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 stripping naked and coloring on the walls and jumping on the trampoline and doing all the math problems in their heads and reading Harry Potter 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.