Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Unique perspectives

When our family started on this homeschooling journey many years ago, we started with traditional school materials... textbooks, workbooks, tests. One type of exercise, which is popular in many early elementary workbooks, is the “which one doesn't belong” question. In this question, there are usually four or five small pictures of various items or animals. Most of the pictures relate to a specific category, such as “things with wings” or “things with fur” or “things that are round,” but one of the items doesn't fit that category. When I was in school, I always thought these were easy, and I was sure that my daughter, Kylia, would find them to be easy, also. Wrong! She studied them and studied them and studied them, and often after all this studying, she chose the “wrong” one. How could this happen?

Most of the time, I would patiently explain what the “correct” answer was, and that her answer was “incorrect,” sure that after my explanation, this type of question would no longer pose a problem. Sometimes after I explained, she would nod and say, “Oh, I see.” Other times, she just gazed at me with a perplexed look. Finally, I decided to ask her why she chose the one she did. She had looked at a row of four pictures. The first picture was of eggs in a bird's nest. The second picture was of a bird hatching out of an egg. A mother bird sitting on eggs in a nest was third, and last was a picture of a kitten. I thought the kitten was an obvious choice, but Kylia immediately answered, “The eggs don't belong.” Instead of telling her that her answer was wrong, I asked her why she thought it was the eggs. “Because, the other pictures are of an animal and birds. They're alive. The eggs are just eggs.” Now I could have explained that something alive was in the eggs, but actually, I couldn't guarantee that was correct, so instead I told Kylia that was a good answer, then I added that some people might have chosen the kitten because the bird's eggs in the nest and the other two pictures all related to birds. I told her that I thought they were both good answers. Many questions in workbooks, and in life, can have more than one “right” answer. It depends on our perspective.

As I thought about the differing answers, I decided that I wanted to know more about how Kylia perceived her education, and the world. I devised a questionnaire that I planned to use at the end of our first year.

In the first section of the questionnaire, I asked about the subjects she has been studying. Which ones seemed easy? Which ones seemed difficult? Which ones were fun? Which ones were not as much fun? Which ones did she think she did well? Which ones did she think she needed to spend more time studying? Some of the questions sounded similar, but they were worded slightly differently, and they often produced differing answers. I asked about 15 questions relating to her learning experiences.

In the next section of the questionnaire, I asked about her favorite things, like foods, activities, movies, books, places to go, colors and many other things. There were about 15 questions relating to favorites.

In the last section, I asked her opinion about all sorts of topics. Questions like, what is the most important lesson you have learned from your mom? from your dad? from your grandparents? from your little sister? I, also, wondered, what person do you most admire? Who has done the most to make the world a better place? Who has the best job in the world? Who is the luckiest person in the world? And then, I added a few queries about her ideas for the future.

I didn't know what to expect when I told her that I wanted to interview her, but she was very excited to answer as many questions as I wanted to ask. I had decided before I began, that this questionnaire would be a tool for me. It would help me understand what she was thinking, how she saw things, where she might have misunderstandings. My plan was to simply listen and write her answers as she said them. I would not correct her, or act shocked or embarrassed. I would use it to help me learn how to be a better parent and teacher.

That first year, I learned that she loved reading and that she thought she needed to spend more time studying math. I, also, learned that her favorite color was hot pink AND that she thought Mary Kate and Ashley Olson were the people she most admired. I gulped very hard when she gave that answer, but I only said, “Oh, that's interesting.” After the interview, I think I locked myself in the bathroom and said, “where have I failed?” Not really, but I did have a better understanding of how my six-year-old viewed the world.

Two years ago, Kylia graduated, at the age of 16, and for the tenth time, she answered all the questions for her annual interview. I no longer asked her the questions, but just gave her the form and she wrote her own answers in the spaces. The final questionnaire had a few new questions added to it, regarding her overall homeschooling experience. She spent several days thinking and writing, before she gave me the completed form. As before, I read without judging. I asked questions to help me better understand her answers, but I did not add my opinions.

Looking back, the interviews have been one of the most meaningful parts of our homeschool experience. Both of my daughters have learned things about themselves, and they have found it fascinating to look at interviews they completed when they were younger. Both of them, at one point in their young lives, thought that Mary Kate and Ashley Olson were tremendously important and influential. Now they both think that is hilarious. Whew!

As I read some of their past interviews, I laughed as I read some of the answers, and shed tears as I read others. The strongest emotion I felt was awe, as I realized how much each daughter has grown and matured over the years. They have admired great people from history, from our community and from our family. They have seen famous and important people making the world a better place, and they have, also, recognized that there are almost unknown people in our community who are improving the world.

The answers they gave about their educational experiences each year helped me to make changes in what we studied and how we studied, where we traveled and what we read. Their answers provided the guidance I needed to enrich their learning experience in ways that I might not have considered prior to the interviews.

I was one of the fortunate people who had the late Barb Sommer as a mentor and friend, when we began homeschooling. Many of you who are new to homeschooling may never have heard of her, but many long-time homeschoolers in northeast Ohio cherish the memories of moments spent with Barb. She shared many words of wisdom with us during the years we knew her. As I read through the years of interviews with my daughters, I remembered one of my favorite Barb Sommer quotes, “Your children will learn, but you will learn more.”

Take the time to ask your children about their learning, their thoughts, their ideas, their plans, and listen. You will learn more than you can imagine.

That's my perspective...


***NOTE*** If you would like to try the interview with your children, you will find it here.
You can use this interview with children of all ages, homeschooled or publicly/privately schooled. It can even be used by adults. In fact, my daughters recently told me that they want me to answer the questions, and I'm working on it now.

***IMPORTANT*** This should not be a stressful experience for the parent or the child or teen! Relax! The questions don't have to be answered all in one sitting, and if they can't think of an answer, let it go. Keep it as light and fun as possible. Some children and teens will automatically put pressure on themselves, or worry about giving the 'wrong answer." Be sure they know there is no "wrong answer." If it is too much pressure, skip it!


A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe, if you hold it close enough to your eye. ~Samuel Grafton

Is the glass half empty, half full, or twice as large as it needs to be? ~Author Unknown

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. ~Abraham Maslow

1 comment:

  1. What a wealth your girls have within them, a wealth that can be glimpsed by those interviews but is much much richer. I love this post. Again, sharing it!