They love what they love!
Unwittingly, as home educators, we think our job is to get our kids to see education through our eyes. We focus on abstractions like “love of learning” and “progress.” We want them to be excited about history or literature because in our “old world values” from public school, we’ve absorbed the message that real education is bound up in books, not in lived experience. We think that we can “get our kids to love learning” simply by requiring it.
Alas, kids love what they love! They don’t love abstractions or philosophies of education or humanities or the arts. They love their dogs. They love the Wii. They love horse-back riding and Legos and running through the house and skiing. They love paging through fashion magazines and coloring on the walls and jumping on the trampoline and doing all the math problems in their heads and reading the The Mouse and the Motorcycle seven times. They love Oreo cookies and live baseball games and zip lines and mud.
Weirdly, any one of these “loves” expresses the abstraction “love of learning” because in every moment of every day, your kids are learning about the stuff they love. It’s as natural as breathing. They love learning about what they love.
Still, as a society, as parents, we do value education is its traditional sense (that body of information both practical and cultural) that we hope to convey across the transom of little kid attention spans and teenage boredom and immaturity. Sometimes in the zeal we have to make that connection happen, we trample their spirits or constrict their education to what we love and override their subjective experience entirely.
We miss chances to accomplish both at once,
or to manage the way we teach so that it capitalizes on that practical,
natural enthusiasm for new ideas and experiences your kids
express every day in their ordinary lives.
When we “force-feed” learning, kids lose their wide-eyed curiosity. They protect their “real loves” during “free” time and they wilt during “academic instruction” time. Our personal sense of success as educators flags and we exert more pressure to compensate for our feelings of low self-esteem and potential failure. Lectures on the value of classes and a liberal education can’t compete with the daily stimulation and variety of Warcraft or quilting or American Idol or texting friends. We all know this. So we resort to shaming, blaming, carrots and sticks.
By 8th grade, everyone is exhausted.
I get it. I’ve lived it!
I have this theory that the happiest environment for learning has the following properties:
I can find what I need, when I need it, and use it without having to rearrange the whole house to do it. (That means art supplies are out, not in a chest locked in the basement, or Legos are in an accessible container, or the Cuisinaire rods are put back into their container, not left on a table in a heap, etc.) Book cases, empty table tops, enough writing utensils that don’t need to be sharpened or tested to see if they work, scissors, a stack of fresh library books, a working DVD player, iTunes, games with all their parts, a computer with high speed Internet… these are tools of the trade for happy homeschooling.
Rotate what you’ve got! If the same books are always on the table, everyone stops seeing them. If the same art supplies are getting crusty and collecting spider webs, move them, restock them. Start the day with a game rather than using the game as a reward. Get out of the house to do the routine stuff (dictation or copywork at Starbucks, math problems in the library, nature walks in a local park, freewriting in a mall). Skip a subject every day (rotate them).
Everyone needs time and space to do whatever he or she likes. That means – whatever he or she likes, for as long as he or she likes it! Sometimes we are so busy wanting to regulate “free” time (oxymoron, doncha think?), our kids don’t enjoy it as they might. They wind up stressed, trying to cram all the enjoyment of a Warcraft game into a 30 minute too-tight time slot and show signs of anxiety and anger at the end rather than refreshment. It feels delicious to know you can read an entire novel in a day without anyone stopping you, or that you can sort out all your music on your computer without interruption, or that you can wander the backyard talking to yourself all morning without having to stop for lunch. Deliberately create space for staying up too late, for working on a project as long as the mood lasts, for playing a game or watching a movie series for as long as it takes.
There is nothing quite as nurturing as a well-prepared lesson. We can’t do this every day. We certainly don’t want to. But there is something to be said for preparing a real unit of learning where you have the reading lined up, you know the projects you’ll do, you’ve considered field trips or writing opportunities or parties to prepare that will correlate with the unit. When you offer your kids a rich learning experience, served from the warmth of your personal care and thoughtfulness, they are much more eager to learn what you want them to know than when you flip open a text book, tell them to read and then walk away to nurse the baby. Planning takes time, but it’s so worth it. A couple well-prepared lessons or units in a school year (that last 4-6 weeks a piece) will give a lifetime of memories.
These keys to creating a learning environment are pretty simple, if you think about it. But sometimes it helps to remember that we want to foster a space that nurtures what your kids love while also offering the chance for them to care about what you want them to know and learn. It’s a bicycle ride – one pedal up while the other is down. But if you keep them both moving, you’ll get there.
Love having the BW blog back! Thanks, Julie! Great stuff here. 🙂
Thanks for this Julie, this is just what I need to hear at the rather bumpy beginning of the home-school year: nothing to beat myself up about, no standard to fail, but some helpful pointers. I can see things I do ok and things I’d like to incorporate, and I can see how I’d like to do it.
How does this look in a home with two high schoolers and a fourth grader? I think I’ve embraced this philosophy with younger ones, but am unsure how it looks in the midst of a high school curriculum.
It was good to hear from you again!
You’ve summed it up! I’ve pondered this for weeks, what can I do to make this year different/memorable and then to read this is an answer to prayer. Always encouraged, hopeful, and enlightened after reading your entries – thanks.
High school is only different in that you feel more pressure to fulfill certain requirements for college admission. As a result, I like to go for as much buy in as possible from the teens. They need to “own” the goal of graduation or college. You can’t do that for them and they need to know that. You won’t “carrot and stick” them to the end. You’ll offer them what they need and you’ll remind them of the goals and you’ll support them, but they have to take the ball and run with it. What that means for you: you don’t nag, cajole, punish or blame them. You simply remind them with love what needs to happen. You mirror.
I also think kids by this age are more able to tell you what works for them. If they do better with a math tutor than on their own with a book, get them the tutor (trade cleaning services if you have to!). If they work better in the morning than afternoon, then do that. If they like overarching goals with freedom to meet them, do that. If they need daily goals, sit with them and help THEM to learn how to write those out and fulfill them.
This is the transition to college where they will be fully responsible for themselves. Facilitate that with support, not hovering. Know what I mean?
And this is a time for big achievements and dreams: joining the Shakespeare company, being in marching band if the school district allows it, joining debate teams or playing ultimate frisbee. Do service projects and travel places. Let them manage their goals with input from you.
Does that help?
I’ve been checking your blog constantly for more WISDOM and encouragement so I, too, am thrilled to have your posts back. Last year, our first of Junior High, it was too academic – too busy – too boring. So this year with my oldest I’m trying to create a better balance of freedom/structure. We can cram in textbook learning and tests but what is the point if it is all drudgery? I think we’re on the right path now but LOVE the encouragement from your blog. We’re using “Help for Highschool” and all of us (including younger daughters) are enjoying freewrites this year (I can’t believe how much my 9yo and 13yo enjoy this!).
So glad Kika! Thanks for the feedback, all of you. Should be back on track now for 4-5 entries per week. That’s the goal. 🙂
Thanks, Julie!! A great reminder today 🙂