An Alternative Kindergarten Education

IMG_0865Kate Foran, Hartford, CT, begins a series on education throughout her daughter’s “kindergarten year.”

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

This fall my five-year-old daughter is starting her “kindergarten year,” but she is not enrolled at the local public school, and she did not win a spot in the area’s public magnet schools (which are among the few in the country actively seeking racial and economic integration– see This American Life’s “The Problem We All Live With Episode 2” for more). Instead, she’s spending Mondays at Wilderness School where she roams the woods for the entire day with other kids and their nature mentors. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays she’s engaged in her own self-directed projects (which at the moment include a roadside vegetable stand and lots of art-making). Thursdays and Fridays she participates in co-op classes which I help facilitate with a number of other citizen-educators.   In addition, we meet three times a year (September, January, and June) with Sylvie’s education Circle of Support, which is a sort of community advisory board we’ve pulled together around this project for accountability, feedback, and courage.

The decision to approach Sylvie’s education this way is not one our family made lightly, and it is fraught with questions about privilege and resources, in addition to being rich with possibility. I hope to reflect on the many dimensions of this experiment in a series of blog posts over the course of her kindergarten year. Suffice it to say now that my fundamental premise is this: it is a gift to be alive on this planet at all, and one way to appreciate that gift is to be curious.   The French make a distinction between l’instruction (the three ‘r’s and other content) and l’education (how one becomes a functional, contributing, whole human being). Our educational goal is to encourage Sylvie’s curiosity (and our own) as she discovers her meaningful work in the world (of which I staunchly believe even five-year-old children are capable). Together we will discover the ways in which education is not something one receives, or even earns, but something that one makes.   Join us here on this blog as we cultivate “the hundred,” and engage our community in the hundred and the hundred more.

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