Future Reflections  Fall 2006

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Supplementing Your Child’s School Experience

by Michael K. Meyerhoff, EdD

Editor’s Note: On occasion, I come across a gem of an article that is not blindness specific, but which truly fits with the theme of a particular issue. In this back-to-school issue it is helpful, I think, for parents to be reminded that no school or team of teachers can provide a complete education for any child. In this article reprinted from volume 18, number 2, Pediatrics for Parents, psychologist Dr. Michael Meyerhoff explains the continuing importance of families in supplementing the school experience. Here is what he says:

My five-year-old granddaughter started kindergarten this year. When she returned home from her first session, I immediately asked, “What did you learn in school today?”

She frowned back at me and replied, “I guess not enough. They say I have to go back again tomorrow.”

This story reminds us that just because school is over for the day, it doesn’t mean your child has stopped learning. In fact, throughout childhood, some of the most significant educational experiences take place outside the classroom.

From the beginning of kindergarten until they graduate from grammar school, children spend a lot of time receiving formal instruction in many important subjects from their teachers. However, given the limitations of the system, it is inevitable that certain aspects of their development simply cannot be fully addressed.

For one thing, schools are not always designed to nurture curiosity. Given state-wide curriculum requirements and the corresponding practice of developing daily lesson plans, teachers often are pressured to “stay on schedule” and do not routinely have the luxury of indulging all the tangential inquiries little ones love to present. While this allows for the requisite “instruction” to take place, it does not necessarily permit each child to receive a complete “education.”

As Socrates said, “Education is not the filling of a vessel: it is the kindling of a flame.” Consequently, it is not until they get home that many children get a full opportunity to ask all of the questions ruminating about in their minds and can be offered all the assistance they desire in finding or figuring out the answers (which typically leads to even more questions). While teachers at school usually manage to ignite several small fires every day, it is through relaxed, unstructured interactions with their parents and others that those small fires can be fanned into roaring intellectual pyrotechnics.

In addition, schools sometimes are unable to foster a great deal of creativity. Since one teacher is responsible for a large number of students, every one is generally required to do the same thing in the same way at the same time. And since “success” in school is often determined by scores on standardized tests, the emphasis is usually on coming up with the “correct” answer.

Consequently, many children do not get sufficient opportunities to pursue their own particular interests and exercise their own special abilities until they return home. At that time, through fun, fascinating, free-form play activities, they at least get the chance to explore and expand the knowledge and skills they are acquiring in school according to their own individual inclinations and inspirations--and as a result, they gradually develop their own unique insights and innovations.

Finally, schools are not ordinarily geared toward encouraging cooperation. With their mandate, academic institutions tend to focus heavily on intellectual skills, and the interpersonal skills sometimes get very scant attention. And due to the fact that scholastic programs tend to become progressively more selective in their admissions requirements, a child’s classmates are typically “competitors” rather than “companions” in the learning process.

Consequently, it is not until they come home and engage in recreational activities that many children get the chance to learn how to get along with their peers. It is largely through play that they develop the capacity to take the perspective of another person, to share ideas and information, and to coordinate efforts in a pleasant and productive fashion.

Society needs knowledgeable, skillful people in order to function. It also needs curious, creative, cooperative people in order to flourish. Therefore, it is imperative that parents supplement the school experience by providing plenty of opportunities for intriguing and imaginative interpersonal play. While teachers are charged with producing competent citizens, it is mothers and fathers who must ensure that their children grow up to be complete, caring human beings.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, EdD, is executive director of The Epicenter Inc., “The Education for Parenthood Information Center,” a family advisory and advocacy agency.

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