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Back to school

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Well the first day of school is just around the corner; unless of course you’re a homeschooler, then you probably already know that your job never really ends.  Even though many homeschooling families take a formal break from their studies, many do not.  For some the idea of homeschooling is an all year, dare I say lifelong endeavor.  This is an approach we subscribe to as our family is a hybrid of sorts when it comes to homeschooling.  We are actually registered with a charter and do much of our schooling in an eclectic fashion that includes, but is not limited to out of home classes, trips, and home study.    

Our approach is one of learning for learning’s sake, and not teaching to the test although quite aware that there is a test “out there” waiting to be taken.  My daughter is very self-directed and while we do use curricula and workbooks etc., the approach is one of following her lead.  Now at first glance, this might seem rather difficult for some to imagine, a child who wants to learn, and actually wants to study, but you have to go back to the beginning.  Children learn when they are young by playing and doing things they enjoy over and over.  Anyone who has ever watched a child play will tell you that the child will continue to master a task with such focused determination.  It is their natural way of being.  The trick is to continue to encourage this process throughout their life.  We as parents must learn to find a way for our children to continue to love to learn.  

I am always amazed at the fact that my daughter wants to learn everything about everything.  I mean she has such a natural curiosity for learning and wants to understand the world around her.  One of the ways this happens is by encouraging her to ask questions when she wants to know something.  We never shut her down or make her feel that it is a bother to ask a question.  Instead, we reinforce it by saying things like, “that is a great question.”  The message is, “you are so brilliant for thinking of that.”  We have used a white board to write down her questions for future study.  In fact, this month we will be creating the long awaited “Big Board of Questions” out of chalkboard paint in the kitchen. The other trick is to follow through and find the answers together with your children.  Often times it is easier to just say you don’t know and let it be, but it requires more effort to work to find the answers if you don’t know.  This is the process of life long learning though.  If you teach your children that they can find the answers to their questions by going to the library or researching online, or asking another who has the information you are supporting their following their interests.    

In fact, you can write them down on a pad of paper or your own version of the “Big Board of Questions” and either follow up at a later time or do as my daughter suggests, “Google It!”  She understands that you can find the answer to your questions by research.  This is a good thing and the beginning of the ability to critically think about her world and what she is interested in learning.  This brings me to my next point which is there is no set way to learn about something.  Sometimes we look it up on the computer, sometimes we go to the library, and sometimes we do direct experiential research.  Children learn in different ways.  Some learn better by listening, others by watching, and still others by directly interacting and doing.  Find the way your child learns best and give them big doses of it.  

If you observe your child while they are engaged in an activity you can see how they respond best.  Some children need to move about when they learn.  The actual movement seems to anchor the information in their brains.  My daughter loved to learn her alphabets and numbers by jumping to the different letters and numbers I had written down on the patio with sidewalk chalk.  Make a game out of whatever they are learning so that it is fun and doesn’t even seem like learning.  This is when I think the best learning happens.  Some children won’t touch a workbook, but will write tons of their own stories in their own created “book.”  The idea is to find what your child is interested in and then to find a way for them to enjoy learning about it.  

The other thing I find is that we trust our daughter to know what is best for her.  I know that is a concept that is going to blow some people out of the water, but it works for us.  I’m not saying that we let her have free reign to do whatever she wants, but whenever possible we give her lots of choices.  We don’t force things down her throat because they are supposed to be good for her unquestioned.  We discuss it and try to find the reason she does not want to do something.  Many times, it is because she is bored and knows it, other times it is a lack of knowing something and it requires more information.  The idea is to trust her.  Sometimes she is just tired of something and needs a change of pace.  Even with things she likes like dance and ballet.  She wanted to do it and she did it for a year straight and didn’t miss a day, and then after her recital she was done.  She still loves dance and I suspect she will come back to it, but right now she doesn’t feel the need.  

I find the same is true in other areas.  For example, she might want a break from math and if I trust it she comes back asking for math.  I know it is not the norm, but it takes knowing your child.  Sometimes you have to let go to get them to recharge.  I mean here we are in the middle of summer and she wants to learn her times tables.  For me it doesn’t get any better than that.  We have learned to trust each other.      

This is the beauty of homeschooling.  You have the ability to give your child the permission to be who they are and to develop their strengths at their own speed and to work with their challenges.  Not every child is going to develop at the same rate or the same time.  Comparing your child to somebody else’s child is a waste of time as our children are as unique as the flowers on the hillside.  They are all beautiful and each bloom when it is their time.  Our job is to provide the nurturing, guidance, and support they need to grow.  

George Castro is a homeschooling Dad and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Long Beach.  You may contact him at georgecastromft@yahoo.com

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