Next month, the Little Man will start Kindergarten. He has been in pre-school since he was 15 months old, spending his days from 7 am – 4 pm at the school (as does the Little Miss) and so he is used to the long days, but this will be at a new school, and it will be the real beginnings of his education. This got me thinking about my own schooling, which in turn got me thinking about what advice I’d offer to my kids as they started out with their own education. It didn’t take me long to come up with 4 things to pass along:
1. It is okay to make mistakes, get things wrong, and occasionally fail at something, so long as you try to learn from those mistakes.
The Little Man in particular gets frustrated when he makes a mistake, or when he doesn’t win at a game. I’m not sure where this comes from because I’m of the opinion that mistakes are how we learn. Natural geniuses aside, learning is rarely easy. I can remember how halting I read when I first learned to read. I had to sound out every word, mangling half of them. It seemed to take forever to get through one page. But one day, I no longer noticed the words. Instead, I noticed the story that they told. It took practice (a lot of practice!) but I got there.
Even failing at some things shouldn’t get you down. We can’t be expert at everything. In college, I took a macro economics class. I attended every lecture. I did all of the assigned reading and homework. I ended up with D in the class. To this day, macro economics stumps me. In many respects, the earlier you learn your trouble-spot, the better you are.
The most important thing is to try to learn from the mistakes you make, in school work, and socially as well.
2. Write in your books!
I wish I had done this more. Write in your books! When you are reading, write your thoughts in the margins as you go. Include your opinions (“This passage is wonderful!”, “Was Doyle on crack when he wrote this?”). This will say you work when it comes time to talk about what you’ve read. But by writing in your books, you also make the book uniquely your own.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Winston Churchill are just three people who wrote in the margins of the books that they read. You will be in very good company.
3. It is okay to have an opinion about things; it is okay not to like something you have read for school.
Through about 7th grade, I went through school thinking that every book I was assigned to read had to be good, because otherwise, why would it be assigned. (The notion of learning what not to do by reading a bad book was foreign to me.) Sometime in 8th grade, however, we had to read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I read it, and loathed it. Looking back on it, I just think I’m not a fan of the loquacious Victorian style. What bothers me most, in retrospect, was that I was afraid to express my opinion of the book in class out of fear that I’d get in trouble for not liking the book.
At some point (probably in 10th or 11th grade) I did express my opinions about books in class. What I found was that my teachers seemed to like this. Looking back on it, I think it is because it was clear that I read the book and formed an opinion about it.
There will be things that you read that you won’t like. Read them anyway, learn what you can from them, but don’t hesitate to express your opinion about them. It is part of the joy of reading.
4. It is okay to go beyond what you are learning, if you find it interesting.
If you find yourself interested in something you learned in class, or read about for class, by all means, pursue it. Don’t feel like you have to be hemmed in by what you are given in class. If you read about Soviet-era Russia in a social studies book, and want to learn more, go to the library and check out a history book. If your science book spends a few paragraphs on black holes and you want more, go to the library (or online) and learn more.
It is okay to go beyond what you are learning in class if you find it interesting. You can also use what you learn later, and if you are entertained while learning, that is all the better.
The main problem with advice like this is that it usually has be learned from experience. That may be so, but this is the advice I would pass along to the Little Man and the Little Miss as they begin their journey through school.