Stop Trying to Make Everything Educational

Stop Trying to Make Everything Educational

With the push for an earlier and earlier start to academics for our kids, we all know the best thing we can do for them is let them play for as long as we can. Yet, scrolling through my facebook and pinterest feeds I sometimes wonder if this push for academics is making its way into the home. Can’t we stop trying to make everything educational?

Everywhere I look there’s themed worksheets and clever ideas for tricking your child into learning things you think they should learn with ‘fun’ activities. Firstly, we don’t need to make learning ‘fun’. Learning is fun. Children are born to learn and they love to learn. Everyone knows this. But when you start getting into the habit of trying to take over and control their learning it tends to lose its appeal. And then yeah, maybe you do have to trick them into it. It makes more sense to me not to get into that habit in the first place.

Stop Trying to Make Everything Educational

Secondly, children are not stupid. They know when you’re trying to disguise learning behind a ‘fun’ activity. They feel your hidden expectations and pressure. I don’t want to go down that road either. Personally I don’t think there’s ever a time for coercive learning but early childhood is especially not the time! There’s no rush right now, the most important thing is play. So let’s not do anything that may dampen that beautiful love of learning and innate curiosity so soon.

Thirdly, do children have to be learning all the time? I don’t think so. I mean, they probably are anyway, but we don’t need to pack as much educational stuff as we can into every experience. If your child develops an interest in frogs you don’t need to print out frog themed ABC worksheets to try and entice them into handwriting practice by using one of their interests. If your child is creative you don’t have to organise a dozen craft activities for them to complete. Yikes, if that was me I might not be so keen to share my interests again, ha!

Stop Trying to Make Everything Educational

Children are constantly learning new things anyway, just because you might not be able to see it (or measure it), or it’s not something that’s traditionally ‘academic’ doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not all learning is that obvious or quantifiable. Maybe they’ll share it with you when they’re ready? Maybe they don’t want to? Do you want to share every little thing you learn with other people? Or are there some things you just keep to yourself? Is it even our right to constantly judge and test and evaluate? Can’t we just observe and trust? I think so.

“Nobody grew taller by being measured.” ~ Roland Meighan

Stop Trying to Make Everything Educational

Now I’m not saying don’t support your child’s interests, don’t be involved with their learning, don’t ask questions, don’t offer ideas. Not at all! Support them, most definitely! Let’s just be mindful of the way in which we do that. What are our expectations here? Are we thinking about what will be beneficial to the child or is it more to satisfy some need in us?

Don’t take over. Don’t have an ulterior motive. Let them lead the way. Ask them what they think. Ask them what they would like to know more about. Wonder with them. Encourage them. Provide resources if they ask. Take them to the library to learn more. Just have fun. Trust them, and trust that the learning is happening all the time. There is no rush. Let them be little.

51 thoughts on “Stop Trying to Make Everything Educational

  1. Yes! I feel pressure from other mum’s when we meet up when they get their children to ‘perform’ by asking them to name numbers and letters. My three year old can count up to 12 and knows some other numbers… He knows some letters that are important to him (the ones in his name and ‘m’) and I sometimes feel I’m not doing enough. But then I remember that I want him to learn at his own pace. I want him to learn for the rest of his life -things that mean something to him! He knows about different flowers and hedgerow treats, he can match cars by looking at their wheels, he knows what sand feels like and how good it feels to stomp in an icy puddle. He wants to know where his food comes from and what the germs that made him poorly actually look like. His interests flit from one thing to the next and it’s fascinating! I didn’t sit down and teach him these things, he was just having fun. Much more rewarding than a worksheet. Sorry, that ended up quite a long comment… Basically, I agree 😉

  2. I agree 100% with this. Our pressure and urgency for children to ‘learn’ in the academic arena is creating a culture where less children are able to do so easily. They’ve missed the valuable time and experience to build their neural foundations, achieved through movement, play and self selected exploration and also have this huge pressure to be and perform. This is written so well-as always!

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  4. I totally agree. However, about a month or so ago my husband got mad that my 5 year old son didn’t know all of his letters. It doesn’t bug me, but it it does bug him. So we compromise.

  5. I’m supposed to enroll my five year old in school this year and I’m completely at war with myself. Deep down, this is what I want for her, and my husband is agreeable but not as passionate about it as I am because I read a lot of stuff on education.
    The other side of my worries…am I enough? Do I have what it takes? Can I keep up with her boundless energy? I have an almost two year old and an baby due in July. My mom thinks it’ll be too much for me and she may be right. My daughter spent this year in preschool and we loved it because it was loosely structured with lots of play time and opportunities for open-ended creativity. She made a lot of friends and I worry that she would be bored with me. If all school was like that I wouldn’t have a problem but I have a lot of mistrust of the current school system here in the US. I’m so stuck.

    • I started homeschooling my oldest with a 2 year old and another baby on the way. I was pretty nervous about all the same things you are, but for us it turned out great. We aren’t unschoolers, but my daughter and I only did “school” (workbooks, etc) for about 30-45 minutes each day – not even every day. We read a lot of books, played a lot of games, made a lot of crafts, and went to a lot of parks. We did field trips with a local homeschool group so she got to spend time with other kids. She also got to spend a lot of time with her new baby sister when she arrived which was wonderful. I enjoyed that first year so much. I would encourage you to seriously consider giving it a try.

    • My six year old was in the same situation. We just continued from a coop play based preschool. We did the same things at home. He was able to play with whatever he was interested in and we supported him with resources for him to follow those interests. You are definitely enough. You are far better than compulsory schooling. You can do it. Learn as you go.

  6. Great article!
    Thank you!
    I am a teacher and my 5 yo is a fluent reader but it all happened I don’t know when… It was all him exploring and learning – naturally and beautifully. I was there watching and encouraging ( mostly admiring even) So, all said above – tried and proven that it works!

  7. Great piece!! I really enjoyed reading it! I agree that we shouldn’t push academics onto out children so early, they just need to play. Children learn more through play than in classroom settings early on. Sometimes I think parents push their kids to learn a lot of things early to pad their own egos, in attempt to one-up other parents. In the end, that sort of thinking really hurts kids.

    I shared your post on my own blog. I feel like it’s worth sharing!

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  9. I also believe in motivation that comes from within. Children are very curious by nature. We have a luxury of allowing children make a way in their learning and development. However, cultures like China its practically impossible. People have to fight for their place under the sky. There is so much pressure to succeed academically. I think there always should be a balance. I know there will be time in my child’s life when I will have to establish very strict rules when it comes to academic learning because one day she will need to become responsible for her own living and some one else’s life. And there are things in life we HAVE to do in order to grow and move forward. I agree with your opinion, however, I have seen too many young lives gone nowhere because of lack of academical discipline in their lives.

    • It is a common way of modern thinking that we will not rise to the occasion if we are not academically coerced and trained. We have been schooled to think so. People learn to take responsibility naturally. We have goals, needs, others’ needs, natural consequences (which include how others react, what is granted to us or not by others in the world, etc.) which already guide us in making our way. Making a living and caring for others are things in life that can be learned through nurturing and involvement. These things do not necessitate academic strictness for the sake of strictness nor do they necessitate this idea that people need to ‘learn’ arbitrary x, y, and z.
      We learn what is needed; we always have since the beginning of human time.
      That all being said…
      I am in great need of practice of everything I just wrote. 🙂
      I just acknowledge that it is a common obstacle that we keep insisting on in our culture.
      I personally feel that direction from a parent (and others) which includes some tough love here and there when necessary is beneficial to the various facets of a person’s health as well as the family health and cohesiveness. However that’s all about relationships and health which do have baseline expectations and relative benchmarks.
      Academics, however, are not as baseline as co-existing. Academic knowledge and studies are personal, with each person having the right to own their own education.
      However, if my child has educational/vocational goals I do feel it is my role as a parent to support those. It’s not necessarily my role to define what those goals are. Sometimes part of that support (as mentioned before) might include some pushing when the child needs it.
      Hope some of that made sense. 🙂

  10. We don’t need to make everything educational for little ones, because it already is. The early years have to be full of play because that’s how children learn social emotional and behavioral skills, and it’s an opportunity that you never get back.

    My older daughter “did” everything on her own timetable. I remember her first day of preschool and how worried I was that she didn’t know how to use scissors. It was tough to hear the other mothers brag about their children’s abilities, milestones, and how they no longer took naps, etc.

    Today my daughter is 29, bilingual, has traveled the world, lived and worked in another culture, has her masters degree, and teaches high school. Stay with what you feel is right for your child and they will certainly thrive.

    Sara, I love the photography on your site. Your photos showing little hands holding, touching, exploring, painting, etc., are art.

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  12. i love this! Yes, let kids play and explore their world. Because playing is learning. And for kids, that is enough. They don’t adult made educational lessons all the time. They actually need a break and time to play. I just read this amazing book, The Danish Way of Parenting, which talks about the importance of play and its role for future happiness. I found the book so helpful with my everyday parenting. I’m already seeing positive changes in my family. I highly recommend it!

  13. *nobody* is making *everything* educational!! these “people” post probably 2-3 posts each week- thats doing 2-3 “educational” things a week! The rest of the time every ones just chilling, don’t worry! Neither are these “people” tricking their children, just making activities enjoyable and like-able.

    You obv won’t see articles of “we did nothing today” flooding pinterest! but you may see some amazing chilled out pictures on instagram !

    So relax!

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  15. I think my kid learned how to read so fast and well because I never pressured him into it, it just sort of happened when he was 4 1/2. Not because I said “ok you’re this age now and you have to start to practice reading!”. They’re all going to want to do things eventually. This kind of makes me afraid of Kindergarten

  16. I agree, if the material doesn’t really fit the child, or leaders are feeling pressure. Most gradeschool material would doesn’t really fit the child. Montessori was created to follow the child, so kids can follow their interest in sounds when they are figuring out language for the first time, their interest in addition facts when they are asking tons of ‘what’questions. What is 4+5? We try to teach those facts when the kids have moved on to ‘why questions. It is important not to conflate one’s own experience with learning math and reading, with what is possible.

  17. “… children are not stupid. They know when you’re trying to disguise learning behind a ‘fun’ activity.”

    Oh yes! I think I have written the very same words. Yes, we don’t need to trick kids into learning.

    I enjoyed your post!

  18. When I first read the title of this post, I thought, “but, everything we do for our children IS educational… what is she saying?!” – and then I realized… that’s what you were saying. 🙂

    Great post, thanks for spelling it out.
    – Ayelet from Strength In Words

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  20. I love this blog! I know you have not crossed this road yet, but my oldest is 12 and we are transitioning out of a classical model of homeschooling which she has done since age 4 🙁 Do you think your thoughts and days will be similar?? So far with a large age gap, our days look similar…. even with a 12 year old. She loves the arts and script writing. She spends a lot of time editing and filming as well. I love the new freedom she has! She recently asked to learn percentages after encouraging a friend by telling her she was 99.9% sure she would advance in ballet. Well, this led to her wanting to really understand percentages. Can’t beat that!!

  21. It’s good to know so many people understand that learning happens naturally. If it didn’t a baby wouldn’t become aware of its mother and father or things around it and learn to speak, smile and eventually walk. These things can’t be forced.

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