I’m beginning to relax about the smart girls’ educations, particularly after reading Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Child a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver.
Until I started reading this book I’ve been slightly…hmmm, what’s the word…uneasy…anxious…uptight…confused…about what the smart girls NEED in order to thrive. I think raising children to be happy, confident, compassionate, motivated life-long learners is a really daunting task. There are MANY moments where I feel I am uncertain as to what kids, and in particular, MY kids, need to thrive and help them on their path to find what they feel is a successful life. I realize, from the path my own life has taken, that this needs to be defined on an individual basis. And, on a personal note, what is considered a successful life might change depending on what age and stage of life one is in within the same individual.
What makes this topic difficult for me is a number of things: my own questions about their abilities, my own current state of professional underachievement coupled with an intense drive to keep learning, my own upbringing and the limits placed on my own childhood dreams by my family, and the lack of funds to send them anywhere but the public school down the road (and a great resistance to homeschooling – not just on my part, but on my daughters’ parts too), a lack of mentors and role models for me to find social support and guidance and to discuss my anxieties with.
For a while, particularly after I spent time on gifted message boards for children, I felt this area gave me a lot of stress headaches. The reason is because while I feel and have indications that my daughters are gifted, they haven’t been so incredibly precocious like I’ve read other gifted kids are (you know, that whole comparison thing really messes with one’s head a bit). They aren’t learning algebra yet (they are only 8, 6 and newly 5), or reading at a college level (though my 8 year old is reading at a 7th grade level -and is reading the final Harry Potter book – and my 6 year old kindergartner is reading at a second grade level – she started reading out loud when she was 4.5…though I suspect she knew how to read long before then but just didn’t tell me because she was already reading at a first grade level when I discovered she could read). They are, I think, more moderately gifted. They haven’t been formally tested yet, but the school does identify them in third grade. I am looking forward to what we learn about my oldest next year. Her teacher from last year, dearly departed Mrs. P, had no doubts that M would most likely qualify for the gifted program, provided she kept the trajectory she was on (and she has).
But still, I keep hearing all the time about how inferior the public schools are compared to private options, or charter schools, or gate programs and they are only going to get worse. And I wonder if I am doing my children a disservice by sending them to the public school down the street rather than the private academy with the $10,000 price tag and this on it’s website:
______________Academy welcomes inquiries and visits from families interested in making academics a top priority for their preschool through elementary-aged child. ________________Academy prides itself in offering a curriculum that is not only excellent in content and concepts, but one that features “Learning Beyond Textbooks.”
Students at ______________Academy are encouraged to become immersed in their units of study by performing hands-on activities, simulations, research, and in participating in numerous field trips that correspond to what they are learning.
___________________Academy embraces the fact that its enrollment is under 200 students. It is a place where everyone knows your name. All the teachers know all the students and all the students get to know each other. The atmosphere is home-like, safe, and each child’s uniqueness is celebrated. As one child stated, “I love ________________ because I am free to be myself.” The teachers love the fact that they are free to find the “teachable moment.” These are the moments outside of the curriculum where a teacher is able to make a deep connection with a child and guide him or her outside of himself or herself to become something more. This may be in the form of encouraging a child to perform an act of kindness to another student or suggesting that a shy child take the lead on a group project, thereby encouraging the leadership role.
Certainly does sound nice…though I wish ALL schools could be like that, not just the ones that cost so much. Our daughter’s public school isn’t so bad, even despite the fact that has 700+ kids in k-4th grade (yeah, I know, it does seem like a lot. The class size is only about 22 students though). The teachers my daughters have had so far HAVE been warm and encouraging to my children and their interests in school and learning hasn’t waned (yet).
I’d like to keep it that way, without breaking our family’s budget. With that in mind, I am very reassured by Guerrilla Learning. They’ve reminded me that it IS possible to keep the passion for learning alive regardless of the educational setting, and I have been encouraged to know that I’ve been on the right path with how I’ve been supporting the smart girls, and have provided some new ideas I hadn’t even thought of before.
The book is broken down into 8 chapters –
1. The Broken Sword: Real Education in Our Lives and the Lives of Our Children
2. What We Can Do: Guerrilla Learning
3. The Five Keys To Guerrilla Learning
4. The Five Keys To Guerrilla Learning
5. Key #1: Opportunity
6. Key #2: Timing
7. Key #3: Interest
8. Key #4: Freedom
9. Key #5: Support
At the end, there are appendices about standardized testing and alternatives to traditional schooling.
While its a book for parents with kids IN school, a lot of the ideas originated from observing kids who weren’t in the school system and what made for natural, focused, learning that was placed in a real life context…not compartmentalized and removed from real life. And it has a practical approach to how seriously to view school: is school a significant source of learning for your child, or simply one source, and not even the main source of education for your children? In other words, put in its proper perspective, traditional (public) school does not have to make or break your children’s future.
It echoes my personal feelings about the education and learning. I’ve always been of the mindset that the education does not occur simply between the bells. We learn all the time. From the moment my oldest wakes up, she’s got a book in her hands, or she’s drawing something, or she’s teaching (or attempting to teach) herself or her sisters something new. We recently discovered she taught herself cursive writing. They don’t learn that formally until next year.
What I like about this book is that there are exercises to work out in each chapter, to help define and refine one’s personal views towards school, education and learning.
I think, as I go back through the book and work on the exercises, I might actually publish my responses on the blog and talk about some of the ways I incorporate the ideas with the girls. I think it will help clarify my objectives and help me think about how Mr. RSG and I can support them in ways they need to thrive.