Sunday, November 20, 2011

Our Daily Bread

Today the kids and I read the last chapter of the last book of the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" series, The First Four Years.  The boys have been totally engaged, enthralled, and driven to finish those books, even though they are, well. . . boys.  My four-year old son Aaron even suggested that we begin the series again!  I've loved them too, and I now understand why these books are considered classics.  

In reading the last book, I was amazed at how difficult the first four years of Laura's marriage to Almanzo Wilder were.  The death of a child, disease, several consecutive years of failed crops, a home that burned to the ground--it never seemed to end.  In fact, there really was no "happy ending" to the first four years except for the hope of better days to come.  One of the only surviving possessions from the fire that consumed their home was a glass bread plate with the words "Give us this day our daily bread" etched around the edge.

These words, taken from the Lord’s Prayer, were probably very deeply meaningful to Laura.  One of the most memorable parts of the Little House series for me is in book six, The Long Winter.  Due to relentless blizzards, the trains were unable to get through to DeSmet, South Dakota for months.  The Ingalls family soon ran out of coal for heat and because lumber was not readily available, they turned to hay they had cut in the fall as their only source of fuel.  

Pa and Laura sat in the cold lean-to, twisting hay into tight logs until their hands were numb and cut from the sharp hay.  Then they came in only long enough to warm up before returning to the lean-to to twist more hay.  When food ran low, their only source of nutrition was bread ground from the little wheat they had.  Mary, Laura, Carrie, Ma, and even Pa took turns turning the crank coffee grinder to grind enough flour to make a loaf of course bread to last for the day's meals.  This became their daily routine--twisting hay and grinding wheat all day long just to eat their daily bread.  

Survival was their only goal.  Laura felt numb, dull and stupid from the relentless cold, dark days and howling blizzards that scoured the house for days on end.  She began to feel that winter would never end.  There have been times in my life, even recently, when I have begun to feel that way—that the trials I have been dealt will never go away.  I begin to feel dark and hopeless in the fear that things will only get worse, not better.
After two years of uncertainty, trial, and triumph, we landed in our home just in time to start school and get settled.  I had envisioned that once we got started with school that the uncertainty of the future would rest for a while.  But the stresses, fears, and trials of life have marched in like a South Dakota blizzard and have relentlessly pounded our confidence in and hope for the future.

The trials and failures seem to come about as consistently as in Laura’s first four years, and as often as the plagues of Egypt.   I swear, Moses must have been ready to give up trying by about plague number six, don’t you think?  And in our day and age, most marriages that started like Laura’s first four years would have ended in divorce.  There are some days, even now, when I wonder—if only for a moment—whether we’re strong enough to keep fighting the good fight. 

Despite the difficulty of seeing a way out, I have begun to pray for something new.  It began one day when I felt a strong desire to ask the Lord for his Grace.  I was amazed how well that day went.  I felt carried along, despite the difficulties that inevitably came.  But for some reason, within a day or two I stopped asking for Grace.  I don’t know why.  Maybe we had a few good days in a row and I thought I didn’t really need Grace that day.  Maybe I felt like I was bothering the Lord with my constant pleas. 

Of course more trials come—along with their attendant fear.  It’s a cycle we seem to repeat all too often.  But this time, the Lord gave me new insight through my personal study in the classics.  I've been reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  In letter VI, Screwtape writes the following:

There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy. He [God] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy's will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say "Thy will be done", and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. 

These words struck me to the core.  It seems that all my husband and I have been doing lately is speculating, worrying, and wringing our hands about where to go next--internships, future jobs, etc.  And then when trials come, I project them into the future and feel helpless to endure a lifetime of ‘this’ (whatever ‘this’ may be at the time).

This focus on future events often drains our mental, emotional, and spiritual resources that we need for the work of today.  Each day can be a real struggle to keep it all together--especially when your mind starts to perpetuate your fears into the future.  Anxiety, darkness, and depression are the inevitable result of our trying to bear a cross that isn't ours to bear yet.  You're fighting phantoms then, and the battle is one you can never win.   Screwtape would agree that “real resignation, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible, and the Enemy does not greatly assist those who are trying to attain it.”

I believe that the real choice now is not between this or that internship.  It is between the choice to struggle along by our own strength (the arm of flesh), constantly worrying about and trying to bear a thousand future crosses, or to call upon God daily, and even hourly for our daily bread, knowing that he will guide the future as he has the past.  

Today was a hard day.  I almost called my parents to vent, complain, and look for sympathy.  But something stopped me.  Instead, remembering the words of C.S. Lewis, I prayed and asked simply, “Heavenly Father, I need some bread.  Can I please have some bread?”   

I know that he knew what I meant.  I was not looking for any more than just the help to deal with this one day.  I sat down and opened my scriptures, knowing that He would speak to me through them.  The page fell open to the exact words I needed to hear.  I received an answer to my present need and I instantly felt peace.  But I have no delusions about this being the end of my problems.  I think I’ll have to ask for some more bread tomorrow. 

You see, the Lord’s Grace is like manna for the soul.  As the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, the Lord provided daily portions of this miraculous “bread”.  Each morning when they woke, they found manna lying on the ground to gather for the day’s food.  But they were warned to only gather up enough for one day (except for the day before the Sabbath, in which case they gathered enough for two days).  If they gathered more than they could eat in one day, they would find the next day that the manna stunk and was infested with worms. 

There is a type and shadow in all things.  If we could store the Lord’s grace up to last for weeks or months, our spirits would spoil.  We would forget the real source of our strength and begin to imagine in our hearts that our success was due to something we did, and that we could secure future happiness by our own efforts.  

That’s why God gives us only enough bread for today.  He wants us to come back tomorrow and ask him for some more.  He wants us to come back to him every day to gather His strength and to acknowledge gratefully the true source of our success or failure.

Indeed, there have been and will be days when the trials are so great, or our strength so little that we need to ask for “bread” every hour, every minute.  On those days, the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour” becomes the prayer of the heart :

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord
No tender voice like thine can peace afford

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby.
Temptations lose their power when thou art nigh

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain.
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need thee every hour, most Holy One.
Oh make me thine indeed, thou blessed son

I need the, oh, I need thee;  Every hour I need thee!
Oh bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How Children Learn - Fantasy

p. 258  "All my fantasies did for me was to keep alive a feeling that the world is in many ways a fascinating and beautiful place."

Gag me.
p. 259  "As important as fantasizing may be for children, we can't make them do it on demand, and we risk doing them a serious injury when we try.  I now understand more clearly why I have so long and so deeply disliked a scene that is very common in preschool and early elementary grades.  While an adult plays a piano or guitar, the children are invited, i.e. told, to pretend that they are trees or birds or snowflakes or wildflowers or whatever.  Children quickly learn that when someone says, "Be a snowflake," it is their cue to wave their arms and whirl and jump about the room.  Since they get few enough chances to move in school, they are glad to seize this one.  But we must not fool ourselves that they are really fantasizing.  They are only doing what they know the adults want them to do, pretending to imagine what the adults want them to imagine, and pretending all the while that they are enjoying it.  Whoever saw children, in their private lives and play, pretending to be snowflakes?  What they pretend to be is grown-ups, kings and queens, or truck drivers and doctors, or mommys and daddys.  If we try to make children fantasize, these fake fantasies, like the ready-made fantasies of TV, will in time drive out most of their true fantasies, the ones that come from their experience in the world and their need to make sense of it and become at home in it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How Children Learn - Art, Math & Other Things

Kids can use sharp tools?  Really?
p. 202  "I agree strongly with Mr. Wesley that even very young children should be given or have access to art materials of high quality, and shown how to use them carefully and well, just as we would show them how to use any other quality tools.  Freed of the limitations of bad tools, they can then begin to explore, express, and enlarge their own artistic powers.  We should not assume that they will be too clumsy, impatient, and uncaring to use these tools properly.  They are perfectly able to learn how to use many kinds of tools, including sharp woodworking tools, cooking tools, musical instruments, and cameras, that most people would insist they could not use."

Messing About
p. 219  Always let children have free play with materials before directing them.

The Montessori materials provide ample materials
for "messing about" with numbers and building up
a mental model of the territory.
p. 222 "Children need what we rarely give them in school--time for "Messing About" with reading--before they start trying to learn to read, to make the connections between letters and sounds.  They need time to build up in their minds, without hurry, without pressure, a sense of what words look like, before they start trying to memorize particular words.  In the same way, they need time for "Messing About" with numbers and numerals, before they start--if they ever should start--trying to memorize addition facts and multiplication tables.  They need to know how big 76 is, or 134, or 35,000, or a million.  They need to see, again without hurry or pressure, how numbers change and grow and relate to each other.  They need to build up a mental model of the territory before they start trying to talk about it.  We teachers like to think that we can transplant our own mental models into the minds of children by means of explanations.  It can't be done."

Crossing the line
p. 223 "Professor Hawkins rightly says, "All of us must cross the line between ignorance and insight many times before we truly understand."  Not only must we cross that line many times, but, in the words of the old spiritual, nobody else can cross it for us, we must cross it by ourselves.  Being shoved or dragged across does no good."

Children see the world as a whole and make their own connections according to their interests
p. 232  "[Children] see the world as a whole, mysterious perhaps, but a whole none the less.  They do not divide it up into airtight little categories as we adults tend to do.  it is natural for them to jump from one thing to another, and to make the kinds of connections that are rarely made in formal classes and textbooks.  They make their own paths into the unknown, paths that we would never think of making for them.  When they are following their own noses, learning what they are curious about, children go faster, cover more territory than we would ever think of trying to mark out for them, or make them cover.
Our task is to keep a child's curiosity well supplied with good food.
p. 233  "People have often said to me, nervously or angrily, that if we let children learn what they want to know they will become narrow specialists, nutty experts in baseball batting averages and such trivia.  Not so.  Many adults do this; the universities are full of people who have shut themselves up in little fortresses of artificially restricted private learning.  But healthy children, still curious and unafraid, do not learn this way.  Their learning does not box them in; it leads them out into life in many directions.  Each new thing they learn makes them aware of other new things to be learned.  Their curiosity grows by what it feeds on.  Our task is to keep it well supplied with food.

Keeping their curiosity "well supplied with food" doesn't mean feeding them, or telling them what they have to feed themselves.  It means putting within their reach the widest possible variety and quantity of good food--like taking them to a supermarket with no junk food in it (if we can imagine such a thing).

Friday, October 28, 2011

How Children Learn - Sports

Be careful not to push a child past his natural limits of fear and caution
p. 177 "if we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him.  If, however, we are careful not to push a child beyond the limits of his courage, he is almost sure to get braver."

p. 178 "But we respected her natural timidity and caution.  The result was that she wanted, and leaned to combat her fears and overcome them."

Letting our children explore deep water
p. 182  "then the lifeguard joined me in telling him that he had to stay at the shallow end, that he wan't big enough or a good enough swimmer to swim at the deep end.  For a while he argues, as best he could, but when he realized that we were really not going to let him swim in the whole pool, he began to cry, or rather, to roar, with disappointment, humiliation, and rage."

"It seems to me now that we were very foolish and mistaken in what we did.  If I had it to do again, I would say, "Okay, swim to the deep end if you want, and I'll just swim along with you."  I don't blame him in the least for being indignant that we denied it to him and, after all his good work, gave him this ringing vote of No Confidence."

Why are we so unwilling to let our children explore "deep water?"  Is it because we are too lazy to go with them and provide a safety net for their exploration?  Aaron is such a fearless and determined soul and we are constantly telling him he can't do all the things he wants to do.  How do I help him safely push the limits of his existence?

Advance and retreat, exploration and consolidation
p. 187  "A very common pattern in children's learning.  First a great bold leap forward into exciting new territory.  Then, for a short while, a retreat back into what is comfortable, familiar, and secure.  But we can't predict, much less control, these rhythms of advance and retreat, exploration and consolidation, and this is one of the main reasons why the learning of children can't, or at least shouldn't, be scheduled."

I see this a lot with Jonathan.  Once introduced to a new skill, he cannot adopt it right away.  He has to ruminate on it for an hour or two, a day or two, a week or two, or longer.  Then all of a sudden he surprises me by doing (without coercion or persuasion) that which he was so afraid or unable to do before.  I remember last summer how I tried to teach him to swim and he rebelled against my efforts to push him to swim without floaties.  Then one day he decided on his own to try.  It helped that his friend Christopher was already swimming without floaties.  He never feared again.

Competence models in sports
p. 189 Children learn to play sports much faster and more naturally when they can play with, see, and imitate older kids.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Children Learn - Reading


Competence Models
p. 128  "It is certain that a child is greatly inspire and helped to learn by what are often called competence models--people who can do things better than he can.  But we ought to remind ourselves now and then that sometimes a competence model can be altogether too competent. . . No doubt it is exciting and inspiring for a child interested in athletics, or music, or dancing, or art or drama, or whatever, to see, once in a while, adults who do those things superbly well.  But as day-to-day examples, these experts are probably much less useful to a child than slightly older, slightly bigger children who do things slightly better than he can."

This is why having a big family can be so beneficial to children.  All but the oldest have a string of competency models that are just slightly above them.  How can I provide my oldest with less intimidating competence models than myself and dad?  Suzuki group lessons are a great opportunity for this in music.

The hard sell
p. 130  Beware of the temptation of the "hard sell."  "Children learn very early to be wary of too much adult enthusiasm."  Just leave the new materials or games lying somewhere and let the children approach them at their own leisure.

Encourage the spirit of independence in learning.
p. 132  When children reject our teaching. . . "Far from having decided that reading was not worth knowing, she probably wanted to learn to read very much.  What she rightly resented was my taking it upon myself to teach her without being asked.  When she learned to read, it was going to be by her own choosing, at her own time, and in her own way.  This spirit of independence in learning is one of the most valuable assets a learner can have, and we who want to help children's learning, at home or in school, must learn to respect and encourage it.

We don't forget the things we learn for our own reasons
p. 134  "The things we learn because, for our own reasons, we really need to know them, we don't forget."

Children learn by testing hunches over and over until they come to a knowledge of a thing.
p. 138  "Children's first hunches about anything are extremely faint and tentative, the merest wisps of intuition that a certain thing may be so.  Each time children test one of these faint hunches and have it confirmed by experience, the hunch becomes a bit stronger.  What we might call a 5 percent hunch becomes a 10 percent, the 10 percent, a 20 percent, and so, slowly, all the way to the point where they will say with conviction that they know that such -and-such is true."

But we can put an abrupt end to this process by constant testing and quizzing
p. 140  "Knowing this about children's hunches makes me understand more clearly than ever why, and how, our constant checking up on children's learning so often prevents and destroys learning, and even in time most of the capacity to learn. In How Children Fail, I said that the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied and into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don't know.

Another reason: "Asking children questions about things they are only just beginning to learn is like sitting in a chair which has only just been glued.  The structure collapses.  Under pressure, children stop trying to confirm and strengthen their faint hunches.  Instead, they just give them up."

How much time is wasted "learning reading skills" and being tested on them, compared to time spent reading?
"I later knew a boy, taught at home by his parents (both of whom worked during the day), who did not begin to read until after he was eight.  When he was eleven he moved to a new town and wanted to go to school so that he could meet some other children, and also find out something about what school was like.  The school gave him the usual reading tests, on which he scored at the twelfth-grade level.  But of course he didn't have to spend hours a day being taught reading skills and being tested to be sure he had learned them.  He could use that time to read."

I find myself constantly tugging myself back from the edge of anxiety about Jonathan and the fact that he has been slower to read than many of his peers.  I need stories like this to confirm my faith that he will ultimately read when he is ready.

Children are not railroad trains.  Time and sequence is irrelevant to the learning process.
p. 155  "Timetables!  We act as if children were railroad trains running on a schedule.  The railroad man figures that if his train is going to get to Chicago at a certain time, then it must arrive on time at every stop along the route.  If it is ten minutes late getting into a station, he begins to worry.  in the same way, we say that if children are going to know so much when they go to college, then they have to know this at the end of this grade, and that at the end of that grade.  If a child doesn't arrive at one of these intermediate stations when we think he should, we instantly assume that he is going to be late at the finish.  But children are not railroad trains.  They don't learn at an even rate.  They learn in spurts, and the more interested they are in what they are learning, the faster these spurts are likely to be."

"Not only that, but they often don't learn in what seems to us a logical sequence, by which we mean easy things first, hard things later.  Being always seekers of meaning, children may first go to the hard things, which have more meaning, are (in Papert's word) less dissociated from the world--and later from these hard things learn the "easy" ones.  Thus children who read well certainly know a lot of "phonics," but they have probably learned at least as much phonics from words as they have learned words from phonics.   No one taught me that the letters PH say the sound "fff."  I figured it out, probably from hard words like "photograph" and "telephone."

Children do not need to be made to learn. . .
p. 157  "Children do not need to be made to learn, told what to learn, or shown how.  If we give them access to enough of the world, including our own lives and work in that world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to us and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than we could make for them."

This is hard doctrine to swallow, I know.  But deep down inside me I know it's true because it's true of me!  I learned how to read because my grandmother read fairy tales to me over and over again.  And I just figured it out!  On my own!  

Round pegs for round holes
p. 170  "When the then Labour Party prime minster James Callaghan said in a major public speech on education that what Britain needed was "round pegs for round holes," it was clear that this educational revolution had come to an end, and for just the same reasons that had put an end to all earlier revolutions of the same kind.  Needless to say, what children were or might be learning was not one of those reasons"

Back to cassette tapes
p. 172  "In many elementary school classrooms children dictate stories, directly or through a tape recorder, to their teacher, who writes out the stories and returns them to their authors.  For many children, these stories are much more exciting to read than some old book.  By such means many children who had not been at all interested in learning to read have become interested."

What a wonderful idea for a Christmas present!  I think I'm going to get Jonathan some cassette tapes.  I remember when I was a kid, hiding out in my room and making recordings of my own stories, game shows, etc.  It's a great outlet for creativity!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Children Learn - Talk

John Holt

What makes two-year-olds so touchy?
p. 83  "I suspect that early infant talkers. . . mean to send messages with their voices, as the big people around them obviously do, and they think that these messages are being received.  Suddenly, perhaps around the age of one and a half or two, it dawns on them that most of their messages are not being received at all, and that they really can't talk like other people, but must go to a lot of trouble to learn how.  This may be one of the things that makes two-year-olds so touchy--they have just discovered that among all the other things they don't know how to do, they don't know how to talk.  They are bursting with things to say, needs, and feelings, and awarenesses, but have no way to say them.

Being willing to do things wrong
p. 84  "Every child learns how to make the sounds of his own language. . . How does he do it? . . .  The answer seems to be by patient and persistent experiment; by trying many thousands of times to make sounds, syllables, and words; by comparing his own sounds to the sounds made by people around him, and by gradually bringing his own sounds closer to the others; above all, by being willing to do things wrong even while trying his best to do them right."

How soon is this willingness gone?  Jonathan and Aaron both have expressed to me fear about new tasks because they want to do it RIGHT.  How much could we all learn if we were a little more like children?  This seems to me to be the crux of what Jesus meant when he asked us to be like little children.  

If we taught children to speak
p. 84-85 "Bill Hull once said to me, "If we taught children to speak, they'd never learn."

Stop quizzing kids!
p. 94-95  "Nor did I test him by saying, "What's this? What's that?"  This kind of checking up is not necessary, and it puts a child in a spot where he will feel that, if he says the wrong thing, he has done wrong and is in the wrong.  I have seen kindly, well-meaning parents do this to young children, hoping to help them learn.  Almost every time the child soon took on the kind of tense, tricky expression we see on so many children's faces in school, and began the same sad old business of bluffing, guessing, and playing for hints.  Even in the rare case when a child does not react his defensively to questions, too much quizzing is likely to make him begin to think that learning does not mean figuring out how things work, but getting and giving answers that please grownups."

p. 95 "A child's understanding of the world is uncertain and tentative.  If we question him too much or too sharply, we are more likely to weaken that understanding then strengthen it.  His understanding will grow faster if we can make ourselves have faith in it and leave it alone."

"This is particularly true of children just learning to read.  They have a lot of very tentative hunches about the connections between the look of printed letters and the sounds of spoken words.  If we give them enough time, they will gradually, as they read for pleasure, test and confirm and strengthen these hunches, and make them a part of what they really know.  But if we put too much pressure on these hunches, by continually asking children questions about what this or that letter says, we are liable to jar these hunches loose altogether and convince the children that they don't know anything, can't figure out anything, and must depend on us for all their information."

The "teacher devil" in me
p. 96 & p.98 Holt twice talks about ways to encourage speech development in children by talking through what you are doing on a daily basis. i.e. "Now we'll tie up this shoe; pull the laces good and tight; now we'll get the boots. . . "  However, he later corrects himself, saying that "I suspect that most people who try to talk this way to children will have so much more teaching in their voices than love and pleasure that they will wind up doing more harm than good.  If talk is not honest, does not have real feeling behind it--like most of the talk children hear on TV--they will not think of it as something they can or want to do themselves, and hence will learn little or nothing from it."  He was not at all happy about what he had previously written and later refers to the constant temptation to "teach" kids what they haven't already learned for themselves as "the teacher devil in me."

True observation can only occur in an atmosphere of trust.
p.104  Speaking of  research on the way children learn, Holt argues that "We cannot learn anything important about other people until they trust us."

This has particular bearing on a conversation I had with my brother-in-law the other day about how children learn.  He held up a book called, "Teaching with the Brain in Mind," which is a compilation of research on how better to teach children based on brain research.  Something bothered me at the time and it took until now for me to understand what bothered me so.  I was trying to explain to him that children, if given the proper environment, don't need to be "taught" at all.  They learn differently from adults in the sense that their minds are absorbent.  This idea isn't just espoused by Holt.  It is central to the theories of Sinichi Suzuki, Maria Montessori, Piaget, Erik Erikson, and Thomas Jefferson Education.  The difference between these and the brain researchers is that these people spent a huge amount of time being with and observing children in their natural habitat.  They gained the trust of the children they learned from.  Their work was a labor of love and in every respect represents true art--rising above pure science.  This is why I just don't even buy the whole "teaching with the brain in mind."  It's the teaching that's the fundamental false assumption underlying the entire theory.

The Myth of "Bad Habits"
p. 113  Correcting bad "habits" only deprives the child of the opportunity to identify and fix mistakes on their own.  The less they have to depend on us, the faster they can teach themselves.

p. 116 "A word to the wise. . . is infuriating."

Correcting children is not only unnecessary, it can be counterproductive
p. 118 "Many of us are tactful enough with other adults not to point out their errors, but not many of us are ready to extend this courtesy (or any other courtesy, for that matter) to children.  Yet it is important that we should, because they are perceptive and sensitive, and very easily hurt, humiliated, and discouraged."

"Answer Pulling"
p. 123 "The teacher asks a series of pointed questions, aimed at getting students to give an answer that he has decided beforehand is right.  Teachers' manuals are full of this technique--"Have a discussion, in which you draw out the following points. . ."  This kind of fake, directed conversation is worse than none at all.  Small wonder that children soon get bored and disgusted with it."

p. 124 "It can't be said too often: we get better at using words, whether hearing, speaking, reading or writing, under one condition and only one--when we use those words to say something we want to say, to people we want to say it to, for purposes that are our own."

Monday, October 24, 2011

How Children Learn - Learning About Children


The proper spirit of observation of a child
p. 16  "If I looked at her closely, it was not with the eye and feelings of someone looking at a specimen through a microscope, but more in the spirit in which I looked every day that summer at the snow-covered Colorado mountains across the valley--a mixture of interest, pleasure, excitement, awe, and wonder.  I was watching, and in some small way taking part in, a miracle."


Don't help unless asked to help
p. 28  "As I have since learned very well, little children strongly dislike being given more help than they ask for.

What loving and observant mothers have always known
p. 28  "It amuses me now to read how astonished I was then to realize how intelligent small children were, how patient, skillful, and resourceful, how thoroughly capable of doing many things that experts assured us they could not do.  It is not news any more that babies are smart; sometimes it seems as if half the psychologists in the country are bending over babies' cribs and "discovering" there what loving and observant mothers have always known."

The true spirit of education - JOY
p. 34  "The spirit behind such games should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, including the game of trying to find out how the world works, which we call education."

"I'm afraid this is not what most people understand by the word "education."  They understand it as being made to go to a place called school, and there being made to learn something they don't much want to learn, under the threat that bad things will be done to them if they don't.  Needless to say, most people don't much like this game, and stop playing as soon as they can."

The Instinct of Workmanship
p. 37  "Very young children seem to have what could be called an Instinct of Workmanship.  We tend not to see it, because they are unskillful and their materials crude.  But watch the loving care with which a little child smooths off a sand cake, or pats and shapes a mud pie.  They want to make it as well as they can, not to please someone else but to satisfy themselves."

Watching people do real work
p. 66  "It makes me think how much children must have learned from watching people do real work, in the days when a child could see people doing real work.  It is not so easy to manage this now.  So much of the so-called work done in our society is not work at all, certainly not as a child could understand it; so much of the rest is done by machines.  But there are still plenty of craftsmen, of all kinds.  What a good thing it would be if a way could be found for many children to see them at their work, and to be able to ask them questions about it."

Random Useless Data? Getting answers out of the noise
p. 74  "One could say that [the child fiddling around with the cello] is having too much fun-a weak word, really-playing the cello to want to take time to figure it out.  A scientist might say that, along with his useful data, the child has collected an enormous quantity of random, useless data.  A trained scientist wants to cut all irrelevant data out of his experiment. . . But a child doesn't work that way.  He is used to getting his answers out of the noise.  He has, after all, grown up in a strange world where everything is noise, where he can only understand and make sense of a tiny part of what he experiences.  His way of attacking the cello problem is to produce the maximum amount of data possible, to do as many things as he can, to use his hands and the bow in as many ways as possible.  Then, as he goes along, he begins to notice regularities and patterns.  He begins to ask questions-that is, to make deliberate experiments.  But it is vital to note that until he has a great deal of data, he has no idea what questions to ask or what questions there are to be asked."

In the past I have believed that a child should not be allowed to touch the instrument until he can be instructed properly in the use of it.  However, I'm now very interested in watching my four-year-old mess around at the piano, trying out all the keys and pedals, figuring out the logic of the notes and keyboard.  My seven-year old is a bit more cautious, but slowly he has ventured toward the piano to try out "Three Blind Mice."  He can play the first two phrases now and he loves to play them over and over again.  It's especially easy for him because the G key has a missing ivory (from the tornado) and so he has an easy reference point for his playing.  The point is, though, that until I allowed him to just play what HE wanted to play, he stayed as far away from the piano as he could.  I hope I can undo much of the wrong I have already done to him in the past.