Education begins at home, not in school

Scripps Howard News Service

Rufus is 4. He doesn't listen or know he should. He rarely plays. Mostly, he looks at other children play. When it's time to read a story, go outside, eat lunch, Rufus is lost. He never knows where he's supposed to be or what he's supposed to be doing.

The education of a child begins in the home, not at school. Educating a child is a work of art lovingly done by consistent, committed parents.

When parents are absent or resist the work of rearing a child, or think it will hold until someone else does it, there is danger the child will be emotionally lost _ lost in a world that is too big for him.

It is incredibly hard for a single parent to rear a child well; yet many do an outstanding job. Mostly, it is all that they do. Single parents have to work, and at home they have to be two people _ mom and dad _ to children who never stop needing. Single parents who do the job well are heroes.

Behavior and development begin at the beginning with good sleeping and eating schedules through the first and second years. If parents use day care, schedules should carefully mesh. The best foundations begin with regular attention to growth and discovery, and that can never be done in chaos.

At 2, children must be taught by parents what "no" means. The tug of war between two self-centered parents who can't agree on anything will do more to delay a child's development than any other single element. A poor play environment that neither supports the family nor encourages the child is also a detriment.

At 2, a child is the toddler-teen who believes he's big stuff. Later he will be the teen-toddler, but that's a future problem. The trial for parents and providers is to put Mr. Big Stuff into perspective.

Parents should remember that he's the child, not the parent. And because he's the child and doesn't really know anything, time must be set aside on a daily routine to tell him things, to encourage him, to just spend time with him.

At 3, a child secures his place in the world. If he's a mess at 2, the 3-year-old year will only encourage his tyranny. At 3, children accrue habits and develop little personal ways of dealing with the world.

They learn to listen, to follow simple directions, eat properly, dress themselves, and this is where education should start.

Children are curious and ready at 3 to learn real stuff. Their minds are open to the working of the world. They learn rapidly, put some things together and begin to understand concepts, such as math and rhythm, space and mass, that they will use the rest of their lives. Holding a child back _ making him wait to learn _ is a crime.

By 4, a child is making solid all he has learned. He is adding to his life-meal the things that will make it and him interesting. He develops an interest in music and beats on everything he can find. He finds dinosaurs fascinating and learns all their names. He turns an interest on math or art or science and spends long hours doing and finding out.

This is the way it should be. But then there are children like Rufus. He was left behind at 2 with parents who tried to shove the child-rearing job on anyone who would do it. He never established habits or an interest in listening to learn. Now, at 4, he just doesn't know where he is. He may never know where he is.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)