I love learning. I pretty much always have. My 18 years of formal education didn’t drive it out of me either. I remember one of my college professors telling me that I was one of the most intrinsically motivated students she had had. I think it is just innate in some people. I have one child who has an inner drive to learn. I didn’t put it there. He has just always had it. But not all of my kids are like that. For some kids the intense desire to learn is not innate and must be fostered.
Because I love to learn, the desire for learning to be enjoyable is important to me as a homeschooling parent. The unschooling philosophy suggests that for a child to love learning, learning must child-led. I disagree. While that may be best for some kids, it isn’t a universal concept. Some kids will have their love of learning intact despite anything formal education can throw at it. Some kids may check out of formal education, but still spend their free time learning what interests them. In my experience teaching my children, I have seen formal schooling help them develop interests and enjoyment in areas where they did not previously have any interest.
While every child is naturally curious, not every child is self-motivated to learn academic subjects. Yes, my kids are required to do some things in school that they don’t enjoy. They learn anyway. Their lack of enjoyment in the process doesn’t prohibit learning from happening. But because I highly value a love for learning, I do seek out ways to change the lack of enjoyment into something that is engaging.
So how can a homeschooling parent foster a love for the learning process while formally schooling?
1. Provide an Appropriate Education
Every child is different. As homeschooling parents we have the opportunity to make the education fit the child. Because each child is different, the education for different children should look different too. Don’t focus on grade levels, but on what would be the appropriate placement for the child. Consider the child’s interests and learning style.
I have very different children. Sometimes I do use the same resources for different children, but I may change how I use them. Don’t be stuck into thinking that a book, program, or curriculum can only be used one way. Think of how your child would enjoy using it the most.
2. Be Interested
I’ve found this to be very important. If I find something boring or dull, there is almost zero chance that my kids will be engaged with the subject. I’ve found that if I approach subjects in a way that is interesting to me as a teacher, I’m much more likely to pass on an enjoyment of the subject matter.
I also have found that letting the child work independently on a subject that is unenjoyable is not very effective. The most tedious subjects to the child are ones where he needs my participation the most. Think back to the best teachers you had in your education. They were usually excited about the subject matter, right? Kids need that. If you have a hard time getting excited about math, for instance, find someone who is that can tutor your child. Or find a way to learn to enjoy the subject yourself.
3. Engage Your Child
Seek to engage your child. Engagement isn’t about entertainment. As a homeschool educator, your job isn’t to make everything fun, but to make the subject engaging. This will probably look different for each child. Engagement hooks a child’s interest. As you consider how to approach education with your child, think about what would make the subject interesting to your child. Sometimes hands-on activities are important. Other kids may love independent projects or videos. Some kids might like the work to be quite difficult.
I’ve found that brainstorming has been helpful. Sometimes I just need to sit and think of a way to approach a subject so it is engaging. If you have a non-typical learner that may require lots of out of the box thinking, but it is worth it when you find something that works.
4. Follow Your Child’s Interests
An interested child is a child who learns easily. Take your child’s interests and incorporate them into your schooling. At the same time, don’t take your child’s interests and add tests and assignments to them. Think of how your child is enjoying learning about the subject already. Just provide more resources, time, and your energy into helping the child explore his interest further.
Make a good portion of your school day involved in subjects or activities your child will find enjoyable. Don’t let the definition of formal school become “stuff I want to get through so I can get to what I want to do.” Extend your school days a little and spend more time in your child’s interest areas. Don’t be afraid of longer school days or adding in activities your child would enjoy. School time doesn’t have to look like a formal classroom.
5. Model Curiosity and Wonder
I’ve found myself in the situation of learning along with my kids many times in our homeschooling journey. This lends to many opportunities to wonder aloud as we learn together. Ask questions – questions where you don’t know the answer. Then go find out the answer together. These tangents are a great way to model curiosity and wonder.
If you need a schedule to get things done, use one that is flexible to allow for these tangents that arise in day to day life. I like using a Mini-Loop Schedule. It allows us to cover the necessary topics, but makes every day different. I find that I am personally bored if we have every day alike so I use a schedule that keeps me engaged. If we spend lots of time on a subject or time on a tangent, we aren’t off track. We just pick up where we left off and continue on the way.
Learning is a beautiful thing. It is an engaging dance of the mind that we are privileged to be able to spend our days doing. Our educational philosophy here at Eclectic Homeschooling embraces learning as something that fits very well with the words of Piechowski. Learning is “vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding – a way of being quiveringly alive.”