You know what it’s like: You’re on vacation with your family. And while there is no such thing as a “real vacation” for a mom of young kids, you notice that it feels different. Everyone is having a good time. Discipline is easy for two reasons: you are not trying to get the kids to do something that they don’t want to do, and your kids recognize that this is fun, special and not your everyday thing. They are feeling grateful for the time together as a family and the things that you are doing together.
Question: Does learning stop on vacation? Or do your kids, like mine, learn even more when they are presented with a new location, situation or event? I noticed on our trip to Jamaica that the kids were learning new things, happily, everywhere we went. They tracked the huge frogs (toads?) in the fountain. They snorkeled and identified types of fish and crustaceans. They went in the caves, and up the waterfalls. They noticed the people and the conditions around them. It’s been two years and they still talk about it. It was a wonderful learning experience. They can pick out the Jamaica flag and recognize reggae music.
But as much as I would have liked to stay in Jamaica every day, life goes on. We live in a rural, remote section of the Northeast United States. But, guess what?! There are adventures to be had here, too.
My decision to unschool came primarily from reading John Holt’s book, “How Children Fail.” If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is a good book for any parent and any teacher to read. When I recommend this book to friends and they begin to read it, they comment to me “Are you sure you want me to read this book?” The answer is “Yes.” Hang in there. I know it’s not what you were expecting. But read it. It’s worth it.
As I read the book, I saw myself and my children in it. Was I more interested in fulfilling some arbitrary standards than I was in my kids actually learning? Were my children just checking off the boxes rather than really learning? And what did I actually remember from my own education? I admit, I have learned so many things since beginning to homeschool. I don’t remember ever learning these things in school. But now that I am interested in it, I want to learn it, and so I do.
I read snippets of the book to my husband. And we both were struck by the truth of what John Holt saw in those 5th graders he observed. We wanted our children to learn what God inspired them to be interested in – not what the government said they should know. We wanted them to love learning.
My turning point came one day when I was struggling to get the kids to do their work. So much of our homeschool was frustrating to them and to me. I chose the curriculum carefully, and thought they would love it. But like most things that we HAVE to do, they didn’t. Jor-man called out in a moment of distraction, “Mom, there’s the beaver! Can I go outside and follow it? I want to see where the dam is. I want to figure out what it eats? Please?”
“When you are finished with your workbook,” was my answer. And it hit me. I had just killed the teachable moment. Not that I had to go with every whim of my child. But that I was making finishing the page more important than real learning that would last a lifestyle. We put the workbook away after that.