You know how a baby bashes a spoon on a table to learn about it? Is it hard or soft, loud or quiet? Or how toddlers often forgo their Christmas presents or birthday gifts to experiment with the cardboard box or ribbons? And how preschoolers ask dozens of “why” questions a day? This is because children love to learn. They want to experiment and ask questions and learn, learn, learn. No one instructs the baby to explore with his spoon, or the preschooler to ask so many questions. The desire to learn is inherent. But sometimes we get in the way of this love. We sugar-coat learning with Pinterest preschool crafts that teach more about scissor skills than the world around them.
Masterly inactivity is a Charlotte Mason concept that is hard to grasp. It’s based off of the idea that children learn best when they learn on their own- because “the only education is self-education.” Parents should learn to allow natural learning to occur, fighting the urge to always step in and teach something. This masterly inactivity that she describes sets the stage for raising lifelong learners.
(Read about how young children can learn through object lessons.)
The Effort to Make Learning Fun
I haven’t read any research on this, but from my own experiences, it seems like we teach children that learning is boring by replacing it with crafts and activities. The danger of this doesn’t lie in the actual craft or activity . The problem is when actual learning is replaced with something else. I think this teaches a child that learning itself isn’t good enough. A good question to ask is, “Does this interfere with or help with learning?
We definitely love crafts and activities at our house! But when Miss H wanted to learn the order of rainbow colors, we headed outside with sidewalk chalk and drew a picture (you can see our pic on Instagram!) The effort of cutting and pasting rainbow colors on a worksheet becomes more about the process than it does about learning the colors.
When we decide that real learning is not good enough for our children, we hinder their natural love of knowledge, their God-given curiosity. We don’t need to try to make learning fun, because it is already- as long as we get out of the way.
I have a little example for you:
(Related: Children are Born Persons: Charlotte Mason’s First Principle)
The Case Against the Pinterest Preschool
You want to learn how to make cupcakes, so you sign up for a class at the local rec center. You love baking, but you’ve only baked cupcakes from a box. You’re excited to learn a new skill.
On the day of the class, you show up, eager to get started.
“Hello!” The instructor greets the class. “Are you ready to learn?”
“Yes!” Everyone agrees.
She then pulls out cupcake shaped card stock and tissue paper squares. She hands you a glue stick and says, “Great! Let’s start by decorating a cupcake!”
“Huh?” You ask, as respectfully as possible. “I thought we were going to learn how to make cupcakes?”
“Well,” the cheery instructor replies, “I want learning to be fun! So we’re decorating cupcakes! Fun, right? Next we’ll dig for plastic cupcakes in a sugar bin. I saw it on Pinterest. Isn’t it cute??”
An adult wanting to learn expects to be instructed or experience something new, not make a related craft. Shouldn’t it be the same with children? I have nothing against Pinterest (let’s be friends on Pinterest, if we aren’t already!) But sometimes I scroll through some pretty elaborate “learning” scenes. The return of interest on some of those crafts and activities is very low. You could spend 3 hours setting up an imaginative play scene for your child who ends up playing with it for 5 minutes. You could spend hours creating a diagram of clouds and it’s possible that the only thing your child learned is that he likes to eat marshmallows.
But give the child work that Nature intended for him, and the quantity he can get through with ease is practically unlimited. Whoever saw a child tired of seeing, of examining in his own way, unfamiliar things? This is the sort of mental nourishment for which he has an unbounded appetite, because it is that food of the mind on which, for the present, he is meant to grow.” Home Education, page 67
(Read about making the most out of outdoor play for preschoolers.)
Food for Thought
As usual, I hope this gives you some food for thought! I know every child is different, so the Pinterest Preschool might be what works for your family!
This was a very thoughtful post. It has helped me to consider some of the activities we do as a family. Thinking back, I can understand why certainly things weren’t exactly engaging to the kids. I look forward to using this mindset in the future.
Thank you for this! It took a only a short while, but a disappointing while, for me to learn this. My son abhors crafts when they are a replacement for actual learning. We now paint for the sake of enjoying painting, not to paint something we are learning about, and the same is true for all crafts in our house. If I had a different child first, I am not sure I would’ve learned this lesson.
My Pinterest now just gets a workout when I’m planning a birthday party!
Can I just say I love this?! We do a fair amount of crafts and activities at our house. When we find a “so cute activity,” I am learning to stop and remind myself of the difference between the kids having fun and experimenting with materials versus having them do something that doesn’t address what they really want to know……i.e. making a craft turtle is fun and it gives us a chance to talk about turtles (we just did this), but it is no substitute for actually going to the pond and seeing them (we just did this too). As my daughter gets better control of her hand eye coordination, I look forward to switching most of our “crafting” towards more handiwork types of activities – sewing buttons, woodworking, more cooking, etc.
I’m also happy to hear that “it’s OK” to make silly kid art projects even as a Charlotte Mason focused Mom – my kids would totally balk if I quit those types of things with them…..lol
Thank you, Erika! It sounds like we’re on the same page with this! When it’s time to learn, we learn. When it’s time for crafts, we do crafts! I should write about my take on doing crafts. I can’t wait to start real handicrafts, but I’m not going to hand my daughter a needle (or other sharp tool!) anytime soon!
Brandi Michel says
These are great thoughts. I used Pinterest A LOT when I was homeschooling my older daughter and used Pinterest to find age appropriate learning crafts and activities to do with my preschooler. There is definitely a balance to strive for between making something that requires a lot of work on our part but leads to very little fun or learning on their part. My thought is to ask the question, “what’s my end goal with this project?” That can help to decide if it’s worth doing. 🙂 Great post
I find my myself consulting Pinterest a lot for our preschool- but it was a good term to symbolize the ultra-crafty preschool lessons I see 🙂 You are so right, striking that balance is necessary. We love to make crafts and I love letting my daughter freely create. Having the end-goal in mind is so important!