Books and Products to Consider
by Janice VanCleave
Janice VanCleave was an essential part of our homeschooling. The experiments were so easy to do my older daughter could help her younger siblings do them and they were a fun way to learn.
Some children love to learn. Others used to love it, but the stress and conformity of schooling took it away. This year you have a chance to focus on helping your children learn to love learning again. If you can teach them this one thing, everything else about school will be easier.
Do you remember when your children were toddlers and preschoolers? They'd spend hours watching an ant trail to see where it went, or take something apart just to see how it worked. They asked hundreds of "why" questions that drove you crazy. They did it because they were fascinated by learning. This is what you want to get back. They lost it because they started getting rewards and grades for learning, which sent a message that learning is something you should get paid to do--which means it can't be fun. They lost it because learning became structured and on-schedule. You're supposed to be interested in plants this week, because someone said so, even if you're really interested in stars this week. Just when you're finally getting interested in those plants, they move on to habitats. Excitement about learning hardly ever happens on schedule and it isn't sparked by the shallow introductory lessons they teach in school. Excitement happens during in-depth learning.
Curiosity is one key to getting your children excited about learning. They need to go back to the "why" stage you hated. Everything they see should spark a passionate desire to know more.
You'll have to set the example on this one. If you're watching a movie about knights, ask--out loud--how someone becomes a knight. Invite your kids to help you find out. How can you find out? Library? Museum? Ren Fair? Talk over the possibilities together and then go track down the information. Compare what you learn to what you see in the movie. Is it accurate? When you hear about a country on the news or in a book, head for the globe to find it and then look it up to learn something more. Reading a pioneer novel? Ask the kids if they'd like to try making butter or a pioneer doll. When they get used to taking every bit of learning a few steps further, they will do the same on their own after a while.
In-depth learning is another key to getting kids excited about learning. In most science classes, the children read one small chapter on a subject. The next week they're learning something completely different. The trouble is, those essential basics tend to be pretty boring. The exciting parts of any subject are found in the in-depth learning. It's when you dig into the mysteries, the odd-ball facts, the astonishing things...that's when science gets interesting. If history only has time for names, places, and dates, it's boring. If you learn how George Washington really lived or the huge challenges he faced as a child, he is a lot more fascinating than if you only memorize the battles he fought. Reading one book by an author doesn't make her memorable. Read everything she wrote plus her biography and you turn her into a friend. Dig way into a subject. You won't cover as many subjects in a year, but you'll learn them better. This is particularly easy in science or literature, where you can't really get behind.
Take pride in mastery. In school, the children do the assigned work and whether or not they understand it or really learn it, they move on when the class moves on. At home this year, strive for mastery instead. Each time your child starts a new chapter in the math book, do a quick test to see if he already knows it. If he does, only have him do a few review problems. If he seems to be picking it up quickly, have him do fewer problems. This frees up time to slow down when you hit a rough spot. Take as much time as you need on every aspect of the chapter for your child to master the material. This will be a new concept to your child, but tie it into personal pride. "Sure, your old class is further in the book than you, but next year, they'll have totally forgotten how to do it. You'll know it so well that when they're reviewing, you'll be coasting. I'd rather really know something than just to have been exposed to it. I like to do things right." When one of my children asked if she could redo a chapter because she didn't think she'd really mastered it, I knew I'd won the battle. This desire for mastery will help your child succeed in every part of life.
Focus more on what can't be easily looked up. Your children can look up the order of the Civil War battles in minutes. What they can't look up is the cause of the war--because there were many causes and they are complex. When you focus on those things, you keep their minds working. You can let them research, evaluate, and form their own opinions. If you want to do some memorizing, turn it into a game. In history, your child should know the decade in which something happened and the order of the major events. He doesn't need to know who the general was in every single battle. (Do you remember those facts?) Too much school time is spent preparing to go on some trivia game show instead of learning what really matters.
Let your children choose some of the things you learn. We all get more excited about learning when we're learning what we love. Ask your child to tell you one thing he desperately wants to learn more about and then do it. Almost any subject can be made educational if you try hard enough.
Learn right along with your children--this is such a great opportunity for you to further your education. Instead of teaching your children everything, both of you learn it and talk it over, so you're teaching each other. When your children see you excited about the things you're learning as a family, they will be excited too.
by Deborah Stipek , Kathy Seal
I read an excerpt of this book over at Barnes and Noble, and it appears the authors are saying many of the same things I've been arguing for years. I need to get my hands on a copy. If you read it first, go over to the forum and tell me what you think.