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.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Is it Safe to Learn?

Physiological Needs and Learning

As the hierarchy concept would predict, many of children’s earliest learning concerns meeting their physiological needs. At first the child has only crying as a means to communicate every negative experience, whether hunger, cold, discomfort, pain, or fear. Learning to point to the mouth, pat their mother’s breast, speak the word “eat,” make their first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or grow a garden all arise from, and service the need for nourishment. You can see, through the progression of tasks mentioned, that just as the need to eat does not disappear with the years, neither does it’s power to motivate ever more complex learning.

Learning to speak and communicate aids the child in meeting his own basic needs. So does learning to walk. As time goes on, ever more complex tasks may be addressed and mastered, with the root purpose of meeting needs at this fundamental level. Lack of ability, even brain damage, do not lessen the need to learn, they only make it more difficult, and more urgent. The less we can do to meet our own needs, and the more we must depend upon others, the greater the likelihood that one or more of our needs will go unnoticed and unmet. Learning, a key to survival, becomes as necessary as oxygen or food or warmth.

Lack of physiological needs can block and/or limit learning. Hungry children will be open to learning anything which can bring them food in the short term. Anything else will fade from view, driven away by the need to eat. Cold children may be interested in learning to build a fire, but lack interest in building ice castles. Thirsty children may show no interest in fire-building.

At this level, we recognize the importance of needs, by providing school lunch programs and the like. Somehow, schools and parents alike lose track of the higher levels of needs, and how they affect learning.

Safety Needs and Learning

Meeting physiological needs today raises the possibility of tomorrow. As soon as we can think as far as tomorrow, we want to assure our continued existence. That raises the issue of safety. Perfectly well-fed and clothed people die in accidents and at the hands of others. Meeting physiological needs makes continued existence possible, and allows us to think about increasing the probability, the likelihood, of continued existence. That requires safety.

A stable emotional and psychological atmosphere contribute to the sense of safety, and facilitate learning. Children need both parents, so a two-parent household, where the parents love their children and one another, builds safety, and liberate the children emotionally and psychologically. Conversely domestic abuse, fighting, and divorce make learning more difficult. Illness, financial difficulties, or anything which results in domestic unrest, will inhibit learning.

As mentioned earlier, schools generally ignore these situations until they reach crisis proportions. But we need to recognized that any lack of safety inhibits learning. Demanding that children assume normal learning loads when under stress is unrealistic. Schools do it because they lack knowledge of home conditions, and the lack the time or interest to inquire. Homeschool parents do it to occupy the child and reduce their own stress. Whatever the reason, it reduces safety and runs the risk of turning kids off to learning.

Consistent, understandable rules and loving discipline likewise contribute to the child’s sense of safety. Regularity in meals, bed and rising times contribute to stability. For children, routine, the familiar, the predictable, feels safe, and safety encourages learning. Normal life provides plenty of variety to keep our interest, if we’re open to it.

As safety increases learning, so learning can increase safety. The ability to identify possible threats, and design counter measures increases safety. Learning not to closely approach, hurtful things; learning to use tools (like scissors and hammers) properly; understanding what behaviors provoke violence from others–all these increase the sense of control over the environment, and ability to preserve oneself from danger.

Do not take safety for granted. Parents, teachers, and peer groups often make learning so dangerous that children fear to attempt it. A child’s apparent lack of interest in learning often stems from a lack of safety in the learning environment.


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