I read an op-ed from a kindergarten teacher running for Congress who concluded an otherwise smart and rationale argument bemoaning American schools’ teach-to-the-test mentality with this assessment of what schools should prioritize instead: “[children] need to be taught problem solving, creativity and, most of all, a love of learning.”

Do they?

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My son is a year old. He’s constantly solving problems. Problems such as, but not limited to: how to get more bananas; how to delay nap time; how to nurse in a position reminiscent of a howler monkey hanging from a tree; how to point at strangers without seeming rude or threatening; how not to get a concussion while banging his head on things; how to avoid a diaper change; how not to die while eating larger chunks of food; how to lean on inanimate objects to move from place to place; how not to fall out of a crib while reaching for a door knob even though it seems like an inevitability; and, how to get chicks (still a work in progress).

(Side note: I agree wholeheartedly with Kurt Vonnegut’s belief that semicolons are “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing” and I feel dirty for having used so many of them above.)

But back to my son…

I especially like the way he has used his (slightly misguided) understanding of the phrase “uh oh” to solve a problem that is becoming increasingly annoying to him. Namely, that we don’t always know what he wants, and we don’t always oblige his requests when we do know.

So Declan, crafty kid that he is, is now using shame. He doesn’t just say “uh oh” when he drops something, he says “uh oh” when I do something that does not match his expectations. It’s like having an overbearing boss who writes you emails immediately after you’ve screwed something up. Only, there’s no text in the body of the email, just the title, “Uh oh.” And you’re not always sure what you did wrong, but you know there’s some kind of scorecard–somewhere–and it’s being kept by a miniature person who can’t even use crayons yet.

I’d like to take credit for his resourcefulness, but Declan is doing this on his own. He solves problems by failing and trying, failing and trying, and then succeeding and repeating that success over and over until it’s ingrained. All we do is provide the encouragement.

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We’ve been joking that this pegboard is his office. Each day, he gets up and wants to go to work on it. Because what else does he have to do? Mow the lawn? At first, he didn’t know how to get the shapes on the pegs. Now, it’s a breeze. We didn’t make him do this. He sought it out.

Kids don’t need to be taught problem solving. They do it naturally. They don’t need to be taught creativity. They are naturally creative because they have to be to compete in a world of tall, walking people with large vocabularies and fully-developed frontal lobes. They don’t need to be taught a love of learning because the process of gaining new skills is naturally addicting to a child. You see it on their face when they do something they’ve never done before. It’s pride. It’s power. It’s confidence.

So why do so many young school kids seem to be lacking that confidence, that love of learning, that problem-solving ability? That’s not a question for teachers. It’s a question for parents.

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