Korean-born Jenny Lee’s educational philosophy for preschoolers defies everything she was raised to believe about early education in Korea. Her book A Child’s Life, presents her findings after nearly two decades of directing her childcare facility in Australia. Praising Australia’s support of unstructured play for kids, Lee offers an ideology of reform for systems that push structured learning and fact memorization. Lee believes preschoolers must be respected, that they “need to play to achieve independent learning” and the freedom to explore their curiosities.
Lee humbly admits that “the children have been [her] teachers.” Her fascination with their minds is inspiring, and her students’ academic success is impressive. Lee’s post-graduate degree in early childhood education, coupled with her hands-on experience, fosters confidence in her work.
However, the book suffers from several important flaws. First, her intended audience is unclear. At first glance, parents and educators will hope to find a plan to implement. But the emphasis shifts as her criticisms of Korea’s education system emerge. The book ends with her broader ambition of influencing countries to adopt her methodologies, which may have served better as the book’s focus or as a separate project.
Lee provides excellent anecdotes to illustrate her findings, such as the story of one girl developing compassion for creatures after playing with and subsequently killing a caterpillar. Unfortunately, these are sparse and often obscured by complicated terminology. The translation is awkward, and repetitive use of vague phrases such as “children’s operating” and “what exposed the child’s senses” leaves readers longing for clarity. It’s not until page 102 that Lee reveals the repeated term “curtained mind” means “stubbornness.” Deciphering these awkward phrases is not impossible, but becomes tiring.
Lee’s work is the proverbial diamond in the rough. The format and translation need polishing to match the value of the content. Yet, parents and educators of the under-five crowd may find this book helpful in unlocking the mystery of what inspires true learning.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.