continual push to get children learning formally younger and younger?
I suggested to my 8 year old that we might work a bit on his writing now, perhaps it would help him to write more quickly and to be able to get his ideas down as he wants to. (He was a little frustrated the other day by the slowness in development of his manual.) He seemed keen on the idea, so we have begun to work on forming his letters correctly. I bought him a workbook. It is for Ages 5-6. I said, "Don't worry. In school, children have to do certain things at certain ages, but that is not the case for you." He hasn't seemed bothered about that. And we have been doing a little every day. He forms some of his letters a little awkwardly, perhaps more so because he is left handed, but now that he knows the letters and what they look like so well, it is not nearly such an issue to practise forming them. We intend to move on next to a book which will help him to join his letters. Whilst I think this is a useful skill, I do not think that, in the modern, technological age in which we live, it warrants the hours which our primary schooling affords it. He will get there, at his own pace and, in the long term, what difference does it make? I hope he won't hate writing. I hope he will enjoy it as just another skill to master now he is willing and able. I hope years of free play and the experience of learning outside of school will have enriched his vocabulary and will enrich his writing and help him to be better able to communicate and to express himself. I hope so.
In the summer, this same 8 year old learned to swing independently. As with his cycling, I long wondered when he would acquire this skill. You might think it is late in happening. At the park, he has always asked to be pushed on the swing, and we have pushed him, but shown him how to swing himself, to no avail. He hasn't really been interested. Suddenly, this summer, something clicked and he could do it! Such delight. The sense of achievement, whenever it comes, is well worth waiting for.