As I contemplate Ada's life with me as her Mother, I've stressed about one thing more than others:
How will I teach her?
Recently I've started to realize that this, in my case, is the wrong question. Right now in Ada's Life I see in her one persistent revolving trait. She wants to be like me.
Is it normal that it's taken me this long to figure this out?
About a year ago when I started to do home school related activities, I tried to come up with a lot of crazy ways that I could teach Ada things. First and foremost, her letters. Ada had been drawing on our walls since she realized that pencils and pens make marks and recently she had moved to drawing squiggly horizontal lines. I made an awesome magnetic chalk board to fiddle with. And the kitchen was constantly filled with Sesame Street Alphabet songs (I may or may not know all of them by heart). All these things told me it was time to play with drawing the letters. So we talked about A for Ada. We started playing, me drawing the upward and downward slopes, she finishing with bar across. It didn't take very long until she was drawing A on everything and pointing out every A and drawing the cross bar on any letter or image with a triangle without a cross bar, thus making it into an A. We went on to D, so we could write her name and U because I thought it would be a good idea to make a word that she would know. UVA, Ada's then favorite fruit.
Then something happened. Ada no longer liked drawing letters. Everytime I moved to the chalk, Ada would run away because she didn't want to do that. She was past it. She knew how to draw her A and she was done. She didn't even want to sing the fun monster songs very much anymore.
It seems like this happened every time I have came up with a brilliant idea for how we could get from one leapfrog of learning to the next. Ada eventually rejects what it is she's being taught. From drawing letters to pushing shapes through holes, to dressing herself and potty training.
The best piece of advice I was ever given was from my sister of five children. Not all of them were potty trained perfectly. She certainly had her share of struggles in that area, which is why I knew she knew the difference. On the subject of potty training, she told me simply, do not pressure them. Somehow I was able to leave the pressure out of potty training, but Ada could feel it in other aspects of my mothering. She could feel it simply because it was there. I wanted her to learn those things. I spent a lot of energy everyday trying to incorporate learning modules into the fun things we did, and the not so fun things. Somehow I let slip how important it was to me that Ada learn these things. But being a three year old, the only thing Ada wanted to do was play.
We tried going to a play group to see if she wanted to play with learning games with other kids, we even hosted it at our house a few times and I loved the other women that taught it and seeing how their kids reacted to structured learning. They and their children are the kind of people who probably do well in public school because they have such amazing Mothers. But every time we would go, Ada was much more interested in the toys and exploring the house than she was with the organized play that was taking place between the teacher and the other kids. So play she did. I have gradually done less and less of those semi structured activities and for a long time I've felt guilty about not doing them. And so my question, word by word, flies out the window until only this is left:
I've accepted the fact that my way of teaching, the way I've always thought worked well, always gave me success with kids, was flawed. I recently read something in The Big Book of Unschooling, by Sandra Dodd, about the nature of learning and how learning requires only one person. Teaching, in fact, only requires one person, and does not guarantee learning, if you happen to have a pupil. I understand that if I am to parent this independent minded child, there's not necessarily teaching involved. What I need to do is facilitate learning. To do that I need to think about who Ada is and how she learns, how she enjoys life, what does she want?
Do As I'm Doing.
Another thing that happened last year was that I joined a book club. I decided that if I wanted Ada to want to read, she needed to see how much I loved reading; as in Books. After all, what I do on the computer isn't reading. I push buttons, the buttons make sounds and there are pictures that become videos for her to watch. Books though, as I intentionally read books in front of her, text books, novels, nonfiction, poetry, suddenly I saw a flame in her mind as she brought up her own books from her room to 'read' while I read mine lounging on the couch.
One of Ada's very first words was Help. Help, by throwing random sometimes edible things into the mixing bowl. Help by chopping the Lettuce. I've gotten better at letting her help as well as organizing my kitchen and work space so it can be accessible and safe for her, so I don't have to tell her no when that's what she wants to do. I often find her, when the house feels too quiet, standing on her stool cutting a random vegetable she has retrieved from the fridge or pouring her cup of milk into the sugar and mixing it around very methodically, with an intense look of 'I'm doing something important' on her face.
Another thing that Ada has shown an outward interest in doing is something we do as a family at least once a week. I have a basket in our living room that is full of sound makers. Shakers, a bongo drum, harmonica, all beaten up and/or passed along from the thrift store, but in perfect working order. We can all be happy making nose on the shakers and tambourines until we pull the guitar out. It was given me by the most dearest of friends and I have over the years learned a few tunes. I don't play as much as I'd like and every time I do, I end up going to the same few songs that I already know well and it's a family event. Which means it doesn't take long before someone is hurt because the other is playing the guitar and Mom and Dad are busy trying to keep the guitar in one piece.
Yesterday at the store Ariel took the kids to the toy section while I went to the fabric. Ada found a guitar. In fact, she refused to leave the guitar on the shelf. Every one of the ten times we put the guitar back, she snuck back to retreive it and contantly made sure it was STILL in the cart. We didn't buy it. Then last night we were playing drums and dancing around like the fools we are, when Ada asked to get the guitar out. I played a bit, Ariel played a bit and then Ada sat down on on a short seat with her legs at just the right angle to allow her small arms over the guitar. She started to play and sing. Not words, not a tune, but a song; music. So sad my camera was out of batteries. It was sublime, I tell you.
Other things Ada loves are wearing dresses with pretty bows, flowers, sewing with me, pretending with her dolls, cutting hair, digging in dirt, pulling leaves off plants, Painting, Taking Molly for walks and throwing the ball, and lots of other fun three year old things.
So this is Ada's curriculum over the next year, give or take, change or not, depending on her wishes. Singing and playing the guitar, Making a dress with Mama, Helping Mama cook, Nature Walks, Painting (sometimes structured, sometimes not) Quiet time in her room with Mama reading to her while she plays, as long as she is happy.
This is Mama's curriculum over the next year: Find Ada a guitar, Read books aloud to Ada and Nahuel and let Ada and Nahuel see me enjoy my own books. Go to the library, let them choose out their own books. Play the guitar more, with Ada and Nahuel. Take nature walks and go camping more often. Enjoy the garden, set apart a garden plot for Ada and Nahuel to sow seeds and water them and watch things grow.. Sew Ada lots of pretty things and let Ada help.