The Finished Product
I remember (many years ago) that as a student teacher, I often noticed how pleased some parents were with the lovely creations their children brought home to them. Their pleasure in the finished product somehow reaffirmed for the parent that their child was receiving a wonderful education. The teacher received the delight of the parents and the happy satisfaction of the administration. It was a pleasurable time for everyone. Every school had (and still does have) its teachers who were/are so gifted with crafts and creativity. These teachers had their students working on some projects throughout the year which really did allow the students to bring home such beautiful gifts. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that I wished I could be that creative.
But, I did find one aspect of it that I found particularly troubling. The overwhelming majority of the time, the children did very little of the work on their own. The teacher would have parent/teacher helpers in the room on these days. Each adult would have a station in the room where the child would move from one to the next. The child had very little to do except perhaps color a portion of something or write their name. The rest of the project consisted of pre-made and pre-cut materials that had been made in advance by the teacher and/or the helpers. The end result was something made more by the adults and for the adults pleasure than something that truly embodied the heart and spirit of the child giving it. I didn't like that the teachers felt that the children's fine motor skills were not developed enough to cut the work out themselves, or their artistic skills were not fine enough to draw/create the image themselves. If the product was too difficult for them to handle on their own, then perhaps it wasn't the right idea from the beginning.
I learned a lot about myself, the development of children, and my beliefs in education during these training years. (Mostly, I realized with how much I disagreed. But, that is for another post. LOL!) The children of my classes brought home the messy projects. You know, the ones where the glued popsicle stick keeps coming off and the pictures are ill-proportioned. But, their faces were filled with triumphant joy. They truly created this masterpiece on their own. This was so much more important to me.
My memories of these experiences have become a part of my overall view of education and the methods employed to achieve it. It affects how I think about these ideas even today. I often read on other sites the reasons why homeschool teachers love this particular curriculum or that particular curriculum. One reason often cited (along with the expected reasons such as having the schedule created or the lesson plans completed) is their love of the beauty of the notebook pages which are included. While I like a well-created and beautiful notebook page as much as the next person, I do wonder at the focus of these as an important feature for a curriculum. All too often if seems that there is a great deal of emphasis on how attractive the pages are. I often pause and wonder if this is more for the homeschool teacher and not for the student. Is this the moment that we all (myself included) become more preoccupied with what society sees rather than the invisible but monumental changes that are occurring within the child? Education is so hard because the final outcome (the child's mind) cannot be fully understood or appreciated. Society expects an instantaneous result, and we really struggle when we cannot give it one.
Is the finished product I'm asking them to create for me....or is it for them?
This is the question that I try to ask myself when giving my children assignments. The act of creating, practicing or producing is where I want to give my emphasis and not in the outcome or result. When I create narration assignments, I really do like to keep the focus on their thoughts and ideas. (I am by no means perfect about this myself.) The ideas in the narrations suggestions are meant to allow the child to think, create and consider for themselves. Our notebooks have blank printer paper pages with drawings completely made by the child. They label it themselves too. I do have some very ordinary pages we use for notebook purposes, but again the beauty of the pages are in the child's own words, pictures and ideas. I do freely admit that I have found some online sites with good coloring pages and I like a good quality printable map too. I do try to use the coloring pages sparingly. I tend to use them more when my children are very young and simply enjoy coloring just for the act of coloring. Now, I usually give my girls a choice. Recently, my younger daughter chose to draw her own picture to go along with our study of Joan of Arc rather than use the coloring page I had found of her. This is just fine with me. Her picture wasn't as artistically perfect, but it was filled with all of her own ideas and images.