Workjobs; Workjobs…for Parents


Workjobs, by Mary Baratta-Lorton, Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley, 1972, 255 pp., $9.95.

Workjobs…for Parents, by Mary Baratta-Lorton, Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley, 1972, 115 pp., $3.95.

In the spirit of Montessori, but with the approach of the English Infant Schools or Open Classroom, Mary Baratta-Lorton has written two books especially suited for adults whose aim it is to motivate the young child, and to help him to discover that learning can be a fascinating adventure.

The first book, Workjobs, Activity Centered Learning for Early Childhood Education, emphasizes the need of the young child to move freely in the environment. Learning and hand-eye coordination develop together through workjob activities—her term for use of everyday materials by the child in a learning center.

Ms. Lorton points out that preschool children are "creative, resourceful and imaginative." They learn through experimentation. "Life is a fascinating world of activity to a young child," she writes, "—a place for doing and discovering and trying things out."

However, when a child goes to school, personal discovery slows down. The child watches the teacher demonstrate things on a flannel board, or listens to the teacher talk, or must "sit still and be quiet" until everyone is finished. As a result: "for far too many children, school is a place where, for the first time in their lives, they stop learning."

They don't stop learning, however, if they are lucky enough to go to a school which uses the materials and has the educational philosophy of a book like Workjobs. The pages of Workjobs describe a rich variety of absorbing learning centers which usually can be made from common, easily obtainable materials. They are fun to make and fun to use. With the materials, learning centers cover a range of concepts:

• (Language) perception, matching, classification, sounds and letters;

• (Mathematics) sets, number sequences, combining and separating groups, and relationships; and

• (Activity-centered learning) why and how.

As an example of how learning activities go on, the concept of "combining and separating groups" is illustrated by using ice cream cones, airplanes and hangars, hide 'n' go seek games, bead frames, bead addition, cars, combination blocks, snowmen and beans. "Sinking and floating" is learned by putting a similar emphasis on direct experience. The following describes an incident at a learning center I conducted for nursery children:

A group of children sits at a table in front of a large bowl of water. By the bowl are corks, buttons, small rocks, a jar lid, sponges, marbles, rubber bands and wooden beads. To one side, a large tagboard sheet shows pictures of sinking and floating objects. The words "sink" and "float" are printed beside the appropriate picture.

One by one, the children test the objects to see if they float or sink—and then place them near the corresponding picture on the tagboard. Although there is an attractive variety of indoor and outdoor activities to choose from, each child voluntarily and patiently awaits his turn.

Some have brought objects that they want to test. All are especially interested in the object one boy picks up. It is a jar lid. He finds that if he puts it down flat it floats, but if he pushes it down, it sinks and stays down. After talking with the teacher, the child decides to place the lid in between the "sink" and "float" pictures.

Subsequently, almost all children, except some of the youngest, push floating objects down to the bottom to see if they stay down before they decide on which side of the board to put them.

After publishing an edition of Workjobs for teachers describing such learning methods, Ms. Lorton found that many parents were very enthusiastic about the book and had started to make learning centers for their children at home. As a result she selected activities from the original Workjobs that seemed most appropriate for home use and published them in a smaller, less expensive edition, Workjobs…for Parents.

With each "Workjob," the second book lists skills to be developed from the learning activity and also materials needed to construct it. It is most important to read the introductory sections and the "How and why" sections of the book, however, if you are to present the materials effectively. The introduction covers such questions as "At what age should I introduce an activity to my child?" and "What do I do when my child makes a mistake?"

On page 18 of Workjobs, for example, Ms. Lorton emphasizes the need to individualize your approach for each child. She points out that ideas for followup discussion are given for each workjob. With one child you may cover all skills; with another, one or two. "…[A]nd with still another, because she (the instructor) is following the child's cues, she may find the listed possibilities not appropriate at all."

In "One Last Note" the author leaves the reader with some invaluable advice. Not every parent enjoys teaching his child. If you don't, it doesn't mean you are a bad parent. She suggests that perhaps, if this is the case, you can have the fun of making the materials, and find someone else who enjoys teaching your child. What is important is that you provide "positive and accepting experiences for your child through which you grow closer together."

Mary Naylor has worked as a nursery school teacher for more than eight years. At present, she team-teaches children from ages two through five.