About a week ago, I found myself having the all too familiar conversation with another parent regarding which schools our children attend or will attend. When I told them which elementary school my oldest daughter attends, the other parent asked me if I felt the school had academic rigor. I paused, thought a moment, and said, "Yes, it is academically rigorous enough." However, I started to ponder the question and my answer. What does academic rigor imply? Is academic rigor applicable for small children? How do we measure the success of academic rigor in elementary school? Do the results of a series of standardized tests really gauge the academic rigor of a school, or do they simply measure the ability of a child to choose the correct answer?
This reminded how a couple weeks ago I had to coach my daughter off a figurative ledge after she had an anxiety attack during the second full week of standardized testing. She is eight. Crazy, right? She cried as she recounted how she didn't have enough time to answer all the questions. She cried about how confusing the questions were to answer. And frankly, when she described some of the questions, I was confused.
All of these questions make me wonder which skills, beyond the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, I would like my children to have before leaving elementary school. Inspired by watching The Wizard of Oz tonight with my girls, I am calling on L. Frank Baun to support me in explaining which skills and attributes I hope my children will acquire or keep intact by the end of elementary school:
1. A protected and nurtured imagination. Children are born scientists with vivid imaginations. They are naturally drawn to explore and question. Why this? Why that? The constant mantra of a child is too often shushed or quieted in the classroom in the interest of completing a set of standards. However, I cannot help but wonder if this is not the time when we should be embracing their desire to learn and think like little scientists by using their imaginations?
Recently, I lent the book If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen to a dear friend of mine. She sent me a picture last Saturday morning of the car her five-year-old son made out of things he found around the house because he was so inspired by build and create after reading the book. Isn't letting the imagination run wild how we grow little scientists and future engineers?
2. Courage to try again after failing. About a month ago, Miss M tried out for a club and didn't make the cut. Secretly, I was pleased. She cried. She mourned the loss. She expressed jealously towards those who were chosen and commiserated with those classmates that were also not chosen. The reason I was please is not because I have some sick desire for my daughter to suffer. No. I have a strong desire for my daughter to be built of grit and grace. Grit in that next time maybe she would try harder and practice more before the tryouts. Grace in that she will learn how to fail, dust herself off, feel genuinely happy for those who succeed, and then ask herself what she learned from the experience. Life is full of bitter disappointments, scathing reviews, and frustrating setbacks in both professional and personal lives. Of this, I am sure. However, most never learn to fail and keep moving forward. This is why I love this clip from Meet the Robinsons so much.
However, to have the courage to keep moving forward, you also must have the courage to try in the first place. It is scary to try something new or ask a complex question when there is so much pressure to be "right."
3. Grow a love for knowledge and not just learn a bunch of facts. Have you ever met a little kid that is totally into dinosaurs? That kid can tell you anything and everything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs. They will be unable to say personality properly, but they will be able to pronounce Brachiosaurus. They assemble these facts together into a matrix of information that evolves into knowledge about these dinosaurs, their evolution, and their disappearance from this earth. A child, amazingly, will be able to understand that there are many theories as to why dinosaurs all died. I know this because my children have explained this to me while visiting the Tellus Museum. Knowledge, once gained, can never be taken away. There are very few things in this world that can never be taken away. However, so many times, we become so focused on the next test, memorizing individual facts, that we fail to absorb any real knowledge about the subject. We may know something to be true, but we may not understand why it is true or how discovered information about the subject.
If my children grow up to acquire and develop these three skills, I believe that will lead rich lives. Maybe they may not have a lot of money, but they will have brains brimming with knowledge and a wealth of desire to keep learning.
Finally, if I could have just one more wish, I would release all the amazing teachers we have encountered from the rigid framework from which they are given to teach their daily lessons. I am constantly in awe at how passionate the teaches my children have had so far are for educating and igniting a love of learning. If given the freedom, I am sure they would soar.