A Big Learning Curve: The story of a lizard

We are on a big learning curve here. Even though I had been teaching for 10 years, this project-based Reggio-inspired homeschooling is something I didn’t get a lot of experience in. I used to plan the units, create the activities, find the resources, book the excursions, organise the worksheets, organise the library books…I did it all. And after 10 years it is so hard to let go of it, completely let go of it.

I feel like I need to retrain myself. These notions of eduction and learning are so ingrained; what learning looks like, how you know it is happening, what is the role of the teacher, the student. What should a three-year old know, should he know how to write letters, words? What are other preschoolers learning?

Even though I read a lot about progressive child-led education; Reggio and Montessori, I still hear little voices in my head, Is he keeping up? Is this what he should be learning? You know what I’m talking about.

‘Oh, that little girl can write her name.’ ‘Oh, that little boy can write his full name’. ‘Should I be teaching Jack to write his full name?’

‘Oh that little girl can read that word.’ ‘That little boy can read that sentence!‘ ‘Jack can’t read words, should I be focussing on reading words?’

Rationally, logically, I know that we can’t and shouldn’t compare children. That we should wait until they show signs of readiness and interest, if we want to foster authentic learning. That an environment which encourages independence and exploration will nurture their souls and ignite their fire…But the voices sneak in.

I was thinking about this yesterday. We were at a flower festival. I had promised the kids a trip to a farm animal nursery but instead there was a hands-on reptile exhibition. Straight away I went into teacher mode; this is a saltwater crocodile, he eats….’ But then something made me stop. I knelt down to Jack and said, Do you have any questions you’d like to ask? Is there anything you want to know?’ What came next melted my heart…

Jack: What is this?

Keeper: It’s a kind of lizard

Jack: What kind of lizard is it?

Keeper: It’s a shingleback lizard

Jack: Yeah he’s got a shell, it’s all bumpy….and he’s got two heads?

Keeper: That’s his tail, it looks like a head so it confuses other animals who want to eat him

Jack: Yeah, this is his tail because its got no eyes

Keeper: (to me) Gese, he’s inquisitive, isn’t he?


He is inquisitive. But none of that would have happened if I had continued talking to Jack about the animals. He probably would have had a pat and then moved on.

Yep, this child-led stuff can be tricky. You can guide it gently but you never quite know where you will end up. And while he might not be able to write his full name or read words or sing the national anthem, slowly those anxious voices of mine are being drowned out by the conversations of an inquisitive 3.5 year old.

12 thoughts on “A Big Learning Curve: The story of a lizard

  1. It’s so hard not to compare…. I compare Nash to Jack all the time when I see the beautiful spaces & activities you create and went into full panic mode ate the site of Jack writing lol! Nash has 0 interest in writing but does have some letter & number recognition & asks what everything starts with etc, he’s not going to preschool for another year and I still panic! But then I think, we both have awesome intelligent energetic boys who will learn how they will learn and I bet they both turn out exactly as they should 🙂

  2. so beautiful — what i see is a child who is really alive and questioning and listening and communicating. the academic press in preschool and K is just wrong for children, and teachers know it! but everyone loves “results” (like seeing a young child write his name) — teachers can’t help feeling it validate them, parents love it, and so on — even though they know in their hearts it would be absolutely fine if they left it alone because those children would simply write their names a little later on.

    whereas if you miss getting a child excited by learning, if you miss showing him how to direct and manage his own learning, you may never get that back.

    • Ah Lori you are so wise 😀 I kid but it’s true. We are so ridiculously results driven. I remember looking through Preschool and K curriculum when we first decided we would homeschool (long before I knew about Reggio and PBL) and saw that they taught colours. And I thought, goodness, better make sure we do that lesson! What ever would happen if I didn’t teach Jack the colour green! How would he ever know what colour a tree was?!?

      Even though I know these things, that these results are just like you said, validations that we are doing this right, or good or (even worse) better than other people, it’s really so wrong. IT’S NOT ABOUT US! Once the passion to learn, to get excited about something new, to be awed by a butterfly is gone, it is so hard, if not impossible to get back, and that is so very sad.

      • what do you mean you kid!? are you saying i’m not wise?! ;o)

        the standard preschool curriculum here includes teaching “letter of the week” — as in, after only 26 weeks the kids know the whole alphabet! :^/

        parents & teachers both questioned us, HOW are your preschool students going to learn their ABCs if you don’t teach letter of the week?! the idea of authentic reading/writing/communicating wasn’t on their radar. -.-

        i think some people don’t believe what we’re saying — that kids can lose the chance to develop their excitement for learning — but it IS true. virtually every child can read and write by fourth grade, but at the same time, many kids lose their excitement and creativity by fourth grade. and as you say, we can’t get it back.

        • Argh I just cringe when I see ‘letter of the week’ activities. They are so out of context, so disconnected from the child and so unnecessary. It’s the same argument with play. ‘Kids can’t just play all day, they have to sit down and learn too’. Maybe if we called play something else like ‘learning enrichment activities’ or ‘school readiness activities’ people would value play more…

          Hmm I really should stop before I start an all out rant 😀

  3. I struggle with this with my 8yo who is hs’ing this year–are we doing “enough”? What *is* enough, anyway? I know in school he was doing just enough to get by, he wasn’t engaged, he didn’t put the time into anything that didn’t interest him, and not much did. I am finding holes. The instinct is to try to fill them all in, quickly, right? He’s eight. But at least what he is doing here, he is doing deeply. It’s not surface work. It’s hard to trust it’ll all happen, but I have to, because I know trying to force him to learn (as if! as if anybody could force anyone to learn if they didn’t want to!) will just backfire. I took him out of school because I was afraid it would turn him against education altogether. I can’t do the same thing to him at home.

    My youngest is almost 4. I never worried about my preschoolers, to be honest (she’s my third). They soak up like a sponge, and they’ll get to it. One of my children never named colors until he could name them ALL, from beige to chartreuse to fuchsia. (He is very visual, and his ability to mix colors–fantastic.) They focus on one thing at a time–my daughter was interested in numbers well before she was interested in letters. There is so much to take in, and you just have to trust that your child is organizing it and approaching it in the way that makes the most sense to him. That’s the gift we give them by keeping them home.

    • I often think about when the kids are older, will I have done enough to protect their desire to learn. I have 10 years of teaching high school and with so many of the students the drive to learn is gone, that wonder at discovering something new, the initiative to find the answer to something. They are just going through the motions, the routine of school and learning. I think about this a lot. Am I doing ‘enough’ now, and like you said, what is enough anyway? I think that is why my anxieties come up.

      You’re so right though, they’ll get to it. There is so much to learn, so much to discover, who are we to put a timetable on what they discover and when? That is why we decided to homeschool, so Jack and Sarah can be on their own path, follow their own passions for as long as they wish. I am entirely committed to this, I just wish those insecurities would go away. I am getting much better at dealing with them though. Whenever Jack writes a word or makes an observation or pieces something together, I smile knowing that it is all coming together as it should, in his way, ‘the way that makes the most sense to him’.


  4. It’s reassuring to to see that someone who understands Montessori and Reggio can still have moments of insecurity. Reese and Elliott are at a different stage than Jack, but as I begin to let them lead in the experience; I’m always so impressed that they naturally get interested in learning. It’s hard to change my mindset from what I was brought up with, but it’s exciting too. I do get anxious sometimes about them falling behind, but I try to move away from being goal oriented. I try to put more emphasis on the immediate benefits to our relationship and quality of life that working with these methods has given us. I love this story about Jack. It’s like, “HE’S DOING IT!”

    • I used to have quite a tight grip on what Jack did during the day. This was before Sarah was born. We had a very tight and ‘educational’ weekly schedule. It was exhausting and a complete waste of time. But that is what I was used to doing with teaching and this is what I thought was best for him, to make sure he is always moving forward, getting ‘ready’. Those insecurities do creep in from time to time but like you said, when we let them lead the experiences they are so engrossed in the process, the amount they are learning, and discovering and experimenting with is amazing. I know that as they get older my insecurities will be quieter as I learn to trust them and the path they are on.

  5. This is something that I’m only JUST realising/recognising and working on now. It was looking more into Reggio that woke me up. Too often I compare and think throwing information at Cam will benefit him. It’s only recently that I’ve challenged myself with this. It’s so great to see other Mums admitting their insecurities and struggles with this too. I think that it is only natural.

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