Knowing What to Teach
by Beverley Paine, 2008
Years ago I didn't understand why other homeschooling mums needed so much educational input from outside of their homes. Making up lesson plans and knowing what to teach my children came naturally to me - all too naturally! I often fell into the trap of doing too much, going overboard with activities and lessons, pressuring both them and myself to perform. I can't count the number of times I'd suddenly realise that we were learning for 'learning's sake'. The children would ask why they needed to learn this or that and I'd be stumped, unable to give them a reason that made sense. The fall back position was always, 'well, you might need to know this one day', to which they'd reply, 'why can't we learn it then?'
The drive to teach, or for our children to be forever busy learning, is deeply ingrained. I'd joke that most of my homeschooling friends were either frustrated would-be teachers or teachers that had dropped out of school! All too often though, friends would ask me to help them come up with educational activities for their children - or ask how to teach something - and I usually resisted, but wasn't sure why I felt reluctant. I find it incredibly easy to dream up a dozen activities off the top of my head, or brainstorm a busy unit study in fifteen minutes...
In our early years of homeschooling I would do this by thinking about what I would do in that particular situation with my children. After a few years, I learned to look at the family of the person who had asked for the help, and gear my ideas and solutions to their particular needs and lifestyle. But there's no way I could know what her children needed to learn, or where each child was at in his or her development, as thoroughly as I could my own children. Most of my suggestions were based on generalisations. That's what teachers and curriculum writers do in schools. At best what I had to offer was as good as what schools can deliver. And that is why I was reluctant to provide instant solutions, activities or lesson plans for these families. Homeschooling works because it isn't school...
The information and knowledge we seek about how to go about homeschooling is inside us all, just waiting to be voiced and validated. We simply need to ask ourselves the questions we ask others, and patiently wait for the answers to arise, as they always do, in our daily lives. It took me years to recognise some of the answers: they'd arrive in various guises time and again until I paid attention and noticed them for what they were: solutions to questions I'd asked long ago.
It is because I have faith in my ability to find solutions that it is easy for me to brainstorm a dozen different activities to help my children learn just about anything. Sometimes it's a matter of working out where to look for more information - that is an educational activity in itself! I don't have to know everything or be able to do everything: I simply need to model being an active and confident learner.
Or as John Holt succinctly put it: "What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out."
Most of us don't have the confidence, especially in those early years of homeschooling, to 'go it alone'. And we shouldn't have to. Learning is a social game and it's a lot of fun, especially when we share what we've found out. Often, someone's suggestion will trigger an avalanche of 'answers' of our own. I truly believe that we all stand on the shoulders of giants: that without the support and encouragement of others we'd get nowhere. But that is a very different from being given a set of handy answers, especially when we haven't worked out what we truly need to know yet! John Holt once wrote, "Intelligence is the measure of how we behave when we don't know what to do. It has to do with our ability to think up important questions and then find ways to get useful answers."
Most of us are brainwashed into believing we don't have time to observe, listen, focus, pay attention, and give time to our children (or our own needs). Eventually we lose touch with what's real in our lives. Often when I'm reading a book or an article I scan to get the instant solutions I seek - that's another way in which I've been conditioned, by my own schooling and by continuous reinforcement of that approach by the media. I'm learning to slow down and trust that the answers will come if I give them time. Because I homeschooled my children I was blessed with an enormous amount of time to be with them, watch them, listen to them and above all learn from them about the process of learning and how it really happens. Learning from my children about learning naturally has helped me build confidence and trust in my own natural learning ability.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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