What’s Formal?

One subject I wrestle with particularly often is whether I’m pushing the ducklings too hard or introducing formal schooling. I really don’t believe in formal schooling for young children. They’re supposed to just be playing!

So where did they learn all their shapes and colors and letters and numbers? It just kind of . . . happened. I found this great article through the Carnival of Homeschooling that provided some reassurance about the process I’ve seen occurring, including excerpts from Charlotte Mason’s own writings.

What distinguishes informal learning, which can hardly be stopped at this age, from formal learning, which should wait? I think the distinguishing feature is pressure, whether through schedule, blame, performance, or excessive praise.

Preschool learning shouldn’t sound like this:
"It’s time to work on colors now!"
"Oh, come on, you know that! Can’t you tell Mommy?"
"Sing your ABC song for Grandma!"
"Wow, you’re so smart to know that!"
(Not that I don’t ever fall short here, especially with the showing off for Grandma.)

It should sound like this:
"Do you want a red block or a blue block next?"
"Shall we cut the sandwiches in squares or in triangles?"
"We have one, two, three, four plates on the table."
"You’re right, that is an ‘A.’"
"Sure, I can write a word for you."
"All right, if you insist, we can read the number book again." (I HATE the number book. I have read it SO MANY TIMES. Oh well.)

One area of particular note is in memorizing. I do want the ducklings to know Scripture passages from the start. I don’t want to pressure them to memorize. So I just say the passage over in front of them every day. (When I really have things together, I write it up in a notebook and illustrate it with magazine pictures.)

I never ask them to say it with me. I never ask them to say it to anyone else. Before too long, though, I’ll hear them murmuring it over to themselves during their play.

I find it works best with longer passages that we can work on for several weeks at a time, which is the opposite of the microscopic verses ("God is love") usually given to preschoolers to memorize. They probably can’t say the whole thing word-for-word yet, but the ideas are worming their way into their hearts, and we will revisit the same passages when they are older.

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