After I meet people here in Italy, their first question is usually, oh, so your three-year-old is starting preschool this year, right? No. Wrong. I smile, and say, “no, we do preschool at home.” And then, lest they imagine I am insulting them or Italy or (heaven forbid) the Italian school system, I usually add that we did preschool at home in the United States too.
The idea of waiting till a child is four to send him to school is bizarre enough to them. I do not find it necessary to give them a heart attack by adding that I plan not to send them to school until they go off to college. Why school, after all? I never went to school myself, so it affects me not at all when other people try to sell me on its necessity.
Amazingly, this sort of conversation has already been repeated many times, and my older child is only three. Imagine when they’re all well into “school age.” If someone is truly obnoxiously pushy about the issue, Tony likes to tell them, “well, your children will turn out like you, and my children will turn out like me, so we’ll both be happy.” People like that usually take it as a compliment, so everyone is happy.
But what do the children do then, and how do they learn? Well, at the moment, Raj’s main interest is dirt. He has tested the quality (including texture, color, smell, weight, solubility, taste, and mouth-feel) of everything from common road gravel to the rich composting leaves in the grove of trees on the hill. He also has daily conversation with the bees in the lavender patch.
Axa makes friends with all the tiny inhabitants of the grass and tree bark. She treats them gently and respectfully now that she has had time to get to know them, and teaches Raj to do the same. She rides bikes, runs and plays outdoor games. She is particularly interested in pollen, and carefully scrutinizes each flower she sees, to find out where it keeps its pollen.
When we are inside (which is as little as possible these days), we play with blocks, read/recite nursery rhymes, sing, or play at addition or Italian conversation. We talk about places in the world that we would like to visit. At bedtime we are reading The Wind in the Willows. At naptime Tony reads Axa a fairy-tale out of one of the colored fairy tale books. Throughout the day, we listen to classical music and look at pictures by Boticelli, our artist for the term.
That, more or less, is the curriculum for what we are obliged to call our little “asilo” (Italian for preschool. Why the word is cognate with “asylum,” I will leave to your imagination). I’m excited enough to get in to Latin, history, and all manner of excellent books. But for now, the great outdoors is our best schoolroom.