Once my husband and I started to have children something inside me automatically switched to teacher mode. I loved talking to them when they were very young and was delighted when they answered back with their baby babble. I enjoyed rediscovering our wonderful world through each of them.
After we started to homeschool this instinct to instruct became even stronger. I figured if we were going to do this thing then we should strive for excellence. I felt like I needed to cram as much knowledge as possible into those little minds entrusted to me. This was my job after all! I had high expectations. My kids were very bright, who knew what kind of sweet academic success was ours for the taking!
If it sounds like I was setting myself up for a fall, that would be an excellent guess. And unfortunately I feel like I was a slow learner.
I soon discovered that making an appropriate learning environment at home is not as easy as getting a few books out on the kitchen table. Each child responded to the curriculum materials in a different way. Some of my students struggled to pay attention and sit still, even at home! There were many days of tears (theirs and mine!) in the beginning as I tried to reconcile what I was doing at home with the grade school education I received as a child.
Gradually, (meaning over too many years!) I came to the conclusion that in order to be the best teacher I can be I actually need to learn from my children. This is really the most important thing I can do as a homeschool mom. And yes, it was many times a very humbling experience for me.
There are two ways that I think we as homeschooling parents need to learn from our kids. We need to be able to experiment and listen carefully as we begin to teach at home ( each and every school year!). One child may be content to color those kindergarten pictures for long stretches at a time. Another may take the fat blue crayon, make a resounding mark through the entire scene, and declare himself finished!
I am sure you are getting the idea. I always need to find out what motivates this child to learn. Does she need to have the room quieter for certain subjects (like Math) that require greater concentration? Do I need to switch up the reading lessons for the boy who seems bored to tears with what is being presented? How do I spark wonder and inquiry in these kids so that they become life long learners?
The answer, of course, is to be humble enough to follow their lead. If there are too many tears, every day, I may be pushing too hard. I need to back off. If they finish the school work too quickly maybe I need to add something in to keep them interested. It is a great puzzle and the pieces are changing all of the time, just like the staircases at Hogwarts. Once a new connection is made then the student is off to another floor to struggle and make sense of what lies there.
This idea changed the way I interacted with my kids and their schoolwork. Eventually after all of the trial and error I understood how to learn what they needed. It takes a great deal of patience, which is not my strong suit, and loads of perseverance. By the time I started teaching the youngest three I was much better at reading my students and our school days were much smoother.
I also had big lessons to learn about extra curricular activities. Lessons and sports really are very important parts of a child’s development. Homeschool children especially need to try out organized sports or group lessons of some kind outside the home, to build their experience and confidence.
I absolutely love basketball. I am Hoosier born and I am passionate about the sport. I played on our back alley court with my brothers and when I was old enough I played for St. Joseph’s grade school team. I played for four years at my high school. I even taught my soccer/hockey playing husband how to play once we started dating.
So naturally when the kids were old enough we set up a hoop in the street and I showed them how the game goes. We broke into teams as soon as I could get enough of them old enough to play 2 on 2. One day my son John said, “Why do we have to learn to play basketball, Mom?” My answer was a curt, “Because I like to play and I need someone to shoot baskets with!” Play ball!
Mother of the Year I will never be, but I did actually listen to his comment and I took it to heart. Two out of my seven children played organized basketball in high school, but the rest are satisfied with playing on the home court or just sitting it out.
I started to watch for the activities and games that my kids showed a talent for. My daughter Emily asked for a piano for a solid year between her 7th and 8th birthdays. The year she turned 8 we took the entire tax refund check and invested it in a used piano. It was some of the best money we have ever spent. All seven of our kids have taken piano lessons and were at one time, proficient at playing music on it. Some of them went on to become high school and even college musicians. We have had 2 bassoon players, 2 French Horn players, and a child who played the double bass. We have two children who have Music Education degrees and a third who is studying it in college now.
While this may be a common occurrence in musical families (you know the ones where the parents are professional musicians), it is completely uncommon for us and our extended family. My husband and I had never played a note before our kids began their music lessons. We were athletes in high school and we had a steep learning curve to climb up to catch up with our kids’ interest in music. It has been an incredible gift and we have learned so much over the years. We have also gained a wonderful appreciation for classical music, who would have thought?
This has been a very long way of saying, we just have to let the kids get interested in things that suit them. They are not our clones. It was an important lesson to learn and we have gained a wider world view in following their lead…again!
Let me see if I can make a list of some of the things we now enjoy ( or at least possess a working knowledge of) because one of our children has taken an interest in it: music (most of all!), lacrosse, boxing (!), Star Wars, model rocket building, astronomy, rocks, drawing, photography, dancing, especially ballet dancing, Quiz Bowl, weight lifting, and long distance running, just to name a few.
I am grateful for my kids for training me to be a better listener and follower. I am enjoying a much richer and fuller life for letting them take the reins a bit. As Kris and I head around the last lap I am most grateful for all I have been taught. I am a better person for all of the things she is teaching me now. Thank you to John, Emily, Tom, Katie, Ben, Betsy and Kris for being the best teachers anyone has ever had! You have all left an indelible mark on me, I am incredibly blessed.