Rethinking Education: Kindling a Love of Learning (Practical “How-to’s”) Part 5

After asking, are school subjects necessary?, considering how schools kill creativity, discussing the overrated college degree and apprenticeship and the philosophy of ‘school’ vs. ‘education’ , we’re finally ready to talk about some of the nuts and bolts–practical application of real education.

Let me restate the most important thing:

“So what does educating look like if not like “school?”

The good news is, it can look like a whole bunch of things, depending on the family, the child and/or the goals and opportunities of each. The thing that is precisely wrong with “schooling” is the attempt to conform every child into one learning mold. So the first thing to remember is: there are endless ways to learn and endless things about which to learn.”

The other most important thing:

We learn best by doing. And doing can mean telling or explaining, or demonstrating or teaching. Don’t forget this invaluable truth that lets your child keep information.

The fear of removing structure

There are skeptics, because of the reputation “unschooling” has received by a large sector who embrace a child-centered worldview, who avoid anything that resembles a child following his interests. The argument is (and I used to use it), that without the structure, regiment and schedule of a typical school routine, the parent is defaulting to child-centeredness. But don’t confuse “unparenting” with “delight-directed study.” 

Consider:

  1. What is “unschooling”? Essentially, it is learning all the time, as opposed to “doing school.” Because the term itself has so many different meanings attached to it, we would do well to use a different word. But the philosophy has merit within the context of proper authority and a biblical worldview. I prefer to use terms like, delight-directed study. Gregg Harris has this to say:

“A delight-directed study is like a wonderful fire in the mind of a student. It starts small, but as it grows, it begins to consume vast amounts of information until it bursts into a roaring blaze of insight, understanding and creativity. It takes on a life of its own. In a delight-directed study, a child’s interests are fanned to flame and supported in ways that increase his interest in his studies. The child’s delight is the spark that ignites everything. Once established, like a fire, it is self-sustaining. The student begins to study for his own personal satisfaction, and the fruits of his study begin to flow outward to others.” Delight Directed Study

Remember how we learn as young children? Parents can have a perfectly structured home life, with authority in the proper place, and still be the facilitator of his toddler’s love of learning. Every parent, from the strictest to the most lax, teaches this way while his children are young, utilizing his God-given curiosities which propel him to learn what is necessary. If it is superior then, why not later?

2. Structure, routine and order can be implemented in all sorts of ways without squelching natural interests and learning instincts.

3. Rudimentary subjects can still be taught along with allowing your children to dive into subjects that interest him.

Those of us who reject the idea of a child learning what he loves is mostly still struggling to break out of the mental box of “doing school” to embrace a freedom of learning which should be more of a lifestyle than anything else. Yes, you can still require certain rudimentary work (we do.); but overall, education should be a living, constant pursuit of one’s natural curiosities.

Academics

This concept doesn’t mean there are no academics taught; quite the contrary. It sees real life as the perfect environment to make whole men and women, including the academics they need but not excluding the practical wisdom and skills many children and adults lack.

Textbooks, if used, should be thought of as tools, not masters, remembering that they are not the only way, and often not the best way, to impart learning.This is one big difference in schooling and education…we are educating a whole child, and the world is our classroom. Everything inside that world is merely a tool, to which we should never become a slave.

Here are some practical ways academics can look:

  • Math games can teach basic arithmetic. With a foundation in numeration (understanding numbers well, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing), “real math” or “citizen statistics” is far more needful in this generation than higher math, for the majority of people. For one, our technical age affords us machines to compute difficult equations and problems. (Albert Einstein said, “Never memorize something you can look up.” )

Also, real math matters--tremendously. Think of the enormous financial trouble so many are in and what it has ultimately done to our national economy. Making wise financial decisions and understanding basic living math is far more beneficial than knowing the quadratic equation. And life affords plenty of opportunity to teach it. From cooking, to building a house, comparing prices and  learning how to budget money, math encompasses our daily lives. If children are a living, breathing part of our daily rhythms, they learn it. If a child needs to learn higher math for a particular occupation, he will have no problem doing so. He has been given the tools of how to learn.

  • Educational prompts–create an environment of interest and stimulation. It might be a map laminated and placed on the kitchen table, a microscope available for use, musical instruments, particular books chosen and placed in view–anything to prompt a child’s curiosity and begin a journey of experience/investigation/conversation. Guide books are particularly helpful for finding specific information about a topic of interest.
  • Using thank-you notes, stories and written summaries, etc. for grammar, spelling and writing makes more sense to a child than diagramming sentences. I did this with my own students when I taught English, and I still do it. Writing well means understanding how words fit together and which ones to use at the appropriate time. I know many great writers who have no clue what a past participle is and still use it correctly.

(Interestingly, I found this in an author bio of an article I was reading about marketing, not even looking for it: “You may find it amusing to know that I have never learned the formal rules of grammar. I learned to write by reading obsessively at an early age, but when it came time to learn the “rules,” I tuned out. If you show me an incorrect sentence, I can fix it, but if I need to know the technical reason why it was wrong in the first place, I go ask my wife.” Brian Clark, Founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media, and of course, writer.)

  • Documentaries. Don’t underestimate the power of learning through listening to fascinating authors and watching programs on areas of interests. For my visual learners, this has been huge. There are great “how stuff is made” videos on YouTube and a good source of documentaries is Netflix and the library.

Example of interest-led learning:

My ten-year-old daughter, Alexa, decided she wanted to keep bees. So last week, we bought two hives with bees. My son will be helping her and so I am planning as many projects around bee-keeping as I can. I bought some books and magazine subscriptions and we’re diving in. Their written and verbal narrations and summaries are about the material they read on bees. We’re learning about the medical benefits of honey, that bees were the first inventors of evaporative cooling, why a honeycomb has a hexagon pattern (and what a “vertex” is), fermentation, pollination, charting and graphing, and a hundred other things.

We are studying several beekeepers from history and looking at geographical interests around the subject.

She plans to sell the honey too, which will facilitate great business and record-keeping skills. This is just one example of ways to capitalize on interests.

Don’t underrate interests in the arts.

As the video in part 2 stated, the arts are always rated less important than academic pursuits, crippling the creative gifts of children. If a child shows a propensity for a certain creative expression, consider letting him focus on that in any way that makes sense.

Talk to people.

Having people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences in your home is a priceless way to expand your family’s education. Of course traveling and experiencing other cultures and backgrounds first hand is the best way, but for many not possible. Everyone has a story and life lessons to share; form a habit of listening.

Get outside to the classroom of Nature.

Charlotte Mason believed that Creation provided a wealth of educational opportunties. She writes:

“We must assist the child to educate himself on Nature’s lines, and we must take care not to supplant and crowd out Nature and her methods with that which we call education. Object-lessons should be incidental; and this is where the family enjoys a great advantage over the school. The child who finds that wonderful and beautiful object, a “paper” wasp’s nest…has his lesson on the spot from father or mother.”

Children can be given journals and art books to record their findings or just be prompted to write about their feelings and discoveries. We have been programmed not to think of these things as educational because they are not measurable. But historically, nature was the best classroom.

“Without continuous hands-on experience, it is impossible for children to acquire a deep intuitive understanding of the natural world that is the foundation of sustainable development. ….A critical aspect of the present-day crisis in education is that children are becoming separated from daily experience of the natural world, especially in larger cities.” -Natural Learning, Creating Environments for Rediscovering Nature’s Way of Teaching, Robin C. Moore and Herb H. Wong

“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” – Thomas Berry

Don’t forget the main attributes of a well-educated child and form your learning style around them:

  • demonstrates wisdom (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”)
  • communicates well–all forms
  • demonstrates strong character traits of virtue (Character First Qualities)
  • self-sufficient and knows how to solve problems
  • eager to learn and knows how to find what he is looking for
  • can think critically about a diverse range of topics
  • can defend his beliefs and values
  • knows how to handle numbers
  • has a wide exposure of interests
  • has hands-on experience with different skills
  • has good conflict-resolution skills, especially with those in his home

“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent- is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.”  ~John Holt~ Teach Your Own

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series as much as I did writing it. And I hope you’ll leave your own observations, thoughts or challenges in the comment section!

23 Responses to “Rethinking Education: Kindling a Love of Learning (Practical “How-to’s”) Part 5”

  1. tereza crump says:

    I really liked this post as we are an “unschooling” family. My kids when asked if they are taking the day off schooling because of a holiday, they always answer; “We don’t do school.” 🙂

    Anyway…I have a question for you. I have 4 children and sometimes I struggle with juggling their diverse interests. How do you nurture your children’s interests and divide your time among them?

    thanks, tereza

    • Word Warrior says:

      I often find that the interests and passions of one child may invite the other and then at a different time the children reverse. My two boys enjoy much of the same things so they have “cross-over” interests. But the more diverse interests there are among your family, the greater benefit as they will all learn different things from each other. For the ones who like to cook, I let them take turns in the kitchen or put two older ones together. For building, several of them may work on a project, doing different parts of it (one builds, one sands, one paints, etc.). I try to see which ones are interested in music and foster that interest, etc. Many interests can just be pursued on their own, while we pay attention and try to create projects or field trips or “learning facilitators” that match.

  2. Laura says:

    Good thoughts, Kelly, though I often wonder how to make it happen. We “do school” about 3-4 days a week, in that we sit down to practise math and reading, and read history, review geography…just because if we don’t do it more structured, I’m afraid it won’t get done. However, we also attempt to answer a ton of questions during the day…my other thought is financial restraints…when you live on one income, it can be hard to find the necessary equipment to do this…to buy a microscope, or to keep lots of art/craft supplies, or to buy beekeeping things! I know growing up myself, often, not bothering to pursue an interest because I knew there was no money to do it…and it was beyond my babysitting earnings…or there is no place in the house to keep it…how do address some of those questions? A side note, too, how do you divide up your house into practical usage in space? Do you have a homeschool room? Use the kitchen table? Thanks!

    • Word Warrior says:

      Laura,

      First, I ran across these articles that I think will be helpful in fleshing out more of this “real life” or “delight-directed” learning. The more we can wrap our minds around what it is (I have to constantly remind myself), the more natural it will seem to us.

      We are on a limited budget too, sometimes making choices for one purchase that deny another one. Since we don’t spend much on curriculum, we can shift this money to project-type learning. We also look for great buys.

      For example with the bees, we found full hives on Craigslist for $200. Not only that, but he also had some empty hives really cheap. We bought a few of those because we should be able to make all our money back by assembling them and reselling them on Craigslist. So just looking for things like that are helpful.

      Also, consider field trips that are free. Here is a link with 50 great ideas: http://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/07/18/50-fun-field-trip-ideas-for-homeschoolers/

      Look around you and think about what you already have that can be explored. Do you have neighbors or people in your community who would give you a “tour” of their hobbies/business/farm? We have a local potter (as in clay) who we plan to spend some time with this fall.

      The secret is unlocked when *we* become interested in the world around us and sweep our children along for the journey. There is a contagion that cannot be resisted when parents begin to see the world differently (which is very difficult after being educated in a box all our lives!).

      Simply spend the day outside listening to your children–not even pointing things out to them or trying to make a lesson…but simply watching and listening and see what happens. This was another favorite of Charlotte Mason.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Laura,

      I also meant to mention that often the Lord just provides amazing opportunities. After the storm, we lost our piano teacher, our neighbor next door who lost their father. She was very affordable and came to our house and I never foresaw the chance to replace her. But talking to an elderly widow in our church, we found that she was THRILLED at the idea of teaching our children, so much so, that she refuses to charge us! Don’t underestimate what the Lord can do. Oh, and think about bartering for skills/classes, etc.

      • In 2011, I decided to put the kids into a tumbling class during the summer. They loved it. So I enlisted the girls to do ballet with the same studio in the fall. After the first month, taking notice of the conditions of the studio, I asked the teacher if she would like to “swap” services. I would clean the studio in exchange for the ballet classes she was teaching my kids. She said a resounding “yes”!!!
        In the process my kids learned that there are ways to get things other than paying money. They help me at cleaning the studio. The place looks cleaner and once a month we practice how to be of service to someone in our community.
        I find that being a “homeschooling” parent teaches us to be resourceful. 🙂

  3. Samantha Smith says:

    I really needed this right now. I tend to forget that I need to relax and let them learn. Instead of forcing them to “get this math done!” Thanks for helping me be a blessing and not a bane.

  4. Tina says:

    Oh my goodness – this is so perfect! Thanks so much for posting. I spent the summer reading Gatto and began this – our 5th year of homeschooling – with an entirely different outlook. I bought NO textbooks or workbooks (just a collection of 40 missionary biographies) and threw together what other resources I could find. Now, one month in, we’ve nearly abandoned (except for a couple of hours per week) what textbooks we do have (except the missionary bios, which we LOVE). Instead we’re opting for outreach, ministry, travel and playing outside. Thanks for helping me feel a little more validated in this! 😉

  5. 6 arrows says:

    Well done series, Kelly. Thank you for the time you spent on it. I got a lot out of it.

    Great xylophone, too! The picture really helps sum up the series. 🙂

  6. Sherry says:

    This is so well done, Kelly! We follow this to a “t”, with notebooking thrown in so that the kids and I have a sort of scrapbook of all of the things we are learning. Our academics are covered by the old, Godly books that are practically free and so much more superior than anything else offered these days.

    As for the cost and availability–we always pray and let God provide. The things we study are pretty practical, which means that the children make and create things we actually need, or want. This leads us on all sorts of adventures. No microscope here, although we have tried using one. They always seem to be missing one attachment or another after just a little bit of use.

    Here’s a current example–the girls are low on basic make-up, so they did a search on the Internet and found all sorts of recipes to make facepowder, rouge, etc. Then they spent some time doing all sorts of experiments, learned about pigments, etc. Very interesting, very practical, and very “science”. Did the girls see it as boring and tedious–absolutely not!

    I have raised 7 children so far this way, and since we did require respectful behavior and hard work besides their “delight-directed” studies, they excel everywhere they go, even as stay-at-home moms.

  7. Carolina says:

    A friend of mine and I are going to trade skills: I am going to teach Spanish to her son, while she teaches music to my 2 children. once a week in our church.
    Kelly, is your honey going to be raw? do you have enough flowers in your property? I am asking bc i have already thought of keeping bees but I do not know if our yard would be big enough for that.
    What happened to Bria’s photo bussines? You did not mentioned it when you talked about the things she would do after graduating? Does she still have her camera? Why doesn’t she take over the skin productes so you do not have to hire anybody for that?

    • Word Warrior says:

      Carolina,

      That’s a great idea!

      Yes, our honey will be raw and we are going to plant clover and wild flowers to ensure they have enough plants (and it’s a great excuse to have a pretty field in front of the house 😉 I’m pretty sure you can keep bees on very little property…at least that’s what I’ve read.

      Bria still does photography, but isn’t doing a lot for pay right now. She is giving horse lessons (about which she is very excited) and is doing a lot of studying in the equestrian genre but still enjoy photography as a hobby. We’re still talking about marketing it again as a business.

      I haven’t thought about the skin products…hmmmmm…something we’ll have to talk about–thank you! It’s just so easy right now not having to store and order things, not sure if I’m ready to have that back in the house, even if she does most of it. But it’s doable.

  8. Carolina says:

    I did not know you were not doing the skin products any more.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Oh we do. By this, “Why doesn’t she take over the skin productes so you do not have to hire anybody for that?” I thought you understood that I now hire someone to make and ship all the products. I handle the marketing/orders end of things.

  9. Laura Z says:

    Thank you so much for this series. Our family has been homeschooling for four years now. Our older children were 15, 12 and 9, with a 2 & 1 & another on the way. We had a lot of deprogramming to do for ourselves and the older kids. Our 19 year old has been working with Daddy for 3 years now along with reading, math and writing. He HATED to read when he was in public school. Now, he has read Mere Christianity 3 times ON HIS OWN. Allowing him the freedom to read about what interests him has been an amazing tool to sharpen his thinking and reasoning skills after so many years of indoctrination. His learning will now be life long, self directed because he has been allowed to make those decisions. Of course, Mom can always make a suggestion about a book he “just has to read.”. Are we concerned that he isn’t technically graduated at the age of 19? Not a bit. HThe Lord has directed our steps and we have seen miraculous changes in our son’s life. It will not matter in 10 years when he graduated. He is gaining the tools he needs to be

    • Word Warrior says:

      I love it! And even “graduation”, in one sense, is part of our boxed mindset, isn’t it? If learning is a lifestyle, never meant to end, what *is* graduation? We did a formal ceremony for our daughter (we didn’t call it graduation), but she continues to learn in the same way she has been–doing more theological study (because that interests her) and adding some new skills, teaching horse lessons and sewing lessons to save money for some on-line classes she’s wanting to take.

      It is amazing, isn’t it, when the Lord directs your steps?

  10. Deborah says:

    I want to throw my experience in here because I could have so easily missed something big if I had not remembered our delights (and those of our children) have a hearing before our Creator God because often He has built them in there.

    I picked up Desiring God by Piper over a frustrated desire of my own heart. I ended up bringing before the Lord the frustration of my really big 14 year old son. They were really pretty closely connected : )

    He desired the challenge of a school football team, but in our area homeschoolers can’t participate. How could I hold our convictions and admit his hearts desire?

    God made a way.

    Within 72 hours my son was flying cross-country to play as a “walk on” (ie. promised spot with no try outs) for a school team, under my brother in law coach in a county that allows home school participation.

    Some surprising thoughts balance discipline:

    “Rejoice, O young man in your youth . . .Walk in the ways of your heart”
    Ecclesiastes 11:9

    “Accept all you invitations, but remember to guard your heart”
    “I will do everything in my life to promote the most happiness”
    – Johnathon Edwards

    Really!

    PS This just in: He made 15 tackles in his first game!

  11. 6 arrows says:

    I’m a bit late to the game with this comment, but I came across an article today that fits well with this education series, so I thought I’d mention it here.

    From Education Nation: Is “Accountability” Undermining Education?

    “What is education for? Is it for pouring facts and formulas into students’ heads, or is it for creating learners?

    At its best, was the U.S. educational system known for producing memorizers and test-takers or was it known for producing innovators?

    I think we can agree that we want to create learners and innovators—people who seek challenges, stretch to learn new things, and bounce back from (or are even energized by) setbacks. If this is what we want, we are going about it in exactly the wrong way. High stakes testing may in fact be creating the very opposite in our students.

    My research shows that an environment that emphasizes evaluation and testing creates a fixed mindset. That is, it sends the message that intellectual abilities are fixed and that the purpose of school is to measure them. Students come to see school as the place to look smart and, above all, not look dumb—not a place to create and learn. A fixed mindset also breeds low effort (because students believe that high effort advertises low ability,) and poor reactions to difficulty (because they believe that difficulty also reveals low ability.) These are not the habits of people who achieve or innovate in adulthood.”

    Read more here: http://www.educationnation.com/index.cfm?objectid=F8275747-8283-11E1-8459000C296BA163&aka=0

    BTW, Kelly, good quote by John Holt at the end of this post. Very true what he says on people being “smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent…” That quote really stood out to me after reading the above article I linked to.

  12. […] Part 5: Rethinking Education: How to Kindle a Love of Learning, The Practical How-Tos […]

  13. Kim M. says:

    Good stuff! I enjoyed re-reading it.

Leave a Reply

Dissenting comments are welcome only in the spirit of "iron sharpening iron"; hateful or angry responses will be removed at my discretion. You may add your gravatar (image) at Gravatar

WordPress Themes