The “Now it All Counts” Moment
The following note was sent to me after I posted about the ideal curriculum for a six year old:
I loved the post today. How would you answer the same question (more or less), to the homeschooling parent of a 13 and 14 year old……the 14 year old with learning challenges and the 13 year old, bright in some areas, yet rather unmotivated if anything challenges him. When I say to my kids, “if you aren’t happy pursuing learning this way, we can look at schools” neither is particularly interested. However, it seems as if they know one is not “supposed” to like “school” and that has transferred to not liking most things that challenges them or looks like learning. On top of it all, I try to fit schooling between one’s major commitment to a sports team and the other’s need for physical therapy and a few classes — so it’s not like we are hanging out at home all day, whatsoever.
Anxious about preparing my kids for HS and College, but still having fun.
I call the crisis Melinda describes: The “now it all counts” moment.
Rather than continuing the joy of learning through experience, encounter, and exploration, most of us (me included!) suddenly panic and whip out the textbooks and quizzes, thinking there’s some better preparation for college than the one we’ve been creating all along!
Let me put it this way: The academic preparation for college can be as experience drenched and exploratory as the early years. It can include encounter with new instructors and new opportunities for involvement in the local community and abroad.
There’s just one primary difference.
Whereas the early years are marked by kinesthetic learning practices, the teen years are marked by risky thinking and a headlong dive into abstraction. Your job with an older child is to ensure that that teen is getting a thorough introduction to the wide world of ideas, particularly ideas they can encounter firsthand in other people, places, and writings.
What to do? Try this list.
Read a diverse authorship: men, women, young, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, western modern writers, western ancient writers, non-western writers – both modern and ancient, immigrants and natives, all religious points of view and non-religious, diverse political points of view, including the ones that frighten you.
Read a wide variety of writing genres: prose, poetry, political rhetoric, rants, speeches, novels, popular non-fiction, not-so-popular ancient non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, cartoons, scientific treatises, credible research, propaganda, biased reporting, “objective” reporting—which doesn’t exist, but there are at least some contexts with that aim.
Watch a wide variety of films and television: Get caught up in a big series like The West Wing or Mad Men. Watch Pride and Prejudice in all its versions. Work through the Criterion list of classic films, one at a time. Write movie reviews for Rotten Tomatoes as you do.
Be a patron of the arts: Go to musicals, art shows (local and national), specialize in one artist and learn all you can about him or her, expand your horizons with opera, the symphony, folk dance, ballet, serious drama, a rock concert. Listen to their CDs, ask them to tell you about the lyrics and music and why they love it. Be curious, not judgmental. Share back what you love, same way.
Get into nature: Hikes, trips to see the National Parks, camping, backpacking, outdoor rock climbing, bird watching in a new place with real birders, identifying all the flora and fauna of your part of the world, photographing it and cataloguing it. Go to the beach, go to the plains, go to the mountains.
Encounter real human beings: at your place of worship, at someone else’s place of worship, actors and actresses, engineers and musicians, lawyers and doctors, mechanics and plumbers, artists and athletes, coaches and tutors, the elderly, the physically challenged, the mentally disadvantaged, politicians, activists, your next door neighbors, people in foreign countries (go there).
Converse about all of these: over dinner, in the car, through email, in online discussion, in a youth group, at a discussion group hosted at your house, through an online class, in an in-person class at a local high school or JC.
Write about it: autobiographical narrative essay, expository essay, exploratory essay, journals, Facebook status updates, Twitter tweets, texts, letters to supporters or family when you travel abroad, essays for college admissions, timed essays for the college admissions tests, blogs, Tumblr, fan fiction sites, online gaming discussion groups, Reddit…
Advance in math and science: Yes, you must! Find someone who knows these subjects that can give them the life they deserve—co-ops where dissections are done in groups, junior college, high school, your house if you’re the science person! Tutors for math—go as far in math as you possibly can. Totally matters—take it seriously, pay for it if you have to.
Take Advanced Placement course and exams: These are tests for subject matter that will allow your kids to be in college with credits already stacked up. The AP courses can be done in small groups, or in schools, or independently with materials. Optional, but excellent for any kid wanting to be an honor’s student in college.
Have Big Juicy Experiences: That’s right! Send your kids abroad, send them to Habitat for Humanity so they can build houses for the disadvantaged, take them to Italy, visit the elderly (make a friend), put them on an elite sports team (ultimate frisbee, lacrosse, golf – not just soccer and baseball), enroll them in a theater or dance company, put them in a marching band, send them to culinary school, apply to a foreign exchange program like AFS, let them apprentice in graphic design or car mechanics, help them build sustainable domiciles in your backyard or cross-breed fish in your pond. Teach your teens everything you know about gardening or hanging drywall or painting sunsets or photography or your heart language of Latvian. This is the time for your kids to be all that they can be!
SPEND TIME with your teens! Most of all—talk to them, ask questions, get them talking. Don’t tell them what to think or believe, ask them what they think of believe. Ask them more, ask them why, ask them to show you how they got to that viewpoint (sources, conversations, readings). Be their mirror, not a sledge-hammer of fact.
Do all of this while you drink tea, read poetry, give bear hugs, check up on each other online, send silly texts, and hand them $20 bills as they head out the door…because you love them and you want them to have what they need to explore the big, wonderful world they are about to take over and shape.
If you need help with special needs—get it! That’s the key! Get them the help they need, ask for their feedback about what is and isn’t working.
Remember: they decide if they are going to have an education or not as teens. You can’t make it happen. All you can do is offer—”Have you read this?” “Did you think about this?” “What do you think about this?” “Want to go here, with me?” “I’d love to go there with you.”
Like that. Dialog, friendly, open, energetic!
Our teens: the future of our planet.
Be good to them. Enjoy them! They are so amazing. Truly. It’s going to be okay.
Image by Willeecole | Dreamstime.com