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Learning without pressure

Parents who are teaching their children at home need not force them to read chapter after chapter in lifeless textbooks, nor answer question after question in silly workbooks. Curricula like that are expensive and destroy children's creativity. There is a better way:

by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Much of the educational material offered today is mentally inferior and useless. How colorfully and scientifically our generation talks down to the child! What insipid, stupid, dull stories are trotted out! And we don't stop there. We don't respect the children's thinking or let them come to any conclusions themselves! We ply them with endless questions, the ones we've thought up, instead of being silent and letting the child's questions bubble up with interest. We tire them with workbooks that would squeeze out the last drop of anybody's patience. We rob their minds of proper, interesting, strong meat to nourish their growing needs. Many small children are robbed of free and happy childhood play by endless "Play-approach" lessons that bore them and leave no time for imaginative real play in or out-of-doors.

I feel profoundly sad that such things should be happening. It need not be so. We have to be willing to start again. Here is a challenge:

Get a few really good books, and read them together aloud. Set aside a good regular chunk of time. This will be one of the most rewarding and stimulating relationships in your life. Guess what? If you have the courage to be honest, that youngster's comments and questions are really going to make you think, think hard. You can throw away all the manuals. That child has an awful lot to teach you. Your mind is probably in a worse state than his. After reading together, go to a really nice place outside for a couple of hours at least. Don't rush. Turn a rock over and watch the beetle run away. Throw rocks in the stream and slide down a hill.

Talk together. You'll find yourself enjoying it! Relax.

It isn't as hard as the experts make out. We are human beings, persons, created to live. To have life more abundantly. Wonder together; grow together. Together share the struggles of knowing that we cannot perfectly follow God's law. We are fellow-pilgrims. We walk side by side as human beings under the love and authority of Him who made us.

It is important that a child is read to. Not isolated little stories, but really good books, chapter by chapter. Read all sorts of things. Biographies of historical figures, works of literature, stories about faraway places, fables, stories about animals and birds. Always read really good books, chosen carefully by the criterion that a book should be "really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of a kind that the child may recall - with pleasure."

Try this for yourself. Read the child a good tale full of interest and then ask him to tell you about the story. As he puts it into words, he has to think for himself. He uses his memory, and he is attending deeply. His own reactions and expression are involved. It is a total human activity. You don't need to reduce the child's appreciation to elementary "true/false" tests. The child has acquired knowledge, and having expressed it creatively in his own words, he will be able to remember what he has learned.

Children benefit from working steadily through a well-chosen book. And if they narrate it to you, it will become theirs. But more happens. Because they've tackled a complete book, they become acquainted with its flow and its use of language. They are students of another person - the author. Further, they are allowed to notice the content themselves. As they aren't forced to memorize facts, they are free to react to the writing themselves. They are the ones who decide what parts they consider important. It becomes an active experience of the mind, personality, and language.

"Education," said Lord Haldane, "is a matter of the spirit." No one knoweth the things of man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore there is no education but self-education. Our business is to give the child mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books. We must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant and orderly serving.

The child's self-education begins with listening to carefully chosen books read out loud to him every day. He then sometimes tells back in his own words what he has heard. Or he may draw a picture to illustrate what he has pictured in his imagination. When older, the same child will read for himself and write essays which narrate some part of what he has read.

Let me try to indicate some of the advantages of this approach to learning that I am urging. It fits all ages, even the seven ages of man! It satisfies brilliant children and discovers intelligence in the dull. It secures attention, interest, and concentration, without effort on the part of the teacher or the taught.

Reprinted from FOR THE CHILDREN'S SAKE, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, published by Crossway Books, Westchester, Illinois.

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