Knowledge without experience is just information. -Mark Twain
"Where are your children going to college?" a mom at our preschool meeting asked me.
I didn’t think I had heard correctly. I had a hard enough time just getting their shoes on and them out the door each morning. College? Let’s get through pre-school.
This mom went on to describe her children’s educational blueprint from preschool to med-school. This was the day, over 20 years ago, when I first encountered over-planning. Today the pressure on parents for children to excel academically seems to be even greater, with our popular culture sending the message that every child at birth should be another Einstein and speak six languages among other things.
The fact of the matter is that every human being is a genius. Robert Kiyosaki in his book Rich Kid, Smart Kid defends each child’s uniqueness by saying that we all have a "genie in-us." Kiyosaki sees our main parenting job as helping our children find their uniqueness and strengthen it. This goes along with one of my favorite sayings: "The purpose of education is to help us find our passion in life."
The words genius and genie are derived from the Latin genius, meaning guardian spirit. We can lose track of that guardian spirit and the gift our children have to bring to the world with activities that offer facts without meaningful experiences.
Knowledge with meaningful experience creates wisdom, or the ability to make commonsense decisions. When we force feed our children information without meaningful experiences, we fail to nurture true learning.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Jake could name each letter of the alphabet using flashcards with his mother. His parents, Kay and Fred, were sure Jake was ready to read.
At a parent information session, Kay and Fred learned there was more to learning to read than memorizing letters. They realized that meaningful language experiences, such as phonemic awareness, vocabulary enrichment and hands-on experiences, were critical to reading success.
Learning to differentiate the sounds in our language and connect them to letter symbols is phonemic awareness. It takes time, practice and a knowledgeable adult to introduce the sounds of our language and to present sounds with symbols.
Naming objects and their parts can strengthen vocabulary. We can also model writing the names of objects to show that written words correspond to spoken words. Reading books aloud and singing songs are enriching.
Hands-on language activities include going for "hunts" through the house looking for objects that share a characteristic, such as color, material or shape. Gathering all the objects necessary for an activity, such as changing a tire or baking bread, then naming and labeling the parts, creates a purposeful learning experience.
Jake had excellent recall of the letter pictures and their names, much like memorizing the names of 26 animals. It would be another two-and-a half years before Jake had enough language experience and knowledge to read. Jake’s parents realized the difference between knowledge and information. Fred and Kay nurtured Jake’s strengths with meaningful language experiences, instead of having Jake memorize symbols.
Give your children experiences that nurture their uniqueness. Feed the genie. Then relax and enjoy being a parent.