Sunday, June 3, 2007

Why we choose to learn everywhere

Here is a paper I wrote on the subject of learning. Feel free to skip it, but it might provide some insight into the how and why of our decision to learn wherever we are and not just at school. Our family tries to incorporate a Leadership Model of education as outlined by Oliver Demille in his book, A Thomas Jefferson Education - Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century.

In another writing, I expound on the details and principles of this style of learning. For your reading entertainment or just pure curiousity I offer the following:

How Children Learn - Stocking the Learning Pantry

Learning is an acquiring of knowledge whereas educating refers to the act of imparting knowledge. Learning is an active process. Much of this book (How Children Learn) asks, no pleads us to look at education in a whole new light. The author does not see it as the process of cramming facts or bits and pieces of knowledge into the brains of students and then teasing it out in the form of a test, as do conventional public school districts. It is about viewing the student as a person and allowing them their own voyage of discovery through the intricacies of life. This does not mean that parents are meant merely to be observers, but that they should be great facilitators and guides on these journeys. It is important to honor children’s interests so that their love of learning can be fed; they will need to draw on this love to get them through the more intensive studies of a scholar phase.

John Holt reinforces this notion through this quote:

"…Each new thing they learn makes them aware of other new things to be learned. Their curiosity grows by what it feeds on. Our task is to keep it well supplied with food.
Keeping their curiosity "well supplied with food" doesn’t mean feeding them, or telling them what they must feed themselves. It means putting within their reach the widest possible variety and quantity of good food…"

Each time my 9 year-old daughter has had ah-ha moments or breakthroughs in learning, it has been through a journey of her own choosing. Today she came up with a plan for us to live on a farm (just like the Wilder family in Farmer Boy). She drew out the plans for a lot, where the house, barn, fields, and animals would be and came up with a schedule for chores and daily routines we would have to follow. She wanted us to have our own milk, but was torn between having goats like Heidi or a cow like Almanzo. She told me it would be better to milk and feed one cow than 2 goats.

She wondered aloud what it would be like to milk a cow so we improvised our own, filling a surgical glove with water and poking holes in the fingertips. She and her sister practiced and refined their milking techniques and had a contest to see who could get the most "milk" in their glass. Afterwards, she commented that the better contest would have been to set a time limit and see who could be the fastest. Then she asked about milk cows and how many we would need, so we found out there were two main breeds. She read about each and decided which breed would serve our "farm" best (she decided on a Jersey cow- less milk, but more cream). Her attention then turned to the hen house she had drawn next to the barn. We had visited my cousin’s backyard farm where the chickens are so tame you can hold them on their backs in your arms, and she asked which chickens we could hold upside-down like that.

Chuckling to myself, I helped her look into various breeds of hens and she wanted to know how many eggs they would lay each day. She felt that 3 hens and no rooster would be the best configuration. This side trip into multiplication resulted in her deciding that 21 eggs a week would be perfect. She said that we would need to know what the cow and chickens eat so we could plant enough food for them on our farm and placed rows of corn and wheat on her farm plan. She calculated how much milk we would get from our Jersey and decided that we would have enough left over to make butter, cheese, and yogurt. (I expect we’ll try making these different items ourselves). We found out how to pasteurize milk on our stovetop, and so on. She cut out pictures of things you would find on our farm and the products that could be made from them and then shared what she learned with the rest of the family. Each discovery flowed into a new idea to explore. All these were things she had a real interest in and wanted to know more about; I simply helped her to do it.

Every day is not like this day, but the best days are. In order to keep her "well supplied with food," I have discovered a few key staples to stock in our family’s Learning Pantry:

Time – There must be time enough for discoveries and connections to be made, time for children to discover reality through play, and most importantly time spent together as a family in service, work, worship, and play. Since there are only so many hours in the day, and try as we might – we can’t make more, it makes it easier to have time for these things when we simplify our schedules. In a rush to give our children experiences, we can often become over-scheduled. It’s hard for learning to happen when mom or dad is stressed, tired, or cranky.

Opportunity/Spontaneity – These two work hand-in-hand and are wonderful when served together. Had I told my daughter that the subject of farm life wasn’t on our schedule for the day, so please pull out your math book - we would have had a completely different kind of day. We need to be willing to grab these opportunities when they come and help our children take them as far as they will. Being spontaneous, or at least flexible, invites learning to take place at unexpected moments.

Passion/Response - Matching the passion that children have and responding to their interests can produce an intense love for learning. We must not be "leader-draggers" with a desire to control children’s bodies and minds. It would be well for us to set an example and have a passion for learning that is readily felt and seen. Children are nothing if not observant, and we must be genuine in our own love affair with learning. Sharing what we become excited about can often result in sparking passion and ideas in our children. It seems that every time I sit down to play the guitar or the piano, I am joined by one of my daughters. They are intrigued at the sounds they hear and usually want to experiment when I am done. It is a much better reminder to practice than nagging them.

Variety – As with all things, variety is important if ennui is to be kept from setting in. Learning is not a delicacy to be viewed through a glass display case, but a banquet to feast upon. As parents we go to a lot of trouble to set a well-dressed table. Access to quality resources, things to explore and make connections with, and hands-on experiences are main dishes to be served. There are many settings in which learning takes place; we should not limit ourselves to the family table. Or maybe we should not limit our family table to the dining room in our home. A family I know has "travel" dinners. They regularly have meals from another setting (a foreign country, the seaside, another state) complete with music, pictures, improvised d├ęcor, and occasionally a guest.

Professor David Hawkins is quoted by the author, "All of us must cross the line between ignorance and insight many times before we truly understand. Nobody else can cross it for us, we must cross it by ourselves." Here, I disagree somewhat. I think we must cross that line ourselves, but not necessarily by ourselves. There is usually a reason we choose to cross that line and sometimes it is because someone we admire or who inspires us has crossed that line before us.

The title of this book might just as well be titled "How We Learn" for we all, adults and children alike, undergo the same steps and processes in adding information to our intellectual stores. I find myself still going through these steps "of learning an idea, testing it, getting it, losing it, testing it many times over and finally knowing it applies to me" in my own learning experiences. Realizing this and allowing my children the same opportunity will help me to nourish lifelong learners.


Montserrat said...

Oh, Corrie, this is a wonderful post! I've heard of this book but have yet to read it. I think I'll try and hunt it down. Hopefully our small library carries it.

I love how you described your school day and the whole process that occurred. The list of 'staples' you stock in the Learning Pantry are great. I'm going to print them out and post them on my fridge to remind me of what I should be offering my own children.

Corrie said...

Montserrat, I also liked his book How Children Fail.

I'm glad you enjoyed it, I think I will put the staples on my fridge too - I sometimes forget my own epiphanies. Sad, but true.

Lisa M. said...

I have read, "How Children Fail"

I enjoyed this post, a lot. Thank you for sharing it with us. I too, have learned to seek out those things, everyday. It really does make a difference, and I think my family has been better off for it.

Thanks again!

athena said...

thank you for posting! i enjoyed reading it too. i'm going to read it again so it can stick in my head (not my fridge). ;)

Anonymous said...

wow that really makes me want to try new things. I can't wait to read the book, or maybe I don't have to after your summary. That is really neat what cali did and very impresive that you find the time.

Our Peculiar Life said...

wonderful post! I am going to link to it from my homeschool blog.

Daniel C. Felsted said...

A great post.

"Time" I often think about this subject and reflect on how to make life simpler. Too often we fill our lives so full that we can't enjoy the quiet moments. It is always good to have such reminders. A simple is where you see the quality of your life.

Also its a joy to see learning and how it leads from one thing to another. "Love of Learning" is a great time.

Thanks. Daniel