I never turn down and opportunity to share my opinions on the difference between public school education and other structures like private schools and magnet schools. I have become an advocate for education, including public education. But, it made more sense after volunteering in the public school system to home school my children. It works better for our family, but I maintain a vocal presence from the outside because the policies, mindsets, and planning concerns I saw threatened to draw me away from educating my own. Education for kids continues with three additional points worth mentioning: Boundaries, Barriers, and Materials.
When I speak of boundaries I am referring to limiting teaching and learning to a specific place. I suggest that we keep parameters, but break down boundaries. In an earlier post “Educating Our Kids: Valuing Teachers,” I emphasized that all adults are teachers because we have opportunities to interact with kids beyond the school setting. Learning can take place at home, youth centers, church, and elsewhere. The grocery store, the bank, the garden, and the lake are perfect environments for real-life lessons in social studies, math, science, and literature.
These teaching and learning moments are important. They not only provide knowledge and give kids something to build on. They send the message that learning is continuous and has no boundaries. A desire to learn new words, concepts, and history are inspired by the activities of daily living. What is more, children arrive with a natural curiosity. Nurturing this with information lays a foundation for competence.
Barriers are anything that diminishes the creativity of students and teachers. Identifying barriers for both the child and the teacher may be challenging. The barrier for teachers may be an interpretation of curriculum core requirements that create time and content pressures. When these pressures are addressed by standardizing the activities in the classroom, creativity suffers. Barriers like these must be eliminated. Teachers must be MORE creative in their approach to teaching. Children must be supported to be MORE creative in their learning.
A child may come from an environment that does not nurture their learning. He or she may not know how to engage in the learning process. This is such a big deal. Such a child placed within a restrictive, standardized environment may learn that the “box” is what is valued. When she moves into high school and toward college, she finds that the “out of the box” children get the accolades and the opportunities. She learned well how to do what she was told. She waited to be told whether it was okay to try something new. When it was time to show that creativity, she did not have her product.
The task before us is to engage with that child’s environment. We can bridge that gap for the child through a collaboration between parent and teacher. Educational background or level of income should not hinder that from taking place. Even in the standardized classroom, an effective teacher can partner together with parents to provide success for the child. The key is giving the parent the message that their opportunity is to encourage the child outside the box. The teacher can emphasize that creative thinking is valued even if the majority of it is practiced at home. Show and Tell, Talent Shows, and others are Old School ways to show this value.
Materials are a constant challenge I heard from teachers when I volunteered. Yet, I found that there were many resources that teachers did not utilize due to a number of issues. Imagination is key here. Do you remember when you were a child and the things you did to entertain yourself? I remember using boxes and blankets to build forts. I do not think kids do that as much anymore. Being creative and using all sorts of materials can be challenging to some adults especially if creativity is not an area you venture into. When you think about materials that will help you teach keep it simple. Think shapes, letters, numbers, boxes, play money. You need not break the bank for learning materials. Right now you are probably surrounded by treasures unaware.
Also, do not forget materials that the children create on their own based on their interests. Music, art, and dance are common “materials” children bring with them through their bodies. Making beats on the desk, beat boxing, shuffles, and more require only the space and time to get students up and performing. The importance of all this is that kids learn in different ways. Learning can be fun.
[Taunya is nurse, author, and director of MAWMedia Group’s Health Literacy efforts. Find her author page at facebook.com/authorTSW]