Homeschool Essentials

Whether unschooled or highly structured, religious or secular, all homeschools encounter the same challenges. All successful homeschools exhibit the same essential qualities. This weblog will help you understand and apply those qualities, minimize frustration, and enjoy more success sooner.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Children Need to Learn

"In the education of children
there is nothing like alluring the interest and affection;
otherwise you only make so many asses laden with books."
Michel de Montaigne

Children need to learn. From the first moments of birth, they seek meaning in their environment. Not a passive blank slate, waiting for others to write whatever they will, children aggressively interact with their environment. This fundamental truth underlies the whole learning process. If, at some point, children choose not to learn something, no power short of torture can force the proper response from them.

I’ll say it again. Children need to learn. As surely as they hunger for food, they hunger for knowledge, for understanding. If a child stops eating, we immediately know something is wrong. Few would attempt to force-feed a child they thought ill. Yet that’s just what we do with children who lose their appetite for learning. Again and again, when asked to help people with their homeschooling challenges, I find this fundamental misunderstanding. Seldom do parents ask, “Why doesn’t my child want to learn?” Instead, they inquire, “How can I get my child to . . .?”

Parents bring me the most odious textbooks, and wonder why the child refuses to partake. Now, I like textbooks, but I’m a little odd. I’ve kept nearly every one of my textbooks for reference. I still have my seventh grade reading workbook, because of two special stories it contains. Rarely, however, do I take those old textbooks off the shelf and just read through them. Wonderful for reference, they make pretty dull reading fare.

Children need to learn, they enjoy learning as much as they enjoy food, sometimes more. I keep saying this because keeping this fact before you simplifies homeschooling. I asked one mother her main goal for her eight-year-old son one year. “I want him to learn to love reading!” she said.

“Excellent!” I replied, then asked, “How do you plan to go about doing that?”

“I’m going to force him to read two hours every afternoon,” she said. That’s an exact quote.

Stunned, I asked, “Do you think that’s likely to help him to love reading?”

“Well,” she shrugged, “at least he’ll do it.” Now, I enjoy reading, but I’m not always ready to devote two full hours to it. And I had my eighth birthday during the Eisenhower administration. Generally speaking, two hours represents far too long a time period for an eight-year-old boy to spend reading at a stretch. Try as I might, I couldn’t get that mother to see that her son’s reluctance to read was the direct result of her approach. Even more strange, he actually read far better than average, and enjoyed reading. After an hour or so, though, he found it taxing and wanted a change.

Years later, I saw her and her son at the "graduation" of another homeschooler we both knew. My wife, knowing the history, talked with the mother a little, asked her how her son was doing. "Oh, pretty good," the mother said. "But he doesn't like to read much."

Who'd a-thought?


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