Perfectly average childhood
Sarah Barnes, an amazing homeschooling mom of two brilliant children in Botwood (who also happens to be my cousin), recently shared an online article with me. Found on the Magical Childhood website, the article is titled: “ What Should a 4 Year Old Know?”
It’s the author’s response to that ever-familiar question asked by preschool parents. How can I prepare my child for school? Does she know enough to keep up with the other kindergarteners? Have I taught him enough to give him the competitive edge in primary school?
Alicia Bayer, the author, scorns those lists and creates her own, very important list of essential skills for four-year-olds. Things like following their interests, understanding the world is magical, painting the sky orange, knowing they are loved and knowing how to keep themselves safe.
I tend to agree when she says “If he could care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.”
I’ve often told parents worried that their three-year-old isn’t potty trained or that their two-year-old isn’t talking much that when the children are older, no one is going to care when they talked or walked or stopped peeing the bed. The older they get, th e less those early achievements are going to matter.
What will matter is how they are as people. Do they feel loved? Do they feel safe? Do they believe in themselves?
I’ve never been a flashcard kind of mom. But I think I’ve done pretty good. My eldest entered Grade 1 with a possible diagnosis of dyslexia. By the sheer willpower of his parents and the world’s most amazing teacher — Jackie Hodder, Immaculate Heart of Mary School — he now reads everything he can lay his eyes on. At one year old, my youngest was consistently five to six months behind in the majority of his developmental areas. With a lot of attention in the past year, he’s now about five months ahead in everything but gross motor skills.
Urging parents not to worry about their child’s skill set doesn’t mean telling them not to care. It’s just not something we should get too upset about. Most children know their alphabet and numbers by the time they finish kindergarten, even if they didn’t know them going into it.
Some studies have actually shown that many children who read early w i n d u p n o t bein g the strongest readers by the time they and their peers reach later grades. Early doesn’t always mean better. But just about every study into reading and academic success has shown, time and again, that parents who read to their children raise children who experience more success in school.
Flashcards are not necessary. What is necessary is spending time engaging with your child. Speaking with them and reading to them and exploring the world together.
I’ve always understood that, and I think many other parents do as well.
As I continued to read Bayer’s article, though, I was struck by other observations she made. Of course, our children need more time with us. Indeed, they need to be paid attention to, read to, and let to experience the world. Certainly, they don’t need expensive schools or gimmicky toys to succeed.
But the line that struck me most was this: “ We are so caught up in trying to give our children ‘ advantages’ that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.”
I have always felt guilty that we can’t afford to enroll our children in activities like gymnastics, ballet, and art classes. I’ve watched other parents bring their children to swimming lessons three times a week — because each child attends on a different day — and I’ve envied them their ability to manage their time that way.
Every time our children miss some new opportunity to “enrich” themselves via a structured class or group I feel like I’m failing a little as a parent.
It’s not true. Because though my daughter has never taken art classes she can draw rainbows like nobody’s business. And my eldest son may have not been back to soccer in the last three years, but he loves kicking a ball around with his grandfather. My youngest doesn’t go to daycare or toddler classes of any kind, but he reads about 20 books a day with Mommy.
I’m not worried about them. Not one bit. They are taking the time to discover their passions and to work at them, with our support. And that doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like swimming lessons.
If I can’t give them every activity and advantage other parents can, I can at least give them as free a childhood as possible. There’s plenty of time for schedules and advanced curriculums in the years to come. For now, I’m happy if they’re perfectly average and know how to smile.
I can be reached by e-mail at the following: email@example.com