By Donna Reish
I recently had lunch with my mini-support group, unit study co-op group, field trip group, and accountability group—all the same five fellow homeschooling moms. One creative and affirming mother had the idea that since we are starting a new school year, we should go around the table and encourage one another in our homeschooling strengths. After we bawled our way through lunch and dessert and the Kleenexes were all discarded, there was a common encouraging thread towards me: They felt that I have encouraged them and modeled for them how to create a love for learning in my children and in me.
I have never given it much thought. I love to learn. My husband loves to learn. Learning is such a major part of our lives; I never considered it something that we should “do” or teach our children “to do.” Loving to learn is what we do twenty-four/seven. We have an ongoing library list like many families have a grocery list. Dinner conversation often goes like this: “When the next person goes to the library, I need a book about photography. All of my pictures from the park today have shadows.” “Oh, if you’re going, pick the boys up some more Magic School Bus videos.” “While you’re there, could you get me the latest issue of ‘Today’s Christian Woman?’ I noticed it has Joni on the front of it.” “Add my two items to your list: How to Write Query Letters and Reading Difficulties Handbook.” “Oh, I need that book on creating believable characters in novel writing again.” “I need that book by the president’s speechwriter again for our debate class. You know which one…the one that I paid twice its worth in fines during the fall?” And on and on. The next library patron in our family rarely gets to eat dinner. He or she is too busy making out the “library list.”
After our emotional lunch (and a quick stop at the scrapbooking store—we recovered from our emotional outburst enough to shop!) I contemplated how I influenced these moms in that way. I considered some of the comments they made. And then I asked myself, how can I spread a love for learning to homeschoolers everywhere? This article is my beginning attempt at spreading the joy of and love for learning to fellow homeschoolers —which are the basis for great home education.
Model a love for learning. Your children want to be just like you! They might not say it. They might say just the opposite at times, but the fact is they want to be just like Mom and Dad. The beginning of teaching our children any skill is to model that skill for them. I remember in teacher’s college when the buzzword (or acronym, actually) was SSR—Sustained Silent Reading. The goal of SSR was to set aside ten or fifteen minutes each school day to have every student reading. The superior teachers were the ones who didn’t grade papers or file their nails during SSR; they read too. The idea was that if the teacher was modeling reading for her students, they would follow her example.
The same is true for homeschooling parents with modeling a love for learning. Do you force-feed them what they need to learn but remain stagnant in your learning? Do you act as though you already “know it all” so there is nothing else for you to learn? Do you seek out information about topics you are interested in learning more about? Modeling a love for learning for our children works!
Start early and go for the long-haul. I have noticed a trend in homeschoolers: the reason they homeschool often determines their children’s love for or lack of love for learning. Children from families who home school because they think it is a superior way of learning seem to love learning more than children from families who homeschool because the other option (public school or private school) is “bad.”
Now don’t get me wrong. We homeschool for a myriad of reasons, but our children know we are in this because it plain and simply is the BEST—all the way around. They also know that we are in it for the long haul, as long as God permits us. Thus, there is no way out. There is nobody else that will pick up the slack in learning for us. There is nothing in the future that will save our children from our laxness. It is all up to us. We are responsible for our children’s education for all of their school years; and once they become a certain age (oh, say, eight years old or so), they are responsible for their learning, too. It isours and it is theirs.
Stock up on learning. My friends’ husbands often tease them about staying away from me and my “catalogs.” (At least I think they are teasing!) They hide the checkbook when I’m coming for fear that I will talk their wives into buying the latest, greatest educational item I have found. I always say, “We get our clothes at Goodwill and our groceries at Aldi’s, but we get our books everywhere we find them—on sale or not!”
We build a learning environment when we fill our home with good books and educational items—computers, good software, learning games, cassettes, videos, and more. It’s hard not to love learning when learning items are surrounding you!
Nowadays, homeschool materials, in particular, and learning materials, in general, are everywhere! And the prices couldn’t be better. I have gotten complete sets of readers at garage sales, expensive creation science books at Goodwill, and educational videos at thrift stores. Ebay and other online used buying and selling sites abound with educational materials. Homeschool swaps are prevalent online, as well. If you see a learning item somewhere, you can more than likely get it used or on sale.
Start out with general materials and Bible/character materials and branch out according to your students’ interests. Our initial “homeschool” purchases when our first-born was a baby, over twenty years ago, were the complete cassette series of Your Story Hour (of Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue venues), Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, The Coriell’s Books of Character Building, and The Family Bible Library. Guess what? We still have all four of them—and we still use all of them weekly! Our oldest child Joshua was nine months old when we began this adventure by homeschooling my younger sister. At the time, I had no idea what his interests would be (except maybe the packaging and boxes the tapes and books came in!) Begin your homeschool library and supplies with items you have found others to enjoy and with items that anyone might enjoy.
Of course, you can’t go wrong beginning with Bible-related and character-related materials. As your students grow up, you will see certain bents and interests developing. Capture these. Do not get so locked into learning the “essentials” that you do not take time out for their interests! Pursue the art books and classes for the one with artistic talent. Check out every book the library has on airplanes for your future aeronautic engineer. Read the classics aloud to your literary student.
Read aloud from the beginning. If you have not been a read-aloud homeschooler, it is never too late to begin. If your students are older (junior high and high school), you might have to dangle a deeper colored orange carrot (along with some ranch dip) in front of them to get them to enjoy reading aloud together, but it won’t take long…and it will certainly be worth it! There are complete books available telling how to begin reading aloud, good books to choose at various ages and stages, and more (such as The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease or Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt, so I won’t go into much detail here; however, if you have boys and/or older children, start with adventure—educational can come later! The first goal in reading aloud is to make your children love reading aloud. If they don’t love read aloud time, you will not do it regularly—and all of the great goals and objectives of reading aloud will never be seen anyway.
If it’s just adventure you’re after (with a good dose of Christianity thrown in,) you might start with Frank Peretti’s junior novels, Cooper Kids Adventure Series. If you have boys ages six to fourteen, it’s never the wrong decade forThe Sugar Creek Gang series. If you have reluctant female read-alouders, you might try Grandma’s Attic books. For younger listeners, our personal favorite is The Boxcar Children. If you want your read aloud time to be more academic, you might try the G.A. Henty books; more spiritual, try God’s Smuggler, The Hiding Place, or Joni.
If the thought of sitting still while Mom reads aloud makes everyone feel a boredom attack (or in Dad, a sleeping attack) coming on, you might consider allowing them to do something quiet while you read. Our older children often quilt, do handwork, or other non-thinking activities while I read. Our little guys often do puzzles, build with Legoes, or sort Legoes. Many times, Dad will do something quietly with the little ones while we read, so their hands and minds are engaged in something. (Currently, this is a one thousand piece Civil War puzzle.)
Make time for the important things. Sometimes the difference between read aloud success and failure is timing. The same is true of many learning adventures. We learned fifteen years ago from Gregg Harris at one of his workshops that the way to be sure something is done in your school is to attach it to something you always do. Of course, his main suggestion here is attaching things to mealtimes, since seldom do we miss that event! Anyway, attach your family read aloud time—or any important learning or devotional activity—- to something already in your schedule all of the time: rising time, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bedtime are all good choices.
For added incentive, you might follow our family’s more-often-than-not rule: If an activity is important to us (devotions, memory work, discipleship meetings with children, read aloud time, etc.,) we should do that activity more often than we do not. If our occurrences of an event do not exceed our skipped times of an event, then it isn’t very important to us. (It’s not a real priority in our lives.) It either needs moved up in our priority list or dropped—and we need to be honest with ourselves that it really isn’t a priority.
Use non-book teaching tools whenever possible. One thing that I do for my kids is to keep us well-stocked (usually from the library) on non-book items. I have them listen to president’s speeches while they clean, fiction books on tape (especially historical fiction like Amos Fortune, Free Man or Across Five Aprils,) while they are doing “handy” school like sewing, crafting, etc. (Alright, your son might not like sewing or crafting. My little guys welcome a few hours to sort Legoes for their next project or color in their educational coloring books while listening to talking books.) If you do not have access to a big library, you might want to go to another library’s website to look up non-book items, and order them from your local library through inter-library loan. That is a free service at our library. Also, the local homeschool group is big enough to have a good library of materials to check out. Create a learning environment in your home by providing various avenues for learning.
Make your school a “learning-at-home school,” not a “school-at-home school.” One of the downfalls of “traditional homeschooling” is the idea that we have a school in our home. In that regard, we would learn only in the same way the schools do (mass education, workbooks, etc.) and during the same hours that schools do. The best thing we can do for our children in this area is to create a love for learning and not confine learning to “school.” I can still remember when my first born was eight years old and discovered that other children did not do school on Saturdays. To him, everyday was a learning day; why would you skip learning on Saturdays? Even worse though, was when my children found out that other homeschoolers do not have to do school in the summer! They thought everyone did everything just like we do, so when they discovered that, they began begging for more “free time!” I overcame that by making summer school our “fun” school—letting them choose the things they want to study in the summer and modifying our schedule so that there wasn’t as much bookwork in the summer, but learning still took place.
When we just try to “get through the book” or use only fill-in-the-blank type of learning for all of our children (regardless of ages, genders, or learning styles of our learners), we are having “school at home” instead of “learning at home.” Learning should be fun! It should be geared to the learners as much as is possible. It should be varied in the beginning until we discover how each child learns best. It should be so desirable and enticing that our children would never desire to go to school. These are the types of things that happen when we are learning together at home in our homeschool.
Creating a love for learning is not an easy task because it requires diligence, perseverance, and modeling from Mom and Dad; however, it is worth all of the time and effort involved in it. Who knows? Maybe Mom and Dad will start to love learning too?