(The Nine Essential Skills are from an article by Leo Babauta)
The past “most difficult” decisions of which stroller to buy or which pediatrician is best have now been eclipsed by the start of many education related choices. I have a friend jumping head first into homeschooling and another staunch public school mother who often buts heads with a strong supporter of charter schools. My “Waldorf” friends tell me their way is the best and books shout another opposite idea. I can’t imagine what I am going to do when my boy’s enter their senior year of high school!
I came across an article that provided me with a bit of perspective. Leo Babauta talked about unschooling, but mentioned Nine Essential Skills necessary to prepare children for the future. No mention of algebra, conjugating verbs or battles of the Revolutionary War. I was able to breath a bit easier knowing that even if I make the wrong decision about my children’s preschool education, I can at least impart this wisdom and prepare them for “life”.
My classroom for “life” will be outside on walks, playdates at the park and fishing trips. Yes, they will still go to school as I think it is an important park of childhood and growing up. But, when they finish their homework, we will pull on the boots and find some puddles!
Asking questions -> This skill encourages independent learning. I encourage my boys to ask questions and try my best not to get frustrated (or laugh). It is impossible to set foot outside without being curious. What bug is that? Do salmon eat those bugs? Can I eat those? Does Bear Grylls cook those bugs or eat them raw?
Solving problems -> Nature provides wonderful teaching opportunities. Instead of immediately “swooping” in at the first sign of frustration, let them try out options and gain confidence. A too high stick, a slippery hill and prickly berry bush all can teach this skill. Model by thinking out loud of options, taking a deep breath when frustrated and praising all attempts (That was a good try to use your brother as a bridge, but what else might work better?).
Tackling projects -> Let them see big tasks as a series of small and related steps. We often tell stories about going fishing and go through the necessary steps of packing, driving, hitching the boat, laying out the tackle... They can see that a big event is accomplished by first completing other necessary steps.
Finding passion -> Encourage your children to try out activities and foster those they enjoy. Try fishing, hiking, drawing in the sand, cooking mud pies, tracking animals or painting a sunset. Nature can tap into every possible passion.
Independence -> Let your child gradually walk the trail on their own. I am trying to let my boys pick the hikes, stand closer to the edge of a river and gather sticks for the fire. I want confident children, able to stand on their own (and then come home to mom whenever possible).
Being happy on their own -> Instead of “needing” me to be happy, I want my boys to find other ways out of a bad mood. I am learning to not interfere with their fort building and not jump into the fun of puddle jumping. I am trying to encourage them to do what makes them happy and giving them space to explore by themselves.
Compassion -> My Master’s thesis was on empathy and I don’t know how many times a day I ask “how do you think that makes your brother feel?” I want them to understand how their actions effect others. We try to be kind to nature, leave flowers for others to enjoy and help friends up a hill.
Tolerance -> Exposure to different situations and people helps children understand the variety in our world. I want my boys to not blink at children with a different color skin or accent when talking. Summer in Alaska is wonderful with the rich influx of tourists speaking new languages, having different smells and wearing strange hiking clothes.
Dealing with change -> Children need to roll with changes instead of fearing and resisting it. The days when we plan to go fishing and can’t or when the park with the great hill for rolling down is closed (darn weddings) can be made into lessons. We express our frustration and brainstorm options.
I am in love with this list and look at it every morning, as it is taped to my bathroom mirror. Instead of focusing on the alphabet, numbers and colors, I try to use these skills as my guide. Nature is an amazing classroom for learning these in ways that my children don’t understand as education. A simple walk out the front door will prepare my children for life if I take the time and energy. The schools can focus on making my boys book smart, but I will take the reins on making them “life smart”.
A big thank you to Leo Babauta for writing the article. Please follow the link and read the entire article as he has many other suggestions and ideas!