Thursday, April 28, 2011

Raising Zinashi: Teaching and Learning

People love to ask questions about Zinashi, and for the most part I am happy to answer them (provided they are appropriate and respectful, of course), but I must admit that the two most popular questions are starting to wear thin. They are:

1. So, how's her English?

2. Is she going to preschool?

These two often branch out into further questions about what she is learning and what she knows and when she's going to start learning a certain thing. There aren't any answers that are set in stone to any of the questions except for #2, to which the answer is no. She is not going to preschool. At least not right now. She might not go to school at all, but I haven't come to a point of decision about homeschooling. We do know that we don't like any of the options we have living in our current neighborhood, so if we stay here longer than anticipated, homeschooling will be it. (Charlotte Mason method, if you're familiar with that.)

Right now we are focusing, if you can even call it that, on her language skills. We don't do anything formal, which is why I hate to call it "focusing." We just talk to her, and answer her questions and tell her what things are, the same way you would for any small child. Early childhood is an excellent time for language acquisition, and so she is doing marvelously just by living life and asking questions and getting answers. Still, it's a lot to learn, and there is a lot she still doesn't grasp. This is why I am not pushing her to learn a lot of other things. When the language is there, situations will present themselves naturally for her to learn things like shapes and letters and numbers. Without a fuller grasp of language, these things would only be memorization, and not understanding of concepts.

She knows many colors already, which she learned by choosing which Lindt chocolate she wanted for her reward for going to bed nicely (aside: May I recommend those as a reward? Half the time she doesn't even eat it, just carries it around because it's pretty.). She's learned some numbers because we often ask her how many of something she wants. She still doesn't have a firm grasp on counting, though. She prefers to count in twos--two four six eight--and I'll admit that I've ended up encouraging this by going, "Two four six eight, who do we appreciate?" and then filling in her name and the names of everyone we know, including our cats. She'll learn to count, but clearly, we're just not worried about it right now.

What we are doing to encourage learning is allowing her to play. This is how children learn naturally! She plays with us and with others and on her own. I often notice her observing someone else doing something and then going to try it herself. In her own time, in her own way, she discovers how to do things. There simply is no need to push her, but instead to help her along the way as she tries things out for herself. There is no substitute for readiness.

We also are big into reading. I love to read, and so Zinashi's world is filled with books. If she brings me a book during the day, I will read it to her, and we always read three books at night. Our shelves are filled with books for her, and there will be more. At this age, children love repetition, so while she and Jarod have gone to the library from time to time, mostly we love to own books that we can read over and over again. As she becomes familiar with the stories, she says the words along with us as we read them aloud. In this way, we are laying a foundation for love of reading and for the actual act of reading itself. Sometimes she will point to a word on the page and ask, "What that?" I tell her, and smile to myself. She'll read someday, probably sooner than we think.

Up to this point, we have not yet allowed her to watch television aside from videos of music from her home region and a couple of cat videos. (What? I take my role as crazy cat lady seriously.) We also do not use electronic toys. I am not here to judge anyone who allows their children these things, or to say that you shouldn't. Part of this decision is due to personal preference, and part is due to my philosophies about learning and interaction. I know that the Leapster can tell my child what a letter is and what sound it makes, but so can I. I know that she can learn certain skills from playing a video game, but that's not the only way (or in my opinion, the best way) to learn them. That we will allow her a certain amount of "screen time" per day as she gets older is a given. We won't keep her from all technology. But when it comes to things that I can teach her myself as we live our lives, I feel like handing her an electronic device to do those things is an annoying cop-out. I want to teach her. I want our lives to be peaceful. This is how we choose to make that happen.

As time goes by, there will be bigger and better and more exciting things for Zinashi to learn. For now, I am relishing every new word she learns, every new skill she acquires without any assistance. She surprises me every day with something she has noticed and figured out how to do herself. I am excited to see what her future brings, to gently guide her as she longs to know more and more.

This is the second installment of our Raising Zinashi series, in which we detail some of the ways we live our family life. The first installment, How We Eat, is here.


  1. I have a very basic, kinda stupid (I'll admit it!!) question: Is her name Zinashi or Zinash? I swear I've seen both ways. How does she refer to herself?

    She's beautiful. I love how you can see more of her sunshine every day!!

  2. That's not a stupid question! Her Ethiopian given name is Zinash, but she refers to herself as Zinashi and always has. So she is Zinashi most of the time and Zinash in more formal situations (you know, like when she's in trouble).


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