Who is on the plum tree?
Some time ago, (at my age, things I remember are always some time ago), I read a book by Alexander Sutherland Neill. He was the inspired educator that initiated the Summerhill project in 1921, in the magically named place of Kingswinford.
Niell held no truck with pedagogy. Rather, he believed that children WANT to learn, and if you follow their signals, they will learn through passion.
There were no structured lessons. Teaching was child-centred. Children were allowed to revel in the imaginal mind ~ play there: exploring, dreaming, imagining and creating. Soaring in such a fertile place as the imagination, they also made discoveries. This, according to Neill, was the crux of the matter where learning was concerned.
Say, a child discovered a bug under a rock, doing bug things, minding its own bug business, in its tiny bug world, a child would be inspired to learn to read, as s/he discovered the NEED to read. Receptive teacher would appear, just at the right time, to place a book in front of enquiring child. Results showed that the child learned to read then, quickly and easily, having the passion to do so, as the secrets to his or her imaginal encounters with bugs, inhabited those books.
If a child loved to build things, s/he would yearn to know the secrets of engineering (which involves also learning math). Inspired teacher would appear, just at the right time, to explain the necessity and relevance of math, reading, drawing, etc., and such things would become aids to creativity and discovery ~ the structures and disciplines necessary to enable expression.
Alexander Neill was brave. He flouted institutional learning. He believed the teaching should suit the child, not the child suit the teaching. I fell in love with him and his philosophy. He was a man after my own heart!
I watch with wonder now, how quickly my granddaughter learns. Her quick-silver mind flits and dances into every new realm. She is a fearless explorer of imagined scenes. And her mother is there (as am I) to enable, not dictate, the flow of her natural genius.
Children are geniuses. All we have to do is recognise the way they learn and enable that genius to blossom and express its full potential. Nourish natural ability, and all else will follow.
Learning is a holistic thing. We make friends with the tools we need (subjects) that will aid our discovery and facilitate our natural desire to roam the realms of the imaginal mind, which are, after all, without limits.
I don’t agree with everything Neill believed(I wouldn’t, as I learned the joy of thinking for myself, due to having imagination in abundance!). A child also needs boundaries in which to feel safe. There’s the rub: achieving balance between freedom and structure ~ surely this is the Holy Grail of parenting and teaching?
In my humble opinion, apart from love, there is no greater gift than that of nurturing a child’s astounding imagination.