When I get this homeschool thing all figured out, I want to be the kind of homeschool mom who can wedge herself in between Webster’s Dictionary and a selection of Usborne Encyclopedia’s and sit all pretty and reference like, sipping coffee and over seeing self propelled learners. I’d hop down from my shelf to run out and buy pre-sharpened Ticonderogas, arrange field trips, keep the WiFi running, and set out tea for the college recruiters. Anything’s possible….
In truth, almost everything my children have learned to do really well, they’ve learned on their own. Okay, they are potty trained, pretty well. That was me. I mean they are boys….pick your battles. And sure, me and a handful of others helped them recognize their ABCs and 123s, which led to sounding out a few syllables, writing their name, and counting some random piles of cheerios.
But I’m talking about that type of learning that comes with the want and will to learn something because they themselves see a need or have a want to, well, learn something? When they see the effort as a means to a desired goal, or a rung on a ladder of goals that leads to an ultimate conquest, the knowledge gained along the way stays with them.
And if (and when) they first experience a self motivated moment, forget a door opening, a whole freaking wall comes down!
When I first tossed and turned over making the move to homeschool, I read all these amazing success stories of kids teaching themselves second and third languages, college level math at age 8, memorizing the constitution upside down and backward in the mirror, neurosurgery on the family pets, and inventing new appliances that made GE jealous. SOLD!
The homeschool advice of the parent’s of prodigals: Just let them learn what interests them. Oh, okay. What interests them?! My twins were starting 3rd grade. I envisioned them learning every synonym, pun, analogy, metaphor and rhyme pertaining to the word ‘poop.’ So, really they did have other interests. They loved all things music, astronomy, physics, art, swimming and video games.
I’ve never met any, but I hear there are these type of kids that you can set free in a library, or on google, and in a week they’ll have mastered the theory of relativity and applied to MIT. I do not have these types of kids. But I’m working on it.
The first year we homeschooled I taught every subject. Lesson by lesson I explained, gave examples, read the text, quizzed, forced the practice, graded the work, and tested the result. It was a successful year. I was completely worn out by May, albeit satisfied and excited to continue our journey. I had filled our house with great novels, references, learning toys, science kits, art supplies, and educational computer programs. We made everything about learning and took lots of field trips. And I hoped for the magical moment when one of them would decide to take it upon themselves to figure something out without being forced. “To learn what interests them,” like those parents claimed.
Apparently you have to provide the opportunity and freedom to “learn what interests them.” Cashing in a little of my pride, I will admit, I was teaching some of the fun out of the learning. Like public school tests the fun out of learning. You know what is the fun part of learning? Figuring something out for yourself, by chance or effort.
Now before anyone starts clapping or crying and thinking I’m about to get into ‘unschooling,’ let me say, Nope. Not going to happen. But magical changes have slowly happened around here!
It’s like what they say about getting a toddler to eat his veggies. Just put it on his plate every night, don’t force him, just have it available. Eventually they’ll try it. Well, my 7 year old still won’t eat a squash unless under threat of a Minecraft apocalypse. But he’ll collect 476 rocks and fossils if you ask him not to bring them in the house. If you continue to act indifferent and dumb when he asks you what they’re made of, he’ll go on to sort, type and categorize each and everyone. All you have to do is provide the buckets, leave a few earth science and geology books lying around, and threaten to throw all the mess back in the creek.
Two years ago I bought a beginner computer coding manual. The twins were nuts about video games and had asked me in passing how programing and coding all works. Of course, being the brilliant professor that I am, I explained I didn’t have the slightest idea, but that they should look it up. They, of course, scoffed and moved on.
So I ran into this manual a few weeks later and bought it. I was excited to show it to them. The moment had arrived for me to watch the learning happen from my perch next to Webster! Nope. It sat for many months. Questions still flew at me about coding as they took Minecraft further. I still knew nothing and had no desire to learn it. But (here’s the key) they did. D1 began playing around with what he thought he knew, testing codes. After two years, curiosity got the best of him and he sat down with my laptop and that manual late one night and began teaching himself to code. I still know nothing about coding. And that makes him enjoy his new found knowledge that much more. It’s all his.
There are still the “have-to” subjects that I’ll have to insist we get done. This year I plan to give the twin 6th graders their assignments and set them free to move at their own pace or wait for me to go over every lesson. As they’ve grown they are noticing they don’t really need me to teach a lot of the lessons and that things get done quicker if they take some initiative to figure it out on their own. And then they can get to the part where they “learn what interests them.” They are also beginning to look down the road at what it takes to achieve some of their speculative career goals and understand why it’s really up to them to make it happen.
I’ll still head the group science and history lessons. Arguing is just a fun sport around here that we can’t live without. But slowly I see the reins being shifted in the direction I want them to go. They teach me all about rocks and computers and music and physics everyday. My advice: When you see a spark of interest, resist the urge to run out and buy curriculum and plan lessons to smother out that flame. Admit or pretend you don’t know much about it. Tell them to figure it out and that you’d like to know what they find. Point them in the right direction and let them impress themselves. If they really want to know they’ll act, or won’t and will ponder it, and act a couple of years down the road. And when the light bulb comes on…climb up on that shelf next to Mr. Webster and have that cup of coffee.