A dizzying blur of grey passes by the window as I quickly glance at my eleven-year-old daughter, who occupies the passenger seat on our trek over Monteagle. My children and I are heading to my brother’s for my nephew’s birthday party. A has her laptop perched in her lap, and the faint but determined clicking of keys fills the silence, capturing my attention. A pauses in her typing, and I know she’s critically eyeing her screen, brow raised in contemplation as she scrutinizes her latest sentence.
“What are you working on?” I ask.
“My newest short story.” She pauses for a second then continues, “You know, Mom, I’ve been reading a lot of books, and you know what makes them good?” She doesn’t wait for my answer. “They’re full of details and descriptions. The reader can picture it all in her head. I’ve started adding detail to my stories. Listen…..It’s a stormy day. Marigold sits perched on the edge of her bed…..”
She continues reading her improved text, and I drive on dumbfounded by her discovery. As a homeschooling mom, I could have created an elaborate lesson on the ins and outs of fiction complete with a well-researched, well-planned lecture on the importance of detail. I could have assigned paragraphs to be written where A forced details to please my critical eye. There would have likely been some boredom, a bit of resistance, and an abundance of my daughter working to please my expectations. Instead, A took something she enjoys immensely, writing, and studied her craft. She wrote story after story. She erased story after story. She read story after story. Then she wrote some more, each time modeling the texts she’d been studying. She’s teaching herself, and isn’t that the goal of education? Rather than being disseminators of knowledge, we, as teachers, become facilitators of learning, providing the tools and resources then allowing our children to soar on their own.
Don’t misunderstand. In our homeschool, there is plenty of teacher-directed pedagogy. But, if I’m honest, there’s probably too much. I often find myself attempting to take on too much responsibility for my child’s learning. Their education is my responsibility but the learning is theirs. So often, I fail to trust that my children desire to learn, that they are hungry to learn, that they are capable of learning on their own. When I take on all the responsibility and spoon-feed the information to them, I fail to give them the opportunity to make it their own. When I step back and take on less of a role in direct instruction, when I provide the resources, the template, I’m awed at how my children thrive on their own.
In my home, electronics are banned during the weekdays, and television isn’t allowed until the evening. The mornings are filled with math, grammar, spelling and other basics, but I allow downtime with the understanding that free time must be filled with educational endeavors. At first, I feared the free time. “They’ll whine or waste time,” I thought, and at first, they likely did, but slowly something magical took place. My children began nurturing their interests. My daughter could be found reading in a quiet corner or busily writing in her story notebook. My son, who prefers a more hands-on approach, usually built with Legos or worked on engineering projects from Tinker Crate or busied himself with puzzles and coloring. My failure to trust my children taking more ownership in their education was stifling their learning.
I even began to take this approach with their reading and was startled by the outcome. I always read aloud to my children books that are above their grade level. I chose A Wrinkle in Time for our first read-aloud of the year. My son flipped out. “NO! I hate that book!” he wailed. Keep in mind he’d never heard of this book until I pulled it off my shelf and blew the dust from the cover. “Ok,” I said, “You don’t have to listen, but you have to stay in the room.” Taking all the self-control I could muster, I didn’t force him to listen. My son, sulking, stomped over to a corner of the room, where our giant stuffed dog Patrick resides, and hid under one of the dog’s large ears, but not before stuffing his fingers into his own ears. I sat down on the couch near C and Patrick next to A and began reading. When I began the chapter on fourth and fifth dimensions, Patrick’s ear flew up and C quietly slunk over to the couch, leaned into my shoulder and said, “Where does it say fifth dimension?” I paused, pointed to the illustration, and continued reading. From then on, my son was hooked. Had I forced him to listen, it would have ended in tears: mine, his, or both. Instead, I lured him into discovering a classic by allowing the text to work its magic.
This hands-off approach also worked with my daughter who was only drawn to graphic novels. She devoured every Diary of a Wimpy Kid and all the Raina Telgemeier books, all of which I felt were too easy for her grade level. I persisted in reading aloud, and we enjoyed the entire Harry Potter series together, the Rick Riordan series, and gems like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, but when I encouraged her to stretch her comfort zone in her own silent reading, she resisted. Until, one day, she asked if she could have the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time. Delighted, I purchased the book, and before I knew it, she was diving into deeper books. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the graphic novels she loved, it’s just that I desired for her to move beyond her comfort zone into more challenging texts. I discovered that the graphic novels were building her assurance as an independent reader, developing her love of reading until she was confident enough to move to the next level. Had I forced her to read more difficult texts before she was ready, I could have easily destroyed her burgeoning love of reading.
The longer I homeschool, the more I realize that more often than not, I get in the way of my children’s learning when I hold on too tightly, orchestrating every detail of the day. When I take ownership of my child’s learning, I actually prevent true scholarship, those eureka moments of realization that develop an enthusiastic, contagious love of learning. It’s when I provide the template, point them to the resources, then step back and provide the time, that the real education happens organically. Children are designed to learn; their curiosity is insatiable, but when there’s no time to discover this truth on their own, learning is stifled and curiosity is crushed. It’s taken six years of homeschooling to learn to loosen the reigns, but when I do, I discover that my little charges gallop into the world of self-discovery, and education becomes a delight not drudgery. My children come to life, discovery becomes their own, and as a result, their curiosity and confidence grow, teaching them what it truly means to learn. This allows them to take ownership for their own education, leading to a lifelong love of learning.