Just like any homeschooler or parent out there I face times of doubt. Am I teaching them the right things? Are they learning enough? Am I pushing hard enough? Am I pushing too hard? It’s such a hard thing to balance.
As a mother of four and a homeschooler for ten years, I’ve realized that I’m never going to feel at complete ease about this. But the push and pull of self doubt and awareness keeps me motivated to search out new curriculum, more advice, and different methods of teaching.
I have a child who loves to play the piano, but only on her own terms. She enjoys playing by ear, finding You Tube videos of a song and learning it. She doesn’t want to learn to read music. Should I force her into lessons for her own good or will that smother the small flame of interest?
“What a teacher a librarian or parent can do, in working with children, is to give the flame enough oxygen so that it can burn. As far as I’m concerned, this providing of oxygen is one of the noblest of all vocations.”
A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L’Engle
I stumbled across L’Engle’s words recently and they resonated with me: my job is to provide the oxygen. Too much oxygen can blow it out, just enough will keep it burning.
After thinking about this for a few days I came up with four ways I’ve found I can give oxygen to my children:
1. Give access. Books, art supplies, paper, blocks, clay, anything that allows them a way to create, learn, and imagine should be in supply and in easy reach at all times. My older kids have had this kind of access for years, but I even give access to my four year old. When I discovered how much she loves to paint, I set up a little desk for her with a set of watercolors, pencils, and paper all ready for whenever inspiration strikes.
What does your child love to do? Sometimes giving access means letting go of some control in your home. It may get messy.
Providing access by introducing new concepts is also a way to provide oxygen. You never know what part of history, science, or math will grab a hold of them and make them want to know more.
2. Provide opportunity. Even homeschoolers can find their days are overscheduled and time at home full of distractions. Free time can be an opportunity, but free time often fails for me. Structured free time, however is the key for us. One way I do this is by reading to my kids (almost) every day before bed, even my oldest who are 13 and 15. This ensures that even my reluctant readers get captivated by books and it has provided a wonderful opportunity for discussion and connection between us.
The second way I do this is by setting aside an art day. Thursdays are scheduled for art and music days. They have time to create a journal page, work on one of their history or science notebook pages, or we may all do a craft together. Once you have set aside time to create, inspiration will almost always follow.
A third way is to offer a way to learn more about their special interest. Lessons outside the home (we do violin and guitar), sports, clubs, competitions are all great ways to fan the flame of special interest.
3. Get out of the way. I don’t have to be the boss of everything they decide to do. A big part of what they read, play, draw, paint, craft, sew, clean, act out, or discover should come from their own desires. I want to allow them freedom to learn and create so they can discover what they are naturally drawn to. This is my favorite part of learning at home. I love seeing their natural abilities come to light and watching them nurture that skill. I have a sewer, a builder, several artists, and a houseful of imagination.
4. Be the example. If I want my kids to approach life with an attitude of life-long learning, then I need to be doing that myself and be excited about it (fan my own flames). This is something that comes easily to me. I love to read and get very excited about it. I enjoy learning new things, especially in my field and right now I’m taking a class to give new life to my photography. Although I’m not the best at it, I enjoy art so I do art with them. I even have my own nature journal and sit down and do a page when they do.
Seeing me struggle to learn something new is proof to them that you don’t get to a certain age and know everything. Life is a perpetual learning process. Thankfully we’ll never run out of things to learn!
My four year old gets so annoyed with me if I answer one of her questions with, “I don’t know.” She thought I was lying or too busy to answer her and she would reply with, “MOOOM, you do know.” Finally I told her that I really don’t know everything and now she replies with, “But you do know 5 things.”
I’m not sure exactly what she thinks those five things are, but I tend to agree with her. Sometimes I only know about five things but I’m always eager to add to that list.