By Danielle Osborne.
Naturally, one might think that activities such as mucking the barn house, working in the garden, climbing trees, and feeding the farm animals do not sound like a typical day at an elementary school, especially in the Phoenix Metropolitan area. That is exactly how it was for me. A day in the life of my early education might include any of those activities, along with woodworking, archery, knitting/crocheting, Eurythmy, nap time, and more. Although a way to measure my academic progression would have been helpful, through this type of learning I developed well rounded social skills, kindness, hard work, and imagination. These are all qualities needed in a child’s early years.
I was allowed to learn in this manner because it helped with emotional and psychological development. I had a happy life because I was allowed to be myself. I didn’t dread school; in fact, I looked forward to it. Children need to be allowed to be a child. In the article, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, it says, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.” Having a childhood means being allowed to play in the mud, jump rope, color, and overall activities that allow freedom to think, act, and learn about their world.
Excitedly, I would race to my classroom awaiting the smell of freshly baked bread mixed with lavender incense that would rush over me as I ran through the door. For kindergartners, it was our job to learn to be creative and imaginative. I learned to knead dough on Wednesdays and mold figures out of beeswax on Thursdays. Each day was full of adventure as I climbed an oak castle in the classroom, as well as the trees outside. Always having a change of clothes was a necessity in case I decided to build mud castles or play in the sprinklers.
As stated in the article Give Children Back Their Childhood, it states, “The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practiced by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.” Because I wasn’t forced to meet state standards and could learned at my own pace, I didn’t feel suffocated by the demands of education. When I hear my friends talk about their early public school years, it always has a negative connotation.
Certainly more days than a few were spent doing activities and having experiences that would prove to help me throughout the rest of my schooling. One might wonder how a child could successfully learn in this environment, but I learned without knowing I was learning and I enjoyed feeding my curious mind. That to me is far more important than learning with a purpose of reaching state standards. I realized that it’s not bad to take a different path of learning. From the cognitive skills I obtained through knitting, to the love of reading instilled in me by the stories told and everything else in between, I attribute my love of learning and graduating two years early to those early school years. I am a living testament that young children can do well, if not better, in future schooling without grades and a curriculum based on state standards. Being allowed a real childhood shaped who I am and has taught me to balance kindness, hard work and imagination.