Wednesday, January 15, 2014

8 Steps to Creating a Climate of Learning

If there is one thing I hear from other parents about homeschooling, it's always, "there's no way I could do that. I'm just not together enough for it."

Good news! Almost no one else is either!

Homeschooling accomplished well can be very organized, precise, and run like clockwork. 
Or you can create a climate of learning and just let your children have at it!

So what do I mean by a climate of learning? I don't mean to fill your home with expensive toys from The Knowledge Store or DiscoveryKids, although there is certainly nothing wrong with toys from either of those places. 
I think I can best explain it by repeating something people always tell parents in church. "You can't expect your children to want to read the Bible if they never see you doing it."

All about engineering. Just like Daddy.

In short, it's about being a model to your children of what a life full of constant learning looks like. Creating a climate of learning is about creating a home that is full of exploration. The kind of home that doesn't take "I don't know" for a final answer. The kind of home that is full of "make it yourself" rather than "lets go buy it." The kind of home where ever member is eager and excited to share what they know with each other.
  • Share your job with your children. There is nothing more fascinating to them than where Mommy or Daddy goes everyday. Your job doesn't have to be interesting to you to expose a new kind of worldview to them. If you work as a janitor, explain to them how different kinds of chemicals work best on different kinds of surfaces (ahhh chemistry). If you're a teacher, talk about how children, like them, learn, what's going on in their brains as they develop, what it's like being a mom to so many other children. If you're an engineer, or even just work in the factory, show the kids where you work, what you do all day. Our kids love engineering because of their dad and watch hours and hours worth of How It's Made, as well as pretend they're factory workers. Childhood is the time when things like bagging groceries at the store seems like a worthy career choice, so take advantage of it!
  • Don't just stop at your job, share your life with them. I often see far too many people in families living almost completely separate lives. Of course, you don't have to be the complete opposite and be together all the time. Simply share what is going on in your life. You'd be surprised at how far talking to your kids how you accomplished your raise, not simply buying them stuff with your new larger paycheck, will go at helping them build a successful life for themselves. Please don't limit your conversation to all complaints about your day though. There are a million different things we see around us everyday that pass through our minds. Things children would be delighted to hear. Like how the sun looked purple when you went to work (I wonder why it does that?) Or summarizing something interesting you read. When I see articles that I think my daughter would enjoy, or cute cat pictures, I make a point to save them so I can share them with her later. Not only does it enhance my own pleasure at seeing those things through her point of view but it creates a connection between the two of us.
  • Bring home something interesting. I love watching Dick Van Dyke and every evening when "Rob" comes home he has something in his pocket for his son. It's almost just something small, like a rubber band, that he picked up during the day. Children are marvelous at treasuring the small delights in life (until we kill it off in them with our lavish present giving traditions...ugh) and it is amazing what they can come up with using the most commonplace things. My husband regularly brings home "toys" for the the form of discarded shock parts from work, bumper stickers no one wanted, pennies from his pocket. My Dad used to give me his extra pennies every day when he came home and they went right into my savings jar. When I was 8 we rolled up all those pennies and I had 18 dollars to open a savings account with. Yes, that is 1800 pennies. Lesson about saving the small things: absorbed!

Shock parts. All over our house.
  • Be an example. Let children see you try to figure out something. Let them see you engrossed in a book. Let them listen to you hum along to music. Those kinds of things often seem fruitless but when children grow and begin to form habits that will last for the rest of their lives, those kinds of examples suddenly reappear. I never used to be a morning person but I knew my parents got up early even on the weekends. They would talk about the pleasure of seeing the sun rise. About how much work they got done in the quiet morning hours. As an adult, I've grown to love mornings for all those reasons they always said. Same thing with classical music. I used to listen indifferently as my Dad played it. Now, I play it during the day for myself. Childhood is the best time for creating those little examples of what adult life should be like.
  • Allow boredom. When the kids are bored I don't stop what I'm doing to entertain them. I don't turn on the T.V. I don't give they a snack. They grumble, I ignore, and they come up with some of the most ingenious games I've ever seen children play. There is nothing like boredom to really get the brain flowing. But part 2 of getting creativity flowing is....
  • Get out of their way. After the boredom bug has passed and some brilliant idea has popped into their head, I can't stand there and say "no, don't do that," "don't make a mess," "don't you have something better to do?" I have to stand back and watch as, like they did this morning, they dig through the recycling bin and begin cutting and gluing and coloring until they had their very own robots. Robots that required imagination to work yes, but they were still adorable, used creativity, and strategic thinking about how a real robot that did a given task might have to look. None of which would've happened if I had placed something to do in front of them, whether it's a movie, a book, or a chore. Sometimes the best thing you can do to help learning is to just leave your children alone.
  • Sometimes, they just need to do it on their own. My oldest child is getting to the point where hand walking her through things is more detrimental than helpful. She can learn by herself and often does better by herself than with me guiding her. Almost all children will reach this stage, some earlier than others, and the goal is to allow them to constantly be testing their abilities. At a young age it may be as simple as telling them to figure out how they should sort their laundry or the best way to add two figures. As they get older it can advance to having them fix their car themselves instead of taking it in or researching on their own the best way to approach a job interview. Children need guidance to lean on but the freedom to stand on their own. Nothing creates learning faster than necessity. One of my favorite parts of going to the Air Force Museum is seeing how different aircraft from WWI to WWII are. Necessity spurs learning.
  • And finally, create some family interests. It can be educational, like you all enjoy star-gazing and so you buy a telescope and start checking out stare charts and take vacations to desolate areas. Or it could be sporty, like biking together. Or it could be community based, like volunteering regularly together. Or it could be something couch based, like all getting together to watch a show. Really anything, as long as it's something that you all can enjoy together. It doesn't have to necessarily be something you would choose to do on your own, but creating a communal interest in your home not only helps your children learn to work in a group setting, but it also helps them to learn to see passion in other people, to take advantage of strengths and weaknesses in each family member, to learn to love something because it makes those around you happy. All of which are valuable lessons to be learned.

Not every child is home schooled. Not every parent has a lot of free time. But as people always say, learning starts in the home, and to be honest, I don't think it ever really leaves the home. The home is the place where children develop interests, learn the most important things in life like how to love, how to care for, and how to balance a checkbook, and home is the place where children develop the habits that will last the rest of their life. Take advantage of this. Share your life with each other.

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
-Deuteronomy 11:19