"You can't teach a four-year-old that!"
It's a phrase I'm hearing more and more lately. And every time I hear it, just like a little bell ringing a la "It's A Wonderful Life", I know that unschooling is doing wonderful things.
I have always had a thing for Hokusai. The first time I saw "The Great Wave off Kanagawa", I stood in front of the print and stared for hours, feeling myself rowing for all I was worth in the trough. Amazingly powerful to me. So our surroundings have always had noren, pillows, prints, tiles, with various Hokusai art on them. Rowan knows Hokusai. So when I was researching style and artwork for our new boat home, Rowan was sitting on my lap at the computer while I paged through things. And we had a delightful discussion about Edo Period art. We looked at the other Great Waves, and now Rowan knows the difference between Hokusai and Hiroshige, and understands that although they both did 36 Views of Mt. Fuji, they're in very different styles, for very different reasons.
After that, we found a neat basic Japanese podcast, and learned some basic Japanese words about eating. Since Rowan's a huge sushi fan, this all circled neatly back around on itself, and attached the words he learned to the food he liked to the giant Great Wave print in the bathroom.
But of course, four-year-olds don't care about early modern Japan, right?
The truth is, I have no idea what a four-year-old "should" be learning. I imagine it's nothing at all like what Rowan's learning, judging from the shocked and scandalized looks I get sometimes. But then again, there are also the knowing looks when it's discovered that my kids can't write their names, and they're completely clueless when handed a worksheet to complete. Rowan still won't put his clothes on for the day without help. Neither of my kids understands why you'd have to stand in line, raise your hand before you talk, or wait to use the bathroom. They see these things on TV, and I am greeted with the same befuddled looks from my kids that I get from adults who overhear Rowan talking about the things we discuss.
Apparently unschooling has set me up as an equal-opportunity confuser.
I think that the road to hell is paved with developmentally appropriate expectations. I think that by adhering to lists of what they ought to know, or should know, or must know, we cut ourselves and our children off from the wholeness of an amazing, fascinating, kaleidoscopic world.
You can't teach a four-year-old that. But they can learn it. And that's what matters.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The Elemental Mom