Every child begins the world again, to some extent, and loves to stay outdoors, even in wet and cold. It plays house, as well as horse, having an instinct for it.”
–Henry David Thoreau
I know so little about chidren! What will I do as headmistress and housemother, teacher, nurse, cook, playmate, and mentor of a home full of children?
I am beginning with research. Waldorf and Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori, Reggio Emilia, John Holt. And let’s not forget Alcott and Rousseau!
With Steiner, the emphasis is placed on the integrated development of the child as a being of body, soul and spirit, developing reverence for the world, artistic expression, and a scientific attitude of investigation and exploration.
Through the Montessori approach, teacher, child, and environment form a learning triangle, through which we celebrate and nurture each child’s intrinsic desire to learn. Guided choices in a structured learning environment encourage independence and freedom within the limits of structure.
Not all of the principles of Reggio Emilia, with its reliance on the involvement of parents, will be readily adaptable to an institute which is essentially an orphanage. Yet we can incorporate community involvement. My role will be to make friends and connections within the community, so that our children can learn within a social fabric. The tenets of generating questions and hypotheses and exploring the environment through real-life applications will be useful and enjoyable to our children.
John Holt has written that “Almost every child on the first day he sets foot in a school building, is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn’t know, better at finding and figuring things out, more confident, resourceful, persistent and independent than he will ever be again in his schooling – or, unless he is very unusual and very lucky, for the rest of his life.” Through Holt’s radical argument, we can strive to help our children not be made less–less inquisitive, less confident, less free, less self-reliant–through the social and cultural conditioning that forms the primary purpose of school. So much of these children’s real learning will take place here, at home. School is a tool for social success, yet once our passports of A’s are earned, these children will spend ample time at here at this home, learning, exploring, and maintaining their freedom. We want wild children who will grow into creative, strong, imaginative, brave, and caring adults. We don’t want 9-5 clock-punchers.
Alcott and, especially, Rousseau would agree.
All I’ve learned can be distilled into this: the aim of effective education involves nurturing the growth and development of the whole child within an environment that provides freedom within structure.
Much of my work will be done through observing and learning about the individual child. While all children share some fundamental stages of development, and all share the same basic needs, beyond this there is room for individual variance of trait, inclination, and aspiration. My best approach will be to get to know each child.
With the ample funding which the contract with the Emerson Foundation requires me to provide, we will be able to meet these individual needs. We will have resources for fully stocked music, art, science, logic, writing, gaming, programming, and fitness areas within our compound.
I wonder how much that I have learned during my sojourn here will directly support our efforts.
After eleven full weeks of talking to no one but trees and carrot and spinach plants, I will need to relearn what it is to talk with another person. I hope the children don’t mind if, at first, I talk to them as if they were little mushrooms.