For parents considering childcare with Meredith Lownes, my mother, I would like to tell you about my personal experience of the Children’s Quest program from an adult perspective of its value and the lifelong effect it has had on me.
All of the skills and talents that have helped me in my adult life can be traced directly back to my mother doing the program with me from birth to seven years of age. Now a Sarah Lawrence College graduate, published journalist, and editor at a major book publisher, I give my unique educational program full credit for my accomplishments. I didn't go to Pre-K, or kindergarten, or first grade. At a time when other children were learning the importance of sitting quietly in rows, or sounding out their first syllables phonetically, my mother and I were acting out scenes from Shakespeare, celebrating the birthdays of famous inventors, categorizing the Latin names of the animal kingdom, and switching in our conversations between English, Spanish, and Japanese. I remember lying under the kitchen table making crayon drawings on paper taped to the underside, imagining Michelangelo's experience painting the Sistine Chapel, or water-coloring, windswept, on an easel in the backyard like Monet and Pissarro. Our New Jersey house caused jaws to drop when friends or family visited: every wall was plastered with portraits of famous artists, scientists and past presidents, illustrated historical timelines; and my favorite, the kitchen, decorated floor to ceiling with pictures of great American women. A staunch feminist by age four, I was amazed to find that my second grade classmates didn't know about Mary MacLeod Bethune, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Nellie Bly. My admissions essay to the Quaker school where I started in second grade was about my cat, Bastet, who I'd named at age five after the Egyptian goddess. I have a vivid memory of explaining her moniker to the school principal.
A conventional education for preschool-aged children often consists of discovering the ways that they do not fit into a prescribed notion of what children their age should be doing and thinking. What my mother does is discover the myriad ways that each child's individual interests, hobbies and fascinations can be encouraged to grow and develop into the unique skill sets and personality traits that will not only set them apart to succeed in the school system, higher education and, eventually, the workplace, but will also give them lifelong joy and fulfillment.
For me, this fulfillment has come from a love of language that was instilled in me before birth, the words of great poets that put me to sleep every night and the joy of telling stories and expressing feelings that I dictated to be written down before I could form words with a pen on paper. I began reading at eighteen months, before I could speak significantly, recognizing words written large in red type on white 'bits'. My first poem was published at age six. I learned the Latin word roots even earlier, which gave me a significant advantage in developing a wide vocabulary in English and understanding other Romance languages. My spelling, for this reason and also for having bypassed phonics, is nearly impeccable. The next time I was introduced to word roots, in tenth grade English class, the knowledge already embedded in me came instantly, effortlessly to the surface. I earned a 123% on my word roots test. My verbal SAT score (my year was the last without the writing section), which I took only once without any studying or tutoring, was 740.
My mother believes that children should learn the simple building blocks of knowledge from the best sources: the great writers, artists, musicians and thinkers of centuries past and the modern day. From birth through age six are the primary years for a certain kind of learning, an absorption of first experiences of visual and auditory processing that leaves its mark deeper than later rote memorization or textbook homework ever will. Some children hate school, for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it applies a standardized system to individuals with an incredible array of different learning processes. But all children love to learn, love acquiring new information suited to their interests, when it's presented in a way that's fun for them and not a chore or test. Why not spend these key years absorbing Mozart and Haydn and Tchaikovsky, Dali and Cassatt and Renoir and Escher, Yeats and Rossetti and Blake and Whitman? And make no mistake: besides being an incredibly rewarding experience at the time, many of the things children are exposed to early on remain ever after. I can't name the number of times I've pulled some piece of information seemingly out of the air, something gleaned so far back I feel as though I was born with the knowledge. Twentieth century inventors. The Latin names for types of bears. The first lines of classic poems. The Spanish word for ant, or bat. The first chords of Beethoven's symphonies. A song in Japanese.
While I've never taken an art history class, I find myself perfectly comfortable and fluent in discussing important artists and movements. Even though I decided to stop taking piano lessons in high school, my knowledge of classical music and ear for rhythm and melody remain. Although I switched from Spanish to French when I began school in second grade, my reading and comprehension skills in Spanish are equivalent to those of my friends who stuck with it through elementary, middle and even high school. I never studied Classics in college, but I can outline the Greek myths, can name all of the gods and goddesses as well as their Roman names. What my mother does, essentially, is provide a liberal arts education for the toddler set, giving them a broad base level of knowledge that many go through the school system without acquiring or, if they do, acquire only later, when the learning is much more of a struggle. At the same time, she teaches children that the literature, art, music, science and history that shapes us as human beings should not be intimidating or unfamiliar once encountered in middle school, high school, or college but should, rather, be a lifelong source of confidence, joy and fascination. The program my mother has created and tailored specifically to the eclectic interests of each child that comes through her doorway outfits each of them, above all else, with a self-confidence in their passions and a pride in their unanswered questions about the world that is unmatched. This is an indelible gift, one I am inexpressibly grateful for, and one I've watched her pass on to generations of children after.
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