Sunday, January 4, 2015

Flying Kites: When learning happens

When I was a child, I loved flying kites.  I can remember evenings when my parents would meet up with fellow homeschooling friends and mentors (there weren't many of us back in the 1980s) to walk and talk at a local park.  Many times I would bring my kite and work until it was so high that it seemed to be out of our world.  Having control of the string I would let it go higher, bring it back down, run with it in another direction, or just stand and watch it soar.  It almost made me feel as if I was soaring as well.

As I embarked on my homeschool journey many years ago, I started like countless other homeschooling mamas.  I plunged into researching curriculum.  Finding what seemed right for my philosophy of learning, family style, and budget, I made the purchase, planned out the lessons, and began our journey.

However, I noticed that each time I tried to spring free from the lesson, I was steadily pulled back.  Much like gravity pulls us back to the ground, I could not break free.  I'm not sure why I felt such a need to stick to each lesson.  It may have been due to the way that I was homeschooled or influenced by my undergrad studies in elementary education.  But, whatever the case, I kept pulling my kids (and myself) back to the plan.

I don't mean to say that I only used packaged curricula.  I created my own Science program the first year we homeschooled.  We studied science spending a month on each of the days of creation.  We utilized car loads of library books, did numerous experiments, and filled the refrigerator with art projects. It was a really great experience...until I burned out about month five...haha.

I also did fun things like shaving cream spelling, nature walks, science journals, trips to the zoo, aquarium, museums, and gardens.  I focused on hands-on learning and yet was still obliged to stick to the lessons.  I didn't experience the freedom of following my kids' passions and excitement.

If you are a homeschool mom, you know what I'm talking about.  That moment when you're teaching Math to your 5 year old and he wants to stop and count all 50 or 350 little counting bears in the bucket.  1...2...3...4...5...  This is his passion in the moment and where learning happens.  I would immediately start calculating how long this was going to take and wondering if we could still get "math done" before the baby awoke.  I would feel like we were flying away from learning and want to get back to the lesson.  I really just wanted to finish and check it off the list of things accomplished.  Yes, I'm one of those list people.

But, over the next few years, I began to understand that those winds of distraction were not always negative.  Those "distractions" sometimes were where the true, long-term learning and love of learning were happening.  And, each time this amazing flight took place, I was pulling that string and bringing them back to the lesson.  No wonder they were frustrated!  Sigh.  Oh, to be able to go back to the beginning knowing what I know now.

I began to adjust my teaching style much like flying kites.  I would use the directions (lesson plans) to put the kite together and help them get that kite off the ground.  But, at some point, I tried to hand that string over to them.  Putting them in control of the direction of the lesson and encouraging them as they soar has become my goal.  It can be difficult to recognize at first, but I intently watch for that point where they start steering the lesson and then I let go and let them fly that kite.  Sometimes it may be a bit off topic.  Sometimes it may be WAY off topic.  But, if they are excited to learn, they will experience true, interactive learning so much more than when they are falling asleep listening to me read history lessons.  Ha!

Not every lesson will soar, or course.  If your kids are like mine and not used to flying the kite of learning, it can take practice.  And, there are those things that we have to study and stick to the lesson.  For us, it's the specialized curriculum that I use for my dyslexic child.  On that subject we have to stick to the lesson.  Then there are those topics my kids are not so passionate about and have to tromp through.  There are also days when they just don't feel like flying.  But, in many cases, they will gladly take the string and fly the kite of learning.

So, I want to encourage all of you homeschooling mamas out there to watch for those opportunities when your little ones get excited during school and to let them take the string and soar.  Maybe you already do.  I'm just now catching up to you. :)