Sunday, July 28, 2013

Don't learn anything! ??

I seldom have time to read the blogs I enjoy, but I do try to scan my favorites every few days. One of the blogs I enjoy is written by well-known homeschool mom, Sandra Dodd. She has a great sense of humor and is a strong advocate of the unschooling lifestyle. Recently, she decided that unschoolers never get a break. According to Dodd, "When people ask if they homeschool in the summer, they say yes. When people ask when they have a break from learning, they say never." Enough is enough, she decided. Homeschoolers need a vacation! That said, she decided to proclaim July 24, 2008, as the first (and maybe last) Learn Nothing Day! Little did she realize how difficult it would be to celebrate such a holiday.

Homeschool mom, Tracy, kept a log of her "Learn Nothing Day" experiences on her blog:

"5:37 am - Determined that I can avoid learning today if I stick to topics for my morning's work that I already know everything about.

5:45 am - Forgot. Learned something about banking fees in the UK.

6:03 am - Forgot. Learned something about the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

6:04 am - Decided I needed to postpone my celebrating until afternoon since a) there's truly not enough information already stored up in my head to write all these articles, and b) I'm on a deadline.

9:37 am - Took a break to remind the kids (who were just getting up) that today was Learn Nothing Day and that they should certainly take advantage of this opportunity to... learn nothing.

They looked at me like I was a total moron.

10:41 am- Took a break from working to find a brownie. Caught Munchkin #1 online. She assured me she was learning nothing... important anyway.

11:02 am - Needed another brownie (just a small piece). Caught Munchkins #2 & 3 playing 5 state rummy, but they assured me they were making a point to learn nothing about states. Nothing at all.

1:27 pm - Took a break. Caught Munchkin #3 explaining to Munchkin #2 how ancient Egyptians used water wedges to break marble. I raised my eyebrows and told him it looked like he might be trying to sabotage his sister's celebration of the day. With a sad shake of his head, he declared, "I hate this day!"

2:53 pm - Received 10 minute lecture from Munchkin #2 on the futility of a day designated for learning nothing."

It was a noble effort, but as Tracy and many others realized, it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any child or adult to stop learning. I consider the holiday a success however, if only because it made this point so clear.

When we first considered homeschooling, I went to an informational meeting presented by the late Barb Sommer. I learned so much valuable information from Barb that night, and over the next few years. I often think about things she told me, and how helpful her words have been to me. One sentence of Barb's pops into my thoughts again and again, "Your children will learn, but you will learn more." So true!

During our homeschooling adventure, my children have definitely learned, and retained, more than I ever imagined they would. One of my primary goals when we began this journey was for both of my daughters to love learning, and to become lifelong learners. I see evidence of this each and every day. I did not always think of myself as a lifelong learner, but now I can't imagine living any other way.

Many of the lessons I have learned concern learning itself.

At that homeschool informational meeting, Barb Sommer had stressed the importance of reading aloud to your children. We did that for hours each day. One day we read, "The Patchwork Quilt" by Valerie Flournoy. It's a wonderful story about a little girl who helps her grandmother make a quilt. Kylia, my oldest daughter, loved that story. "Let's make a quilt!" she announced. I told Kylia that I wasn't a very good seamstress, but maybe we could make a quilt using different colors of construction paper. She thought that was a less than satisfactory alternative, but it was better than nothing.  We cut tiny squares from several colors of construction paper, and glued them to a black sheet of paper.  Kylia admitted that it looked like a quilt...  sort of.

A few weeks later, we went to a program about the Underground Railroad at the Cleveland Metroparks Garfield Park Nature Center. Demetrius Lambert, one of the girls' favorite naturalists was dressed as a slave woman, and she taught them how quilts were often used to communicate messages to runaway slaves. We learned about the significance of many different quilt patterns.

The next time we went to the library, Kylia got more books about quilts. She pored over them day after day, studying the patterns and colors and history of each design. One day, she asked, "Can I learn geometry with quilts? They have lots of angles and shapes and that's what geometry is, right?" I was speechless. I didn't think she even knew the word "geometry." I didn't remember ever mentioning it. Angles and shapes may not be a complete description of the subject, but they are definitely an important part of it. I was amazed, not just that she had some understanding of what geometry is, but also, that she had made the connection between quilts and geometry. Cool! Quilting was offering us lessons in art, math and history, and soon it would offer even more.

Our good friend, Robin, a professional quilter, asked if Kylia might be interested in helping her a few days each week. She needed someone to fill the bobbins and help her turn the large quilts. Kylia was thrilled! She learned so much while helping Robin. She even surprised us with a quilt she had made, with Robin's help. Working with Robin, she learned about fabric and patterns, how the large quilting machine worked, how to follow directions and how to stay focused on her work.

Younger sister, Kari, was able to go to the Rangel's house with Kylia many days. And, she might tell you that she spent most of her time playing, but I happen to know that she was learning far more than she realized.

Robin's husband, Rey, is an accomplished guitarist, and he shared his love of music with both of my daughters. Their daughter, Rose, is a wonderful artist. She shared her love of art. Their son, Joseph, loved being outdoors, and he shared jumping in piles of leaves and puddles of mud. In fact, one day when I arrived, I learned that Joseph was now known as Mud and Kari was Mud, Jr. He and Kari often played "the wilderness game" where they would have to hunt for edible wild plants, like chives and rose hips. Rose and Joseph had rabbits that provided hours of entertainment. After weeks of mistakes, I finally learned that when Kylia and Kari were talking about Fred, it was not a child they had met at the park, but Rose's rabbit.

Soon we were reading books about rabbits and leaves and edible plants. Both girls wanted sketch pads like Rose. They wanted to play guitar like Rey. Everything they did inspired more reading, more learning, and more experiences.

We watched movies about art and went to the art museum. If there was a guitar concert, we were there. Cleveland Metroparks had a program about 101 recipes you can make using dandelion, which is, as you know, an edible wild plant, and according to Miss Hurray, the naturalist who taught the class, dandelion is the 4th most nutritious plant that grows in the United States.

Now take all those experiences that began by reading one children's story, and multiply by 1000, and you'll see that simply reading books made a huge difference in the learning experiences of our family.

During my workshops, I often hear new homeschoolers fretting about the vast amount of information that can be learned. How will they know what is important? In my opinion, the curricula taught in most schools is very narrow, compared to the material that is available to be studied and learned.

Many high school graduates feel that they have learned everything that is of any importance. Most high school age homeschoolers realize that they are barely scratching the surface of what can be learned, no matter how intelligent or hard working they are. They see that it is possible to spend a lifetime, doing nothing but studying and learning, and still only know a tiny sliver of the knowledge that is available. Where many high school graduates feel that they have accomplished a tremendous goal, many homeschool graduates realize that they are only beginning a lifetime journey. The key to success in the future, I believe, is held by the person who has learned how to learn, and who realizes that there is always more to learn.

Year ago, I was one of those students who thought I had learned everything that was important. Through our homeschooling, I have discovered that there is an entire universe of information waiting to be explored.

From spending time with my own children and their friends, I have learned that many things I thought to be true, "ain't necessarily so."

Many parents tell me their children are often bored. In many homeschool families, I have seen that by providing good books and by feeding their interests, boredom is a rarity. A friend of ours who loved motors, from the time he was very young, often asked people who were getting rid of an old lawn mower or clothes dryer, if he could have the motor that was inside. Then he would spend hours taking it apart and learning how to put it back together. If your child has an interest, feed that interest and encourage them to find ways that they can feed their own interests. They will seldom be bored. And they will learn.

Some parents tell me that their child was bored at a social gathering, because there was no one there who was the same age. Time and again, I notice in various homeschool groups that age is seldom a factor. I will never forget one homeschool outing, where there were children ranging in age from 3 to 17, and they were all playing "Capture the Flag" together.  The older ones were taking the little ones by the hand and helping them to sneak into enemy territory. Everyone was having fun, and most of them seemed not to notice that there was an age difference.

I also learned that style is not as important as the magazines would have us believe. A few years ago, a popular monthly homeschool event was "Teens Night Out" which began with dinner at the food court of a local mall, followed by a movie at the discount movie theater, and then a final stop for pie at a Baker's Square restaurant. Teens were loosely defined as anyone over age 10 or 11. Some were dressed in gothic dark clothes. Some wore clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch or Ralph Lauren. Still others had torn jeans and t-shirts. What was especially interesting was to see how the group dynamics changed throughout the evening. All ages, styles, political philosophies and both genders, mixed and mingled, and had a great time together. They formed strong friendships that were and remain meaningful and caring.

Another myth I often hear is that teens do not want their parents to be around when they are with their friends. At most homeschool gatherings I attend, the teens still stop to say hello and to chat a bit before wandering off with their friends. Many come back to the adult group quite often, to join in the conversation for a while. They have plenty of time with their friends, but they also, not only endure, but actually seek out the company of adults. The teen years are a time of preparation for adulthood, and these teens seem to "get it."

By homeschooling my two daughters, and through the many enrichment classes I've taught to other homeschoolers, I have found that children want to learn. They have questions for which they want to find answers, and they have subjects about which they are passionate. The subjects range from ranching to music, the environment to scriptwriting, architecture to rocket science, and a million other things. All we have to do is find that passion within them and nourish it.

I have discovered that children are able to grasp complex subjects quickly and easily, when it concerns a subject of interest to them, or when they see a purpose in learning it. Think of your own learning. Isn't it easier when you have a reason for learning something or when you are passionate about the subject matter. It is the same for young students.

It is difficult, if not impossible to force someone to learn something. If you are trying to pound a subject into your child's brain, and they are resistant, you will have a very tough job. If that subject is needed for something they want to do, or if you can find a reason for learning that subject that is meaningful to them, your task will become much easier.

Most children want to learn about real things. Just because a math problem mentions ice cream or pizza, does not make the problem more fun. Instead, ask your children to help plan a family gathering or a party. Having them calculate how much food is needed for a real party is a lot more fun than reading about one, and the lesson will last a lifetime. Really building a dog house or a doll house is more meaningful than doing math problems about building them. They will learn measurement, calculations and improve their spatial awareness, which means they won't have to spend as much time doing problems which show them various shapes, and ask what those shapes will look like if they are turned a different direction. They will be doing that in real life and their understanding will be more clear.

I have learned that children want to be needed. They want to be important to the family. Throughout history, children did important jobs that helped the family to survive. Teach your children to do tasks that help your family. It can be setting the table, sorting the laundry or pulling weeds, or as they gain in skill, it may be changing the oil in your car, planning and/or cooking meals, doing the grocery shopping, or repairing things that break. They will be learning important life skills, and feeling needed and, hopefully, appreciated by their family. We all want to feel that our family needs us and appreciates us.

Another lesson I have learned is that the people in our lives are more important than any curriculum. Time spent with family and friends is vital. In most of the lessons I describe in these opening essays each month, I mention people who have taught me valuable lessons. We are surrounded by these people. Every person has a lesson to teach us. Some teach us very simple things. Sometimes the lesson is so simple that we miss it completely. We need to pay attention to the people we see every day. The best way to teach our children to pay attention to these everyday lessons taught by those around us, is for us to model that behavior.

Remember, you are teaching your children, but you are also a student. Don't put too much pressure on yourself or your children. Learning will happen no matter what you do. You can control much of this learning by providing quality materials for yourself and your family: good books, interesting movies, intriguing hobbies, fascinating field trips and an array of unique people.

Everyone who knows you is one of your students. They are learning from you every day.

What are you teaching? Worrying? Optimism? Pessimism? Patience? Fearfulness? Fearlessness?  

Or maybe you're teaching Cooking? Sewing? Organization? Writing? Logical thinking? Compassion? A love of reading? How to be a caring parent?

The lessons are endless.

Who will be your teacher today, and what will you learn?

Who will be your student today, and what will you teach?

Living, loving and learning,


"You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance." ~Franklin P. Jones

"The prime purpose of being four is to enjoy being four - of secondary importance is to prepare for being five." ~Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 1985

"Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life." ~Henry L. Doherty

"It is not hard to learn more. What is hard is to unlearn when you discover yourself wrong." ~Martin H. Fischer

"I am defeated, and know it, if I meet any human being from whom I find myself unable to learn anything." ~George Herbert Palmer

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