Sunday, December 1, 2013

Educational Ponderings and the Lightbulb Going On

I believe that I mentioned in a previous post how crazy the summer seemed to be.  We did things that only happen in the summer, such as camps and the fair, yet somehow the summer raced by and didn't feel wholly like summer.  There was no homemade ice cream, no croquet, none of those little things that typically accompany summer.  The summer was so full of the really big summer things that in-between times were spent preparing for the next big thing.  And now Autumn has come and gone and it feels much the same.  Wonderful BIG things have occupied our time - Maceo made troupe and was cast in the Little Mermaid Jr., my father came to visit, I went on a trip to South Korea, and we took a road trip to New Mexico to visit with my 94 year old grandfather.  (I have started blog entries on each of these wonderful events and have hopes to publish them one day...soon).  And once again the little indicators of the season have been pushed to the wayside - no caramel apples and I watched the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown after Halloween.  Although these big things have been wonderful and stimulating in their right it has all left my head spinning.  I have been unable to just sit with an interest and allow myself to explore it in depth and breadth.  I feel as if I have been unable to encourage that with my children as well.  I have felt dry and drained and lacking in my usual enthusiasm for life and learning.  I have felt uninspired and floundering.  I have felt less then productive.
I have noted that when I begin to feel this way I begin to see my children through the same lens.  I see them as less then enthused, inspired and productive.  It is really my problem not theirs.
But, as is often the case, what is my problem can become their problem as I try, due to my discomfort, to seize control or, due to apathy, withdraw.
Case in point,  while I was in Korea Bishop spent a great deal of time with other homeschooling families.  One family took him to a history group that they attend, really just two families going through The Story of the World together.  Upon my return he asked to join this group.  We did.  Each week we address a couple of chapters of the book - we do the narration, map work and do a related activity.  Once I was familiar with the format I kicked in to high gear - I read the book in its entirety, outlined it and then organized a slew of related activities, I pinned a plethora of ideas on pinterest, scoured the house for all related resources and then scoured the library.  Some of these things have been useful and some have been enjoyed but I could tell that much of it was really of limited interest to Bishop.  I found the process of researching and collecting ideas to be stimulating and rewarding and, I must admit, that I had visions of Bishop producing all sorts of stunning works of art and elaborate projects that would illustrate all that he has "learned."  But all my enthusiastic and well-intentioned planning and intervention did nothing.   It seems as though I had lost faith in the process or, at minimum, I had become impatient with the process.  I had to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself what it is that I believe.
In retrospect, I hijacked Bishop's experience.
I didn't even bother to ask him what he hoped to get out of the experience.  In hindsight, I believe that he wanted to participate in this group for social reasons not because he had an overwhelming desire to delve deeply into the wonders of ancient Egypt; although it has served as a decent review of ancient history.
I have continued to ponder this particular experience and my knee-jerk response to control their "learning" when I feel at all uncomfortable and, prompted in part by this post, have taken my thoughts on education a bit deeper.
In this blog post Lori Pickert says:
Nothing kills a child's natural love of learning like someone who stands at the ready to use educational alchemy to turn their interest into a chore.  You aren't mapping their path so you can be prepared around the corner with a coloring sheet, a workbook, and a "fun activity".  You aren't going to reach out and take it out of their hands and put it into a manila folder.  If you are going to take over and route the rest of their journey, don't bother to let them break the first part of the trail.  They won't fall for that trick again; next time they'll just refuse to go anywhere until you tell them where to walk.
Why do we map the path?  So we can be a worthy companion, a meaningful collaborator.  So that we can add to their experience, not change it, not take it away, and not turn it into something else.  So we can contribute.
You see, in my anxiety I stepped in and took control.  Bishop showed an interest in something and I jumped in with "educational alchemy" telling myself the whole time how much fun Bishop was going to have learning all the things that I had determined he should be getting out of this history group.  And I witnessed him pull back, unable to muster any enthusiasm for the subject matter at all, just biding his time until he was free to just hang out with the other kids.  I have now pulled back, only setting up small provocations related to ancient civilizations within our home and he seems more engaged in his work in this group.  I had to step back, relinquish control and allow him ownership of this experience.
In another entry of her blog, which I highly recommend perusing, Lori Pickert says:
If your goal is to have your child experience the entire arc of learning, from initial interest to knowing enough to teach someone else, they need adequate time to explore outward from that beginning point.
As you build a strong, trusted learning relationship with your child, they need to know that you will support them and get them whatever they need but you won't take over.  They will remain in control.
Anything that you do for them takes away their opportunity to do it for themselves - including having ideas and making connections.  Of course you are going to make those connections quickly; of course you are going to have wonderful ideas!  Save them, and later, if they never come up in any other way, you can introduce them.  But give your child the chance to make their way there on their own - possibly much more slowly, or via a circuitous path.  Slow learning.
Your goal here is for your child to work independently and have their own ideas.  Of course, you could plan a fun unit study, but that's not what we're doing.  We're planning along, not planning ahead.  We're seeing what form our child's work takes over an extended period of time, allowing it to take its own shape without imposing our preconceived ideas.
This line of was like a lightbulb going on!