Updated: Apr 7, 2022
By Judith Jolma
In Miss Rebecca’s religious education class, little children are learning how to read a different kind of book. It is a strange book without an alphabet written without paper, a book that even the smallest children can read. It’s the book written by the WORD at the beginning of time -- the Book of Nature. Miss Rebecca is certified through Catechism of the Good Shepherd, the Montessori approach to religious education. She shows the children a picture of a mustard tree growing just outside of Jerusalem. Then opening a little treasure box, she shows them a 1/8th teaspoon-sized lump of seeds clinging to each other in the corner of the box: mustard seeds! Hundreds of them!
“Oooooh! They're so tiny!” Squeals a little girl clasping her hands tightly under her chin.
Placing one little seed on the tip of her finger, Miss Rebecca peacefully guides their attention to wonder: “What great power there must be in this tiny seed that it can become such a mighty tree.”
If only parents could learn to read the Book of Nature so well, maybe we would all have a better understanding of how to guide our children through their education.
The parable of the mustard seed is, of course, about the Word of God and the Kingdom of Heaven: The smallest seed grows to a mighty tree. However, children are very much the same. Look at how tiny they are, yet consider what great power lies within them. Everything needed to unfold over time and become a mighty tree exists within it. The mighty tree lives inside the seed before it ever takes root. Likewise, all the potential of the adult is contained within the child.
Set aside the arrogant adult tendency that supposes that WE educate children. As if they are born with empty brains and all they possess or can achieve depends upon us pouring knowledge into their brains as they passively receive it by sitting still and quiet at a desk, completing their homework, and performing well on exams. The child is highly motivated all on his own to learn great things. After all, who really teaches a child to speak? The child cannot learn his mother tongue unless spoken to. So the adult is critical to his education. The very small child does not study textbooks or take exams, yet in these first months of life, he accomplishes perhaps the most astounding achievement of his whole life -- learning an entire language via self-guided study.
While the parent and educator may not carry the burden of filling empty skulls with all knowledge, they do play a critical role in the child’s education. The highest calling of parents and educators is to protect these children so that they are free to grow and learn as God designed them. Not according to our egos and desires but according to their natural design. That little seed must be protected in order to grow into its full potential. We must not allow any education to strip the child of their creative genius.
Just how much power is contained in these little people? NASA developed a very sophisticated test to measure the creative potential of rocket scientists and engineers. The test evaluated the ability to
come up with new, different, and innovative ideas for problems -- an important skill for NASA scientists. But then someone had the idea of administering this test to 1,600 children ages 4 and 5. Astoundingly, 98 percent of those toddlers fell in the genius category of imagination. They tested the same children five years later (the children were now 10) and found that only 30 percent of them remain in that genius category. By the time they were 15, only 12 percent knew how to problem solve at the genius level. And adults? Only 2 percent of adults remain creative geniuses.
Does it seem like we are educating the lifeforce out of our children?
With all that creative energy, what are children naturally trying to accomplish? They are all trying to learn something. Sit still for a moment and observe little children at play. Read the Book of Nature growing within your home. Look carefully at what they are trying to teach themselves and how they are going about it.
Those who study childhood development have noticed how all healthy children develop along a predictable progression through childhood. Notice how the little ones who are learning to speak point at everything. They want to know the name of everything! Why? Because they are building their vocabulary as they learn to speak. It’s astonishing, really. Those little people are driven to learn. Why does this drive to learn, create, and improve seem to vanish in children once they enter school? Why don’t they apply themselves to their spelling and math facts as they do to their early vocabulary? Often we are the ones who have interfered with their learning and stripped them of their creative genius.
If we step back and watch, if we train ourselves to read the Book of Nature, the children will tell us what they need. They will show us that they need to play, explore, make mistakes, break things, and build independence. Yet these are exactly the things that our educational techniques usually discourage.
As Maria Montessori writes:
“We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child's spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.”
More and more research is surfacing documenting the intimate connection between the way we teach children and the increase in mental illness, anxiety, and depression.
One example of this is what researchers observed about children who attended Tennessee’s highly praised preschool program. They performed significantly worse on every academic and social measurement by sixth grade compared to peers who did not attend the program, according to “Effects of a statewide pre-kindergarten program on children’s achievement and behavior through sixth grade.”
The 2022 report conducted by Vanderbilt University and published by PsycInfo Database Record followed the progress of 2,990 children including control students through sixth grade. It reported only negative outcomes for children enrolled in the early preschool program:
“[T]he children randomly assigned to attend Pre-K had lower state achievement test scores in third through sixth grades than control children, with the strongest negative effects in sixth grade. A negative effect was also found for disciplinary infractions, attendance, and receipt of special education services…”
“On the sixth grade TNReady tests, control children [who mostly didn’t attend preschool] continued to outperform the TN-VPK children in reading, mathematics, and science, with statistically significant differences larger than those observed in third grade,” the study says.
Clearly, those attempting to educate are accomplishing the exact opposite of what they desire.
More experts are sounding the alarms over this. We push early childhood reading despite ample research showing that most children’s brains are not properly developed to read before age 6. Yet 5-year-olds who are not reading are often marginalized and embarrassed. At the tender age of five, they already feel like they are dumb. This leads to lifelong mental health problems, especially since the skills that 3-to-6-year-olds should be learning - empathy, grace and courtesy, their mother’s love -- are being neglected to make room for academic study.
Of course, the lack of movement for children in formal school settings is another way creative genius is being stifled. In both schools and in home environments that attempt to imitate the school structure, children are asked to sit still for far too long. Children — all children — need movement for their brains to properly develop. But grade school children are told to sit at a desk for up to six hours a day and are often punished with loss of recess if they are unable to contain their restless bodies.
Concentration has suffered the most violence by our misguided attempts at educating children.
Despite the reality that concentration is the foundation for all other learning, our educational methods seem to be at war with the child's need for long periods of quiet, uninterrupted space. We offer loud, flashing, talking toys, screens, and electronics that disrupt the needed stillness and quiet a brain requires to build concentration. We also rush children along between academic subjects without giving them adequate time to absorb new information. The result is that the brain becomes incapable of focusing or learning. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and all sorts of learning disabilities result.
Children as young as infants are naturally inclined to concentrate, but unaware of what they are doing, adults habitually burst into a room talking without looking to see if a child is focused on something. If a parent or teacher can simply pause and look before speaking, she may see the child is engrossed in a game. They are concentrating and we can help their brains develop by allowing them space to finish their task before we interrupt.
Before we talk about who we want our children to become, let’s take some time to examine exactly who they ARE. Look at him. Watch him. Study the reality as it is before you. Stand in awe of what great power lives in such little people.
By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.
Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at Sophiahomeschool.com
Learn how to create a homeschool method and environment based on your family's needs so you can thrive. My Foundations of Homeschooling Masterclass teaches parents to work with their budget, schedule, learning style, teaching style, and resources so each member of the family has his or her needs met— including yours! Learn to create a peaceful and joyful learning environment that lasts a lifetime. Identify learning differences and adapt your educational plan accordingly. Unlock the mysteries of teaching multiple grades at once. By knowing what your needs are, you will save thousands of dollars, time, and energy on methods that do not work. We will end homework battles and restore your relationship with your child.