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child-directed learning {meeting his needs}

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 What are my goals for what I want to teach my son and who do I want him to become?

I want him to be honoring to others, but also be true to himself.  I want him to live content, and able to be an independent thinker and doer.

My son is four years old.  I shared before on how to teach my preschool boy that he is strong willed and does not conform to typical standards of learning.  I recently shared my evolving views on arts and crafts.  My son will not conform to any standard of crafting, “arting,” or truly learning altogether.  While he sporadically enjoys activities I set out for him for our home preschool, he still will really only do what he wants.

reggio emilia learning - open ended teaching and learning

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Reggio Emilia inspired teaching and learning

I am learning alongside my son.  In Reggio, teachers stay with their same teacher{s} for at least three years.  As a homeschooling parent, I am doing the same.  Why?  Because I know my child best.  I know where he has been.  I know what he desires.  I know what he needs.  The more I study him, the more I am able to adapt our learning to his needs.  I can anticipate his moves, and be intentional with projects and activities that we choose.

Also, there is no “preschool” in Reggio, and there is certainly no full day kindergarten in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  Children are encouraged towards open-ended learning and play.  I have been reading through More Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm, EdD, which I was given to review, and to further develop my own teaching practice.  It really has been eye-opening. The Reggio approach is separate from the rigorous programs, results-based, structured, lacking creativity where children are expected to read and “do math” at much younger ages.  Wurm’s book has inspired me, once again, to not even try to conform to the standards that American schools set forth, and instead, to only think of what is best for my family, our family culture.

I don’t want to push my son, I truly want to make him thrive.

Who is my son?

He is a leader and never a follower.  I consider this character trait a tremendous strength for him.  Of course it is difficult at times, when I just want him to listen or do the activity I set up or spent time developing and creating.  He will not be swayed from what he wants.

He will play in the backyard on his own for at least an hour.  He will read books in his room and enjoy the characters and create his own little words.  He has started to read chapter books and talk through his own stories.  He will create Lego cars over and over and over again until they are just right.

Helping him be content

He is and he has a huge heart.  And he is content, and happy, to play with his Legos.  To read on his own.  To be Buzz Lightyear.  To be Peter Pan.  To talk to his stuffed animals.

Okay.  Maybe this doesn’t have to be so difficult.  What brings him joy?  Me, present.  Doing {the above}, what he loves.  Being loved.  Connecting with him is one of my greatest works.

“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.”  Loris Malaguzzi from The Hundred Languages of Children

reggio emilia learning - open ended teaching and learning

Child directed learning

You probably notice that I am veering my parenting and teaching towards more child-directed time.  I am because it is what my son wants.  It is how he thrives.  He is a leader, so I can quietly direct learning activities through the manipulatives and materials I set before him and see where he takes it.  I can create an environment based on what I observe, and document, about his individual learning.  He may simply disregard it, express his distaste, or sometimes I may get it right.  We’re learning.

I know that he is a spontaneous learner.  He wants to become anything and everything we read about or see.  He loves is visiting the library and coming back with books on these topics that he absolutely loves and enjoys.

  • He watched Toy Story with Grandma, so now he wants to be Buzz Lightyear.  Together, we created a jetpack from a cardboard box.
  • We saw some dragonflies in our water tub outside, and he was a dragonfly for a few days.
  • Then we saw a spider, he was a spider.
  • Bees, he is a bee.
  • Trains, he is a train.
  • Superman, he is superman with super speed and super strength.  Role playing and pretend adventures.
  •  A garbage truck, a magician, etc. etc.

We created a project for his love for swords & other weapons.  This was sparked by his {mild obsession} with Peter Pan, and then Robin Hood.  This project-based learning is also discussed in Working in the Reggio Way and More Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm, EdD. The how-tos in “mentoring self-directed learners” is also discussed extensively in Lori Pickert’s Project Based Homeschooling.

Cultivating an environment for him and not expecting

I want to give him the tools that he needs, the environment, to give to him what will help him thrive in his world.

  • He is getting some of this from small and loose parts.  Granted, he will throw them all on the bed and call them either the garbage truck, the bee hive’s honey supply, or the spider web’s bugs.  So pretend play it is.  He won’t daintily arrange them.  He doesn’t create block small worlds like I’ve seen from other beautiful Reggio-inspired blogs.  But that’s okay.  He’ll dump them and dump them again and again.
  • He wants to create David’s slingshot from a couple Zoobs and some string?  Great!  Or have a Samurai sword strapped to his back all day?  Even better.  His pretend play imagination goes wild, and I’m available to help him get the tools he needs and craves.
  • I respect his dislikes.  Though I try to bring out art and paint and pencil invitations, he wants nothing to do with them.  And that’s okay.  He is creating in his own way, every single day.
  • I ask him about his work.  I respect it, while expecting him to respect the materials and toys, and me, by cleaning them up and not willfully breaking or sabotaging the materials.
  • I ask him questions.

 “Questioning develops a mind-set that does not accept things at face value. This skepticism is crucial in creating an informed, active citizen.” Julianne Wurm, EdD from More Working in the Reggio Way

  • I want him to interact with the world and not take things at face value, I want him to research and investigate and interrogate.  I can teach him that.  When he has a question, don’t just answer it.  I set him up for how he can discover the answer.  Perhaps it’s an experiment, or a trip to the library.

reggio emilia learning - open ended teaching and project based learning

What does he need?

Always asking myself what he needs.  I like to have a general routine in the day, but instead of being schedule-bound, I have become free to follow him and a dance between my children and myself.

  • “Hey, mom, I’m putting you in jail!” {After counting money –rocks– stolen by the Sheriff of Nottingham.}
  • “Hey, we’re dragonflies!” {After re-stocking our bug collection, finding three dragonflies, and having a wonderful discussion with dad about a dragonfly’s unique characteristics.}

“Teachers can anticipate where student agency may lead by virtue of their own experience….”  Julianne Wurm, EdD from More Working in the Reggio Way

Is it outdoor time?  Block and mirror time?  Letter sensory time?  Mathematics table time?  Nature time?  Library time?  Quiet reading time?  Yes, all of the above, and no sometimes too — because sometimes he decides he can’t stand something he loved the day before.

My son challenges me daily.  If I had had my daughter first, then I, embarrassingly so, I probably wouldn’t embrace his mind and his needs the way I do now.  God is beautiful, and has prepared me for these moments.  While challenging, they are the most beautiful and most rewarding times in my life.

Remember my daughter

My daughter….. she really will just sit and daintily paint or read or “typical perfect child syndrome trait here” — and she deserves to be valued and challenged and embraced too!  It would be easy to tell my daughter to paint this, or color that, or glue this.  She would listen.  And she would love it. {See some of her Tot School time here.}  I must remember to see her sweet heart and cultivate her interests through the materials and an environment that best suits her needs as well.

Enjoy the playing years

But him.  I need to step back.  I need to let him play.  I will continue to search him and his heart and watch him and his movement and seek to document and adapt to his needs.

Be there for him.  Get down on the ground with him.  Be the garbage collector with him.  Sneak in a little counting. Read to him Toy Story for the fortieth time. Get him excited about the human body by showing him my arm xrays and then get him a human body puzzle, bring him to the library, and let his passions grow.  Just be for him.

reggio emilia learning - open ended teaching and project based learning

Questions for a home-educating mother, from my heart:

How to raise a child who does not conform to one idea of teaching and learning and growing up?

I can, and I will try with God’s help each day.

How to continue to pursue my beliefs for a Classical Education for my children without compromising my son’s creativity and needs?

That is another subject for another {long} post for another day, of which I am preparing.  But it is possible.  It is possible to value knowledge AND interests AND understanding.

I am learning alongside him every day.

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  1. I really like your ideas and posts, and this post came at exactly the right time! I am a nanny that works with an almost 3 year old for three 10 hour days, although I work for other families to get more hours in. I have been with this family for about 2 months. I am doing a letter of the week with him, but we really don’t do much of that. We go to his favorite place- the DuPage Children’s museum about every two weeks, the library every week, and he has 3 hours of preschool on one of the days I am there. We play chase either outside or in the basement everyday because he loves it. He “traps” me with tents and tunnels so that I can’t tag him. He is very active, and I follow his lead in what he likes to do because he does say “no” to art projects a lot of the time, but I have learned which ones he enjoys now. While going to the library, we always get books for the letter of the week. We talk about objects that begin with the letter of the week. I also started potty training him a couple weeks after I started because his old nanny wouldn’t do it. The family and I work as a team. Anyway, I just had a talk with his dad about how I feel like I should be doing more with the letter of the week. It is my own insecurities that made me feel this way because I have worked for a family where I made lesson plans for each letter, color, shape, and number. The dad said that he is learning with everything that we are doing. We teach him manners and the right ways to act (like using listening ears). I have read up about Montessori and Reggio Emilia, and encourage him to solve problems on his own, (like puzzles) but I help him before he gets too frustrated. I have worked full-time is childcare for 13 years, and taken 4 early childhood classes, so I feel that I always need to do more. However, his dad is right; (his mom agrees) he is learning through outings and playing, and we are all very interactive with him. While he is in our presence, we are there for him, and not playing on our phones. Caregivers need to give themselves more credit, and remember that children need love, your presence whether it is talking to them or playing with them, and a person to guide them. Again, thank you for this post and others, as I hope that it helps people that think that they need to have a child conform to certain activities to learn.

    1. Amy, I’m sorry, I thought I had responded to this already!! Thank you so much for reading — yes, love and simply reading a child’s needs at that young age are most important. Every child craves different activities! Sounds like you are an amazing nanny, especially working with his parents, they are blessed to have you!! -Amy

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