Helping Children Love to Learn – Part 1

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I recently had a “kick-off-the-school-year-lunch” with my mini-support group, unit study co-op group, field trip group, and accountability group—all the same five fellow-homeschooling moms. One creative and affirming mother had the idea that since we were starting a new school year, we should go around the table and encourage one another in our homeschooling strengths.

After we bawled our way through lunch and dessert, and when the Kleenexes were all discarded, there was a common encouraging thread about me. They felt that I modeled for them how to create a love for learning in my children and in me. Afterwards, I contemplated how I influenced these moms in that way. I considered some of the comments they made. Then I asked myself, “How can I spread a love for learning to homeschoolers everywhere?”

I would like to share the key strategies that Ray and I have discovered that helped our children love to learn. These are strategies that have caused our children to get out their school books on a Saturday night simply because they wanted to, strategies that made learning in our family a joy instead of a drudgery, strategies that have helped us to build fond (and exciting!) homeschool memories.

Model a Love for Learning

Your children want to be just like you! They might not say it. They might say just the opposite at times, but the fact is, they want to be just like Mom and Dad.

The beginning of teaching our children any skill is to model that skill for them. I remember in teacher’s college when the trendy topic was SSR—Sustained Silent Reading. The goal of SSR was to set aside ten or fifteen minutes each school day to have every student reading. The superior teachers were the ones who didn’t grade papers or file their nails during SSR; they read too. The idea was that if the teacher modeled reading for her students, they would follow her example.

The same is true for homeschooling parents with modeling a love for learning. Do you force-feed your children what they need to learn, but remain stagnant in your own learning? Do you act as though you already “know it all,” so there is nothing else for you to learn? Do you seek out information about topics you are interested in learning more about?

We recently took a family vacation to Disney World®. I carried (well, whoever carried the backpack actually carried) an eight-hundred-page volume titled, The Unofficial Guide to Disney World®. I pulled it out as we traveled to each park, reading aloud about the best viewing spots for the afternoon parade, the worst hamburgers in the place, and the longest time one has to wait in the mid-morning to ride “Space Mountain.”

At first the kids teased me merciless (okay, I did have over a hundred sticky notes of various colors and sizes protruding from the sides of the book—you’re not allowed to highlight in a library book), but then they began asking me what “my book” said about this or that. Eventually, we were fighting over the book during tram, monorail, and bus rides!

On the last night, the kids insisted that I cover myself in sticky notes, scatter my “charts” around me (oh, I made charts too), and have my picture taken with my precious book. They saw firsthand how learning new information makes for a great vacation; they came to see the method to Mom’s madness—and I guarantee not one of them will ever take their kids to Disney World without that book! Modeling a love for learning for our children works.

Start Early and Go for the Long Haul

When I say “start early,” I don’t mean start out with workbooks and assignments early! I mean start out with learning early;make learning a lifestyle from a young age. We decided that we were going to homeschool when our first child was a little over a year old. (We actually began homeschooling my eighth-grade sister at that time.) Everything in our life became school—morning devotions, chore time, story time, evening devotions, listening to tapes while traveling, and more. Ministering at the nursing home, hosting Bible studies in our home, and preparing the church bulletin board all quickly became “school”—with a toddler in tow—learning as we went.

I got so upset when my children learned from others that school meant “book learning”—and specifically workbooks—and as preschoolers and kindergarteners they would say, “I want to do school.” My response through the years has been something like this: “Did you do your dishes this morning? Did you read the Bible with Daddy? Did you do story time with Mommy? Did you play a math game with sissy? Did you help brother make bread today? Then you just did school!” Starting early meansbeginning in our children’s very first years to develop a love for learning by providing learning activities that are worthwhile and enjoyable—giving them a good taste for learning.

I have noticed a trend in homeschoolers: the reason they homeschool often determines their children’s love for learning or lack of love for learning. Children from families who homeschool because they think it is a superior way of learning seem to love learning more than children from families who homeschool because the other option (public school or private school) is “bad.”

Now don’t get me wrong. We home school for a myriad of reasons, but our children know we are in this because it is plain and simply the BEST—all the way around. They also know that we are in it for the long haul, as long as God permits us. Thus, there is no way out. There is nobody else that will pick up the slack in learning for us. There is nothing in the future that will save our children from our laxness. It is all up to us. We are responsible for our children’s education for all of their school years; and once they become a certain age (oh, say, eight years old or so), they are responsible for their learning, too. It is ours and it is theirs.

Integrate School with Chores, Service, Ministry, and More

Do not make “school” a separate entity from your life. “School,” as we know it, is a man-made institution. The New Testament says that children are to be under tutors and managers until the time appointed by their father. (Thus, indicating that the father is in charge of it, but he may have outside teachers help him.) Many schools began as a result of a perceived need to teach children the Bible.

Certainly nobody (governmental or otherwise) was intended to raise our children for us! Yet the “rules” and “guidelines” that we devise for our homeschools are often copied from we see in “real” schools. Of course, many of these guidelines are based on solid research and experience of how children learn, but more often than not, the “school ways” are devised in order to provide “mass education.” We should only copy the truly superior ways of learning. Consider how many children you know who go to school and love school or love learning. If there is a lack of love for learning, we don’t want to produce that in our homeschools!

The Old Testament is filled with admonition after admonition to teach our children all the time. It tells us to teach our children when we get up, when we walk, when we sit, and when we lie down. That certainly doesn’t mean to “have school” day and night! I believe that learning takes place all of the time—life skills are learned through chores; social skills are learned through service; Bible, character, and Godliness are learned through ministry; academics are learned through bookwork.

When everything we do is looked at as “learning” and “valuable.” It doesn’t matter if a student is completing a math lesson, helping an elderly neighbor, or reading to a little sister. It is all learning; it is all valuable; it is all needed.

I realized that I had done too good of a job incorporating school into our lives and our lives into school when ten years ago, my oldest daughter (now eighteen and faster than lightning at household and kitchen tasks!) was a dawdler. At five o’clock one evening, she was still sitting at her little table doing a math page. I suggested that if she would work faster on everything, she wouldn’t still be sitting there doing her math assignment so late in the day. She smiled her cheeriest smile at me and exclaimed: “I like school. I like chores. And I like to play. It doesn’t matter how fast I go or when I’m done,because I love it all!”

I cringe when I hear of academic students who are too busy “doing school” to minister and provide services to others or of selfish young people who are too consumed with their own interests to reach out to those in need. A well-rounded student is one who balances his time among “academic” pursuits, ministry and service opportunities, hobbies, family activities, spiritual growth opportunities, and fun. Any imbalance in these areas—even in “over-academics”—makes a student lacking in something and certainly not a model of a student who loves to learn and loves homeschooling. When we train our sons and daughters to put making a meal for a new mother right up there in their “to-do list” with their English, we are integrating school with life and life with school.

Stock Up On Learning

My friends’ husbands often tease them about staying away from me and “my catalogs.” (At least, I think they are teasing!) They hide the checkbook when I’m coming for fear that I will talk their wives into buying the latest, greatest educational item I have found. I always say, “We get our clothes at Goodwill and our groceries at Aldi’s, but we get our books everywhere we find them—on sale or not!” We build a learning environment when we fill our homes with good books and educational items—computers, good software, learning games, cassettes, videos, and more. It’s hard not to love learning when learning items are surrounding you!

Nowadays, homeschool materials and learning materials are everywhere! And the prices couldn’t be better. I have gotten complete sets of readers at garage sales, expensive creation science books at Goodwill, and educational videos at thrift stores. Ebay® and other used buying-and-selling Web sites abound with educational materials. Homeschool swaps are prevalent online, as well. If you see a learning item somewhere, you can most likely get it used or on sale.

Start out with general materials and Bible or character materials, and then branch out according to your students’ interests. Twenty-one years ago, when our first-born was a baby, our initial “homeschool” purchases were the complete cassette series of Your Story Hour (of Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue venues), Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, the Coriell’s A Child’s Book of Character Building, and the Family Bible Library. Guess what? We still have all four of them—and we still use all four of them almost weekly!

Our oldest child, Joshua, was nine months old when we began this adventure by homeschooling my younger sister. At the time, I had no idea what his interests would be (except maybe the packaging and boxes the tapes and books came in!). Begin your homeschool library and supplies with items that you have found others to enjoy and with items that anyone might enjoy.

Of course, you can’t go wrong beginning with Bible-related and character-related materials. As your students grow up, you will see certain bents and interests developing. Capture these. Do not get so locked into learning the “essentials” that you do not take time out for their interests! Pursue the art books and classes for the one with artistic talent. Check out every book the library has on airplanes for your future aeronautic engineer. Read the classics aloud to your literary student. Developing their specific interests will enhance their love for learning.

Used by permission.

Donna Reish

Donna Reish and her husband, Ray, are homeschooling veterans of over 20 years. They have seven children between the ages of seven and twenty-two and have written two language arts curricula, including Wisdom Booklet Language Arts for ATI families.

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