Deuteronomy 11:19 "And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cultivate a Love of Learning in your Child

I remember exactly where I was--where I was sitting--when I discovered that I could cause my eyes to un-focus at will. I was 7 hears old, in second grade and sitting in my public school class room gazing out across the field of late strawberries.The partially cloudy sky was casting large cloud-shadows on the field as I looked out from the classroom window. Gazing into the distance, I noticed that, if I relaxed my eyes, everything went blurry.

"Cool." I whispered softly to myself and tried not to giggle as I played with my new-found "toy."
"SARAH." A stern voice sounded from the front of the classroom.
"Pay attention." I don't remember what followed. Scolding, I am sure. I was embarrassed to be called out in front of the class.
I tried to explain in my childish words: "My eyes do this fuzzy thing--"
"THAT is enough. Now pay attention." But it was very hard to pay attention. My eyes kept doing that funny thing... and it was very distracting!
And I was very curious. What makes them do that?
He-He I giggled inside. I can look at the teacher with my eyes all fuzzy and I cannot see her or the chalkboard. She thinks I m paying attention. But I'm NOT!  
I had to work at hiding my smile. Secretly, I liked that I was not able to learn because my eyes weren't focused. I shut my ears too, all the while pretending to be seeing, hearing and learning. I, of course,  was too young and foolish to realise that not learning was also hurting myself.
If teacher won't listen to me, I won't listen to her.
Yes, I was a very stubborn and difficult child. But one thing stands out to me now as I look back from the perspective of a mother and a teacher; I see it clearly: What a missed opportunity!
If one of my children discovers something that fascinated him, I stop what I am doing, listen to him and talk about it. Often (when I am home), I will look it up on Google, read about it with him, and answer any questions. In short... I feed that hunger for knowledge. Looking back, I  understand that it is completely impractical for a teacher in a conventional school setting to stop what she is doing and pursue the individual interests of one child.
But what a learning opportunity it would have been for my young self!
Had it been one of my boys who discovered the fuzzy-eye phenomenon, I would have started by explaining that there are muscles in our eyes that allow us to make the pictures we see sharp or blurry. This is called focus. Cameras also have focus. I would show him my old SLR camera and let him rotate the manual zoom to watch items come into focus and go out of focus. I would follow that up with diagram of the eye from the Internet or a book. I would conclude with an explanation of the purpose of glasses: Some peoples eyes don't focus correctly; these people need glasses. This probably would take less than 10 minutes. I would pause and wait for more questions. Usually, this is enough to satisfy the interest. Often our learning direction would change to a new subject.  I follow their interest and do my best to answer their questions.
Other teachers would call these rabbit trails, but I find them to be our most teachable moments. I follow their questions and try to find answers. I do thisapart from our regular schooling. To me, it is as natural as breathing . And it is a fun way to teach, as there is a very eager audience.
Ways to feed the hunger for knowledge in your children:
1) Encourage questions. About anything and everything. If you don't know, you can find the information online or in a book. If I am unable to look it up right then (ie. I am driving a car) I will ask them to remind me later, or I will leave a message for myself on my cell phone, saying, for example, "Look up a diagram of an eyeball on Google."
2) Model a love of learning. If you want them to love to learn, they must first see it in you. If your force feed them information five days a week in the form of school, but they never see you learn and try new things, they are not going to see its value. I spend time (too much, really) reading online about whatever is my latest interest. Right now, I am researching how to turn my drawings into vector images. Do you read? Do you try new things? Are you afraid to fail? Can you laugh about your mistakes? Do you try again after a failure? These are all an integral part of learning. Your children are watching you. And, most humbling of all, they are patterning their lives after yours.  
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Edison
3) Listen to your children This can be very challenging. Children babble...a lot... about topics that seem trivial or nonsensical to us adults. But they need to know that they are heard. My mother would listen as vented my frustrations while we prepared dinner. Knowing she cared was what made those childhood frustrations bearable. Recalling the above childhood story has reinforced in my mind the necessity of listening. If you are not willing to listen to them, they will not listen to you .
At the delicate age of 7, I had discovered one of life's formulas for successful relationships : Respect is a two-way street.
4) Be honest. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." Your children need to know that you are only human too. Learn with them. Be trustworthy. Never lie to them or mislead them. Although it seems that this should go without saying, many parents choose to use misinformation to answer questions that are too mature for the child (a stork bringing a baby is an example). The problem with this is, when the he discovers the truth, the child’s opinion of you will lessen, his respect diminish. He will doubt ALL the information you have passed along because of the lack of truth in one area. I chose to answer mature issues with "Ask me when you are older" or "That is an adult subject" or “You don't need to worry about that until you are older." Don't discredit yourself as a teacher in your attempt to protect your child's innocence. They are not mutually exclusive. There are ways to protect them while still maintaining honesty and integrity.
5) Be genuine. Children seem to have built-in fake-ometers. They can sense some one who is not being real. They can see right through a facade . Disingenuousness can take many forms. Don’t talk down to your children. Don’t use a baby voice. Don’t try to be seen as better than you actually are. Your children don’t need a perfect parent.; they need a REAL parent, walking daily with God in a humble and contrite spirit. This issue was brought home to me recently. On evening I snapped at my husband right as I was putting my children to bed. Shortly after I apologized. However, I realized that I had modelled bad behaviour in front of my children. Since I could hear them whispering in their room, I went in and apologized to them for my attitude and behaviour. I told them I had behaved badly, that I had apologized to their daddy, and he had forgiven me. I am not perfect... just a work in progress. I am daily growing, learning to be a better wife, mother, and Child of my Lord. It is important that children understand this about their parents. Your children will, inevitably and undoubtedly, see your flaws. To act like they are not there, truly does make you fake. They will benefit far more from seeing you work through your struggles, then by you acting as if the struggles weren’t there. They will be more open to your instruction if they understand that you are like them: growing, changing, learning.
It does not require a godly example in order to have a godly child,
but it does make the child’s path easier.
In summery: encourage, model, listen, be honest and genuine. These can make an incredible impact on your child-rearing and your teaching. Decades later, I still hear my seven-year-old mind retorting “If she won’t listen to me, I will not listen to her!” I never want my actions or attitude to turn my child away from learning.
Sarah Elizabeth Forbes
Copyright © 2011 (Originally published in the PCHE homeschool newsletter)

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