The Granite Tablet — Checking in with the New Homeschool Parent

So you did it. You made the decision to homeschool. Maybe you pulled your kids out of school, or simply sent in your letter of intent because they were finally six. Did you buy any curriculum? Lots of it? None of it? I know you have a library card, maybe several. You came up with a plan, maybe got some input from your kids. Excited with nervous anticipation, you picked a start date. The fateful morning arrived and everyone was pretty excited to not be on those yellow buses driving away from home. Then what? Reading a book during breakfast? Math at the dining room table? Not back to school picnic with 50 of your closest friends?

After the excitement wears off, the nagging voice in the back of your heads gets a little louder. “AM I doing the right thing?” “Are my kids learning enough?” “Am I totally screwing this up?” We’ve all had those thoughts; you can pray on them, talk to veteran homeschoolers about them, and read books about them, but they are persistent. The worst thing you can do is start to compare your routine, your kiddos and their learning to others. Maybe you’ve already done this.

It’s time to take a deep breath and a step back and really look at your individual child. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve got this, your kids do. Children are inherently curious about the world they live in. Children look at adults living their lives and want to know how and why it all works. If we are adults who love to cook and go for walks, our kids will naturally gravitate towards doing those things with us. If we like to use our devices for research, music, and entertainment, our children will want to know more about that too. As Aristotle said “Human beings are naturally curious about things.” We as parents can encourage that curiosity and indulge it and learning will happen.

Think about infants; no one really teaches them to eat, walk, or talk. Infants are constantly watching us and trying to emulate the people they see. They try and try again without any emotion coaching in the determination department. How many times do they push themselves backwards when learning to crawl, or fall on their squishy, diapered butt when attempting to stand? Babies don’t give up when they are trying something new, so why do our kids? They are not exploring their curiosity.

You don’t have to take my word for it; Peter Gray, Boston College researcher and author of Freedom to Learn, children have four innate drives which compel them to learn about the world they live in. Curiosity is the first one he focuses on in his article Biological Foundations for Self-Directed Education. Gray states; “Such curiosity does not diminish as children grow older, unless schooling quashes it, but continues to motivate ever more sophisticated modes of exploration and experimentation over ever larger spans of the environment.  Children are, by nature, scientists.”

Curiosity is the aspect I find most important when teaching kids as well. I have had the privilege to teach my own children as well as many others, and when I have successfully ignited the spark of curiosity within them, they are engaged, and want to know more about what we’re doing. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to stop the barrage of questions when kids start really getting into a subject. Of course it helps when they already have some interest in what I’m teaching.

So how do you get children engaged in a subject they may have had no previous interest in? You find something exciting about it and you, the parent-teacher get excited about it. I’ve had teachers who have made physics dry and boring, and I’ve had teachers who made physics so exciting that I took extra classes from them, even if they weren’t required. It’s all in how you present the material folks. Any topic can be interesting if What do you do if you’re not excited about the subject? (it’s okay - not everyone is excited about math) My first go to is games. I’ve used Black Jack, Kerfuffle, and Parcheesi to teach addition, fireworks to teach science, Ticket to Ride and Scrambled States to teach geography, Scattergories and Wordscapes to teach spelling and vocabulary, you get the idea. There are an abundance of educational games available. You can even ask fellow homeschoolers online to borrow them, before you buy them yourself

What if your homeschooler is curious about something you know nothing about? This is where homeschooling can really become fun. Show your kids how to research and learn by letting them research and learn right along side you. Join in their curiosity, even if you have to fake it - I know you’ve read the same book over and over at bedtime, I know you’ve played the same pretend game trying to feign enthusiasm the 100th time, I know I have. Those skills you practiced when they were small, come back into play as they learn. Dinosaurs/Raspberri Pi/Flan recipes are now your favorite things to research too. If nothing else you all will learn a lot, not just about the subject, and how to find information, but most importantly about each other. After all, homeschooling is first and foremost about relationships.

By nurturing the natural curiosity our children come to us with, we can raise them to be lifelong learners. You, new homeschooler, have an incredible opportunity to shape your routine of curiosity right from the beginning. You also have an opportunity to develop your own curiosity and remember how much fun it is to learn purely for the sake of knowledge. Since our kids will learn what they live, a parent who is learning all the time, will raise children who learn all the time. You’ve got this new homeschooler, and you too veteran homeschooler. Our kids, when we give them the space, will show us the way.

~ Kitty Michelotti