Think back to the day your precious child was born. I’ll never forget the moment my tiny, newborn daughter’s eyes popped open and looked right at me! My first thought was “What have I done?!” And my second thought, “I have to do this right!” was accompanied by serious trepidation.
As I spent a whole lot of time nursing those first few weeks, I thought long and hard about what I wanted for my daughter: happiness, health, brilliance, passion, creativity, talents and skills. I wanted her to be strong-willed, with great character, and to become a genuinely compassionate and good person. One of the things I wanted most for her was to become a lifelong learner.
That is no small list! I’m sure you want many of the same things for your own children. But how in the world does a mom accomplish such lofty goals?
Before she was even a year old, I realized that these attributes were not mine to give her. She was born with lots of them, like her determination and her creativity and the rest would have to be hard won; by HER. I could, however, do a few things to facilitate the development of certain skills and I could make sure that the qualities she was born with would not be snuffed out.
The single very best way for me to help my children develop all of the wonderful attributes I wanted for them was to help them develop a lifelong love affair with learning and cultivate habits conducive to learning so that they would instinctively be lifelong learners. Homeschooling is the very best way to accomplish those lofty goals.
Inspire your children to become lifelong learners by becoming one yourself
How lucky are homeschoolers, that we get to be our children’s primary role models?
Your children will become, in large part what you are. If you want your children to be lifelong learners, you had better keep learning yourself.
Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann all had musical fathers. Louisa May Alcott, the three Bronte sisters and Joseph King all had literary fathers. It’s a well known fact that children often follow in the footprints of their parents. Model the attributes you want your children to develop.
My husband and I both read voraciously. My husband reads history and political biographies and I read entire sections of the library, depending on what I am interested in at the moment. I recently read every book our library had about gardening, and prior to that I read the entire nutrition section. We both also read plenty of ‘brain candy’. My husband loves fantasy, while I love classics, especially Jane Austen.
Every one of my kids love to read, too. So much so that it is almost problematic at our house. My children are constantly disappearing from family work and learning projects — to read. It is pretty much impossible for them to dislike reading, when our entire family spends so much time enjoying it.
Charlotte Mason who said, “Education is an atmosphere , a discipline , a life .” When children are surrounded by and inspired by great learning, they will become great learners.
I feel so blessed that the exhausted, overworked teacher at the local public school is not my children’s role model. I’m sure she’s a fabulous person, but in the classroom she just wants her 30 students to sit down, shut up, and obediently regurgitate what they’ve been told for end-of-year testing. I want so much more than that for my children!
Let your children take the lead in their education
What makes your children curious? What inspires them? Well, what inspires you to intense, passionate learning?
Every time I initiate that magnificent type of learning myself, it’s due to a need or an interest in the subject, and it usually involves exhaustive research, questioning, experimenting and further research — that heartrendingly beautiful type of learning you rarely see in schools.
We recently moved to a new farm. I planted hundreds of new orchard trees and a windbreak. Having farmed ten miles down the road for the last seven years, I am familiar with the soil and the climate. So I was pretty sure all my hard work planting would be rewarded. However, fewer than ten trees survived that first year! Frustration!
That frustration precipitated a whole lot of intense learning about farming methods and the discovery of permaculture — a farming style that works with nature instead of attempting to overcome or control it, and succeeds where others fail. This period of learning has seen experimentation, failure, learning from failure, successes and more learning. My kids participate in the work, the experimentation, the findings and the learning right alongside me.
If you want your children to passionately, thoroughly, and exhaustively research and learn a subject, let them choose it. Provide exposure to great discoveries and questions and let them choose the things that interest them, then support their choices. Children are capable of learning everything they need to know without force, coercion, rewards, bribery or even teaching. Children learn passionately and joyfully when they choose the subject material and the timing.
Supporting choices means letting your child decide to study something exhaustively, to the exclusion of all else for days or even weeks at a time, then move on to another interest, later returning to this one. It might be worrisome at times. Handel, while writing the Messiah, missed meals for days at a time. What would you give to see that kind of passion and dedication in your own children?
How could it possibly happen in a school setting?
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It needs to decide to drink on it’s own, and it will when it’s ready and it decides to. Once the learning ‘fire’ is ignited in your children, it cannot be extinguished. The most likely place for fires to be ignited is at home.
Back off and let your children figure things out on their own
Give them time to just be.
Do not do for your children what they can do for themselves. You should be too caught up in your own passions anyway (modeling the attributes you want your children to emulate) to have time to hover.
“Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, the independent scientist in the child disappears.” – John Holt.
Have you ever watched a baby taste dirt? They really taste it, without preconceived prejudice, savoring both the taste and texture on their tongues. They rub the dirt into their clothes and hair engaging all of their senses. You can see their minds working as they analyze their data and form conclusions. They then move on to experience the rocks and plants and everything else.
Older kids do the exact same thing when they encounter new environments and experiences, as long as nothing has obliterated their natural curiosity.
They don’t need to be taught the scientific process; it is inherent to them. They naturally question, investigate, collect information, experiment, and hypothesize. All children are naturally critical thinkers.
Years ago, my husband took my oldest two children, then ages 4 and 3, to his office building near an airport. Both young children were intrigued by the airplanes as they took off and landed. My husband enjoyed listening to their conversation as they hypothesized about the inner workings of the landing gear.
Our 3-yr-old hypothesized that they must be operated with magnets and then our 4-yr-old convinced him that it was probably hydraulics. She didn’t know all the correct terminology, but we had previously discussed the construction equipment building a new subdivision near our home, so she knew enough.
My husband was smart enough to stay out of the conversation until they were ready to ask intelligent questions. We subsequently enjoyed various unit studies about airplanes.
Children need downtime, which may look like boredom, in order to initiate this type of learning. Children need time away from television and structured activities so they are free to tap into their own vision, thoughts, and dreams. Don’t keep them so busy all day long studying math, spelling, grammar, writing, science, foreign language, and literature (even though those are all GREAT things to study!) and then shuttling them around to music lessons and sports teams that they have no energy left to pursue their own interests.
At age 14, my daughter decided she wanted to join an exclusive summer-long orchestra camp across the country from where we live. I wasn’t completely on board for financial reasons, but knew better than to discourage her. I just smiled enthusiastically and told her it was a fantastic idea, but she would need to take care of the endeavor herself, including financing it.
So she purchased the sheet music required for the audition and found herself a renowned violin coach. We did pay for the coaching in addition to her regular lessons, because that was beyond her capability, but she did the research, made the phone calls and arranged everything herself.
She voluntarily, with zero prodding from me, practiced 4-6 hours every day. She recorded her lessons so she could refer back to them as she practiced, correcting every single note and nuance until she had the audition perfect. She submitted the audition herself and taught piano lessons all that year to earn airfare and tuition. So many of my friends with kids in public school are struggling with ‘teenage rebellion’ while other teenage kids the same age are voluntarily learning and creating remarkable, huge and amazing things. What’s makes the difference?
You’ll find that when your children’s learning is their own they do it willingly and very efficiently. They don’t waste time with things they can already do well. Through these autonomous struggles and accomplishments our trust in our children’s abilities grows along with their own trust in their abilities, which builds self-confidence and a lifelong learning mindset.
Homeschooling is all about the real world
I have a large, very busy family and a farm. There is no way I could spend 6 hours a day homeschooling my children. But if I only had one child and all day in which to homeschool him, I still wouldn’t spend any more time than I currently do.
We accomplish our schoolwork in a couple of hours every morning and spend the rest of each day pursuing life. We attend music lessons, orchestra and spend lots of time practicing, but we also spend a lot of time working together.
Last year we finished our basement. My kids helped my husband and me to break outconcrete to move plumbing for bathroom fixtures, then frame and insulate the basement. We did 100 percent of the plumbing, HVAC, electrical (including the speakers for the theater), drywall (including mudding and sanding), and finish work ourselves.
I’ve noticed that they actually care for our new library (I’m astonished!) because they helped build, sand, stain and install all of the shelving. At least I think that must be why. This is the third home we’ve remodeled, and we’ve also built a barn and a fancy chicken coop. We just bought shingles to re-roof our house over the next few weeks. My kids know building isn’t rocket science, and it’s not a mystery. They also know that they don’t want to be tradesment when they grow up, ha, ha!
My 8-yr-old installed our light fixtures (yes, he knows how to turn the electricity off at the box and I oversee his work) and my 6-yr-old wired up several of the electrical outlets. They know how to snake a clogged drain, change brake pads and service vehicles, change diapers and put a baby to sleep, re-roof a house and install a new well pump. They care for chickens, milk cows, and do farmwork and housework, too.
They know because they do.
And the best thing of all that they know is that they can do. I’m pretty sure you’ll never hear from their mouths that they can’t do things. Because they know from experience how to research and figure out any skill they need, from home repair to vehicle repair to animal husbandry. If that’s not a practical lifelong learning skill, I don’t know what is.
You may not want to buy a farm or remodel your house, but whatever you do all day is certainly far more applicable to the real world than the 3rd grade (or any grade) is. Involve your children in your world. They will grow up knowing how to cook and shop and clean. They will become artists if you spend your time painting and let them participate occasionally. Since I’ve begun writing (my blog) my kids have, too. They want to sell their books on Amazon.
Let your children accompany you to serve at the soup kitchen or read stories at your local pediatric hospital or build orphanages in Mexico. They will know how blessed they are to live how they do and they’ll realize that not all of God’s children are as fortunate. Now that’s great real life experience with immeasurable dividends.
Embrace ‘failure’ as a learning tool
I enclosed the word failure in single quotes because I really wish we could eliminate it altogether when it comes to education. What purpose does it serve? Rather, we should redefine the word “failure” as “opportunity” to examine and improve.
When children are taught that mistakes are failures, they become fearful of trying, lest they make a mistake. Unwillingness to try (investigate and experiment) shuts down learning altogether. Children naturally learn by making mistakes and then noticing and correcting their own mistakes.
I recently built an entertainment center for my home theater. I had never built cabinet doors before, so I googled my questions, read some articles and watches a youtube video.
Next, I planned my project on graph paper, bought the materials and made the first cabinet door. I knew it would probably be wonky, and it was. It was completely out of square, leaving gaps in the trim. I was proud of my efforts, though, even as I tore that ugly first door apart to remake it.
After a couple of doors, I was proficient and even felt confident enough to arrange my garage workshop to build the remaining doors assembly-line style. All of my doors turned out square and my new cabinets are beautiful.
Kids learn the same way. Their first attempts are feeble, but they grow rapidly in both proficiency and confidence, which accelerates their growth. They need the freedom to practice new skills without being graded or admonished for mistakes.
Homeschooling allows children unlimited attempts, without grading, at new skills. It allows them to spend as much time and practice learning difficult concepts as they need. It also allows them to briefly graze easy concepts and move on, so that interest is kept high and learning is rapid.
All of the time spent on grading and testing at schools is wasted. What’s more, it is often detrimental because it compares kids using a single set of standards. Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison and Thomas Jefferson were not successful at school for that very reason.
We’re All Learners for Life
Let go and trust the process. I know it can be scary. There will be days where you feel like you’ve got it all figured out, only to realize you don’t have a clue. It can also be downright breathtakingly beautiful.
Amy blogs about farm life in Utah, USA, homeschooling her eight kids, DIY and travel at www.OrisonOrchards.com.