How can parents ensure that their children are educated well without controlling them tightly?
I’d like to thank Amy Chua, the “Tiger Mom,” for forcing me to think hard about this question. Chua has forced me and others who are critical of her Tiger Mom methods to put up or shut up. So what if I’m philosophically opposed to her methods? Philosophical approaches don’t get kids into great colleges and into great careers.
My answer to Chua and her followers is “Reggio Parenting.” It’s a new term, but the ideas are very familiar to many parents of children in “Reggio-inspired” preschools who observe their children in school. It would also be familiar to homeschooling or “unschooling” parents who implement these methods own their own, although my own approach is to supplement traditional schooling, not replace it.
The basic idea is to apply the basic ideas of Reggio-inspired preschools to parenting in order to inspire our children to aggressively pursue knowledge for themselves.My boys (6-1/2, 3, and 1-1/2) are far younger than Chua’s girls (teenagers), so I can’t say I have a great deal of firsthand experience implementing Reggio Parenting, but the past year with my oldest son Marco has been a very solid start.
Above is a video I made two years ago about an Italian language Reggio-inspired preschool in San Francisco.
I’ll cite two examples here:
Marco has always been interested in rocks largely because of our frequent trips to our neighborhood creek, but a few months ago, he seemed to be talking about it more, so we searched for an opportunity to get him really interested in the subject. That opportunity came when a friend of mine told me about a place that has fossils of ancient marine creatures 2-1/2 hours from our house.
So, a couple of months ago, we took him and his brothers there. We all climbed over a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign and searched around there for an hour. The boys were getting mighty cranky. Then, finally, I found a fossil of an ancient clam. It was dramatic, to say the least. Marco saw that and went wild. He found at least a dozen others on his own.
I knew then that Marco was ready for a “deep dive” into geology. I’ve purchased about a half dozen videos and a dozen books on various aspects of geology. He’s been pleading with me to read the books to him every night. He’s beginning to understand that my reading to him will not nearly satisfy his curiosity in these geology books, so he’s going to have to learn how to read them himself.
Then, I bought some geodes at a toy store and we cracked them. I’ve also bought him a rock collection, and now he’s accumulating the knowledge he needs to start collecting and classifying rocks on his own.
I’ve found some very interesting field trips close to home. For instance, I found a local geologist from Acterra, a local environmental preservation organization, who’s willing to take us on a tour of the San Andreas fault. We’ll do that next week. He’ll not only point some interesting things out to us, but he’ll also show us how to carve out rock samples we like.
Marco’s become fascinated with gold, so we’re going to visit an old gold mine and a particularly interesting cave during his winter break in a couple of weeks. Also, through this interest in gold, Marco and begun to study the history of the California Gold Rush, so we’re going to Columbia, California, a town that preserves the look and ambiance of its first days as a Gold Rush mining town in the 1850s.
I’ve also purchased a small meteorite from an online store, and that’s propelled us into an exploration of the solar system. We’re talking about getting a telescope to watch meteor showers, and then going meteorite hunting. Of course, the likelihood that a meteor would fall close to our house is pretty remote, but this is a fun one to dream about.
Finally, I’m now considering taking him on a trip to a dinosaur excavation site this summer. This would help him connect his interest in geology with the interest he’s always had in dinosaurs.
It’s hard to say how far Marco will go with this interest in geology. Ultimately, that’s not my wife’s and my decision. It’s his.
If, or should I say when, this passion wanes, my wife and I will keep listening closely, ready to pounce again on another interest. What we absolutely won’t do is force him to dedicate long hours to something he can’t justify pouring himself into.
Parkour and Free Running
The only screen time my boys get is a few YouTube videos a week, and lately, Marco and his middle brother Nico (3) have become obsessed with Parkour and Free Running videos. In parkour, people, usually young men, run and jump from building to building, climbing to roofs, in and out of windows, etc. Free running is similar, but also includes acrobatic flips and twists.
Integral to both activities is capturing all the moves on video and producing an edited music video set to music. Search “parkour” or “free running” on YouTube and you’ll see a lot of very entertaining videos.
In our basement, Marco and Nico have created their own a parkour course, a complex of tables, chairs, and seat cushions. They practice there every day, trying to perfect certain moves.
They’ve learned a lot about what they can do with their bodies (and they haven’t gotten hurt yet!). My wife and I are planning on restarting gymnastics classes for Marco and Nico. When they were taking these classes before, they were just going through the motions. Now, they’ll approach gymnastics with a much clearer goal of what they want to get out of it.
I recently downloaded the song from their favorite Free Running video, and I plan to work with them to make their very own Free Running video. I’m pretty decent at making videos. My thought is that I can use my kids’ current fascination with Parkour to help them learn about how to make videos. From there, we can make videos about many other things.
So, what do you think of “Reggio Parenting?” Do you have similar examples where you heard your child mention a strong interest, and then you took him or her on a “deep dive” to work on projects in that area?