Your job—provide an education.
Your kid’s job—decide what to do with it.
Next year, five years from now, when he turns 18—these are not important today. Today is important.
Today’s task is to be present to today, with your kids. You can’t know how it will all turn out. You can’t decide now, for instance, that you are training your child to be an engineer simply because she’s great at Legos and math. Just because you think your child has a shot at a scholarship via viola doesn’t mean the child ought to play viola.
When we script the future of our children, we miss valuable learning opportunities today. We might focus on ensuring a set of criteria (check boxes of subjects studied) rather than seizing a moment now, right in front of us.
For instance, one mother shared at the Brave Writer retreat about a kestrel nesting box her son and husband built together. The son became so immersed in this project, he learned how to hook up video cameras for live streaming to the Internet and now a birding organization is coming to “band” the family of kestrels that live in it!
Kestrel nest building, live Internet streaming, and banding take real time away from Latin roots or grammar books or the study of ancient Greek political thought. Not only that, just because this son became a mini expert in one aspect of birding doesn’t mean he is destined for ornithology as his career choice.
The experience of caring about kestrels is quite independent of scope and sequence, college entrance requirements, and grades.
Yet it is inextricably bound up in all the elements of learning—reading, study, planning, construction, caring, pondering, mulling things over, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, anticipation, predicting, sharing results, interacting with real organizations that care about the same material (in this case, birds), and the eventual satisfaction of “mastery” or accomplishment. That meta-experience (meta—meaning, the experience as template over the actual activity) of learning is what IS the education. This child is teaching himself how to learn, he’s teaching himself about the power of invested, sustained, self-directed attention in the direction of his interests and innate powers.
What couldn’t this boy do next?
And who’s to say what that will be?
There’s no need to telescope and think that the content is what mattered here. In fact, the opposite is true. What happened in this activity is that the child moved one step closer to knowing that when he wants something, he has all the powers within to make it happen.
THAT’S the goal of education. It is not the result of most traditional educations. It IS the result of many home educations, when we pause to acknowledge and value what is happening in front of our eyes.
That said: my kids never built a single thing we could photograph and frame. It’s difficult sometimes to see what’s being built.
Maybe your kids are “building” a social network online. Maybe they are “building” a mastery of their favorite book series having read it 13 times.
Maybe they are “building” muscles and skills for soccer.
Maybe they are playing chess or Wii bowling or Settlers of Catan and within each of those games, they are discovering the power of game strategy, calculated risk, the importance of details, the ability to imagine someone else’s perspectives through the possible moves they will make…
Perhaps they use one area of interest as a means to an end in another one (our favorite example: a cookie business to pay for space camp—Jacob did this at ages 11-12). He is not involved in either baking businesses nor space now.
What did he learn? That when he wants something, the power lies within him to find the means to make it happen—as he’s demonstrated through the steady stream of scholarships and opportunities he’s created for himself in his career aim to work in international human rights.
The interest of today is tied to tomorrow’s next step by virtue of the fact that that learning is stored inside a human being. That human being compiles experiences and learning opportunities into the cluster of skills necessary to flourish in the world.
The best way to prepare your child for tomorrow is to care completely about today’s happiness and interests. You do that by smiling, asking good questions, asking for permission to participate, and narrating back to the child the skills you see emerging from the investment being made. For instance, “Your dedication to beating that video game level is impressive. You’ve been steadily focused, willing to try again after repeated defeat, and you kept your cool. Wow.”