a questioning day

Mads almost always packs a notebook and pen or pencil with her to draw and write about things she notices.

When it comes to our schooling, I tend to go back and forth between two extremes.  There's the list-loving part of me that craves order and schedules and rules and such.  Then there's the part of me that sees the beauty and benefit of independence, curiosity, exploration, and freedom.  Our days tend to fall somewhere in the middle, these days.

With Mademoiselle I noticed a few months ago that the frustration she had left behind when she came home for schooling this year was starting to build back up.  She began resisting the structure and methods I had chosen.  It makes sense.  She's always, and I mean always, been very strong willed.  And one of the many reasons we homeschool is because we think that that's a valuable trait to have, foster, and direct appropriately.  I realized that what she was resisting was not learning, or creativity, or education, but the fact that she had little control over it.  At 9 1/2 she was wanting to take more control over her own learning.

So, I hesitantly let her.  It was hard.  I was so worried about milestones and accomplishments, and it was hard to give up complete control over what was going to fill her mind and when and how and why and everything else.  And for a few weeks, I stayed nervous.  I stayed on her about accomplishing things.  I tried to continue to driver her forward.  And then, somehow, after the freedom of our spring break, we fell into a new way of being.  There are times when she needs me to drive her - she is a nine year old, after all.  But a whole new level of creativity and curiosity has surfaced in her.

The girl who, just a few months ago, protested at our poetry and writing assignments, spent hours today writing a story.  And somewhere in the middle of her time writing she said to me, "I think I can do this.  Maybe one of the things I'll be is a book writer."  ONE of the things she'll be, because she's truly passionate about so many - art, science, baking, music, dancing, bike riding, being a mom, and now writing.  Among so many more. I can't even tell you how many times she told me she hated writing!  And really, the only problem was me, and the way I was going about trying to encourage her.

It's not that I was doing anything wrong a few months ago.  There was nothing so detrimental about it.  She did what I ask.  She learned new things.  She progressed.  But, seriously, what is more valuable to her?  The poem I coached her through writing, with prompts and list and assignments, or the four poems she wrote before breakfast last week just because they came to her?

But holy cow, I don't know how to find balance in all of this.  She's going in amazing directions.  I question if it's really necessary that I "drive" her at all.  And then I think of the long list of things she might not know if I don't instruct and schedule and take charge.  But, then I think about the parts of school that were meaningful to me as a kid.  I can list my favorite school moments - 3rd grade, making Indian drums and dolls while learning about the Iroquois, 4th grade, making a mural about World War 1, 5th grade, making covered wagons while learning about pioneers and the Oregon trail, 10th grade literature discussions, 10th grade building a museum-like exhibit during a special week of school, and 11th grade, political debates in French, no English allowed.

All of those moments were ones in which I had ownership over what I made, did, thought, discovered, created.  They resulted in products I felt gratification in producing, and the process required my own mind, thoughts, problem solving, ideas, trials and failures.  So, part of me thinks the most important things to learn are not necessarily that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 or the difference between an equilateral and isosceles triangles.  Don't get me wrong - they are important.  But maybe just maybe what makes a person educated isn't so much what they know, but that they know they have the power and ability to do, try, learn, fail, study, make, discover, and find.

Of course, facts and creativity don't cancel each other out - they are perfectly happy at coexisting.  But one, at the expense of the other - that is where I don't want to fail.  And over the last 4 years, believe me, I have gone around and around in my head about this, read so much, discussed it with anyone who would give me half a chance, and the truth is, I don't have a clue what the best way to foster my children't education is.  I have a sneaking suspicion there is no best way, and that I'll just need to keep doing what I do - ease up on the planning too far ahead, and take each  phase as it comes, preparing myself as best as I can to anticipate my children's ever-changing needs and interests.

I'm curious - what is the happy balance in your family?  How often do you end up re-evaluating what you are doing to foster your children in developing their talents and interests and strengthening their weaknesses?  What do you think is most useful for your children - a strong foundation in factual information, or a variety of experiences in creativity and discovery?


MandaMommy said...

After all of those awesome thoughts, the only thing I have to say is that as an adult I think the most important thing people need as kids is to have a love of learning. That will help them to keep learning all the way until they leave this earth. Thank goodness learning never ends and I know more now than I did when I graduated high school! And I am SO happy I will keep learning until the day I die (or my brain is addled). It might be surprising (or not), but Mademoiselle reminds me a bit of Ella in the desire to lead the direction of things. Ella wants to decide when she reads, what she reads, etc. If she doesn't want to, pushing it only makes it worse! And it's hard not to push when you see so much talent and ability. So anyway, I love seeing all of your insights. Very helpful!

Katie Richins said...

It IS hard not to push! I can totally see that being a commonality between Mads and Ella. They are both so strong and bright and autonomous. And it's such a hard trait to encourage positively without it turning negative, sometimes! I'm glad for your input and perspective - thanks for sharing it!

Martie said...

Eldest daughters seem to be that way. Except me of course! :O)

I loved this posting. I have lots of thoughts for later this afternoon. But we just got home and we are hungry!!

Peg Lewis said...

As another oldest daughter, I will say that autonomy is a wonderful trait to be allowed to have. I bought mine in school by getting my work done fast. I had gobs of free time in and out of school, and I used it really well.

Really well? That's my own assessment. I didn't practice my violin but I did make my own clothes. I did do my homework (which we didn't have, except reading, until middle school) but I didn't fold and put away my clothes - still don't, married well. I was outside whenever possible, got up games of baseball and found tadpoles. Or else played in the basement with my chemistry set - really just a cooking kind of thing with non-foods - or made elaborate apartment houses for my guinea pigs or developed photographs or roller skated in a tight circle around the furnace, the only open space.

I read dog and horse books and Little House once I found them and lots of biographies. Not too many of these were on the reading list.

I cooked a lot and tried to do a garden on my own. I played with friends, Scrabble or cards.

Aside from the Scrabble, I daresay my parents thought most of it was not worthwhile. Actually I don't know what they thought of it, except for the not folding and putting away of clothes. But I thrived on it.

But all of it was in the context of having a really good set of basics from the days at school. I really knew my arithmetic and could do my workbook well enough and passed the spelling tests. None of it was a big deal except passing off on the times tables in 5th grade. I do think there are things that are important to know. But I also think that discipline that comes from outside contributes not one whit to self-discipline.

Now, a century later, I have nearly complete autonomy. Sometimes I take a break from everything. But not often. There's so much to learn! I have 4 or 5 open magazines and books hanging around waiting for attention. I spend time with friends. I'd love to play baseball with someone! I never practice my violin. I cook a lot. I don't have a basement or roller skates but I go for walks and still like to break into a run or ride my bike (forgot to mention my beloved bike earlier) and still explore. I'm pretty much the person I was allowed to be as a child.

What I wish I had had more of was directed reading. I didn't get any guidance until high school, and I still feel fairly illiterate on some topics.

To this day I think allowing a child to be exposed to a variety of experiences to extract from those experiences what (s)he will is the greatest gift. Explaining the why of the things we must learn to become responsible adults helps with learning the less-appealing things.

For example, I think a checkbook and some true-to-life scenarios that it could be used for can make math come alive, and record-keeping of all kinds can develop a passion for detail and data. These are what I would add to exploration and discovery and self-expression. And that's about all.

Sometimes we fear our children won't learn that we just plain have to do things we don't want to do. I think we have to be careful there because sometimes we kill their bright futures in order to have them 'get real'. I think too many people give up on dreams due to the diligence of their mothers in smothering those dreams. Let them learn the realities of their lives when the time comes. The ability to make good choices is a lesson that lasts forever, and is really what autonomy is all about - choices, and of course consequences.

Janalee said...

I need to apply this thinking to Dana. She kicks against most of what I encourage her to do, but then when she gets into things - none of what I ever suggest - she's into them. like her horse magazine she's writing and her plays and ways to raise money to put on these plays. And best of all , the Bucket List she's been working on. hilarious. "catch a duck" is on there.

Unknown said...

Deep thoughts and as always, I wish children and family life had instructions. I sometimes remind myself that we do (in the scriptures and in talks given by general authorities), but my imperfect natures tends to override their wisdom.
My parents were educated engineers with good jobs, but my dad envisioned Mexico not being the best place for his children. They left and sacrificed so much so that we could get a quality education here in the US.
The importance of education and intelligence was ingrained in me from a very young age.
I know people have different views on homeschooling and public education, but I think it's more about the different intelligences we are gifted with. Unfortunately, public schools have created a system that does not always cultivate the different talents our children have nor the right methods that will foster their learning.
I think education is power as long as it is all encompassing and not just data. I wish we had more opportunities to get together as I am sure my thought would come out better in conversation :)

Katie Richins said...

Mom - thanks for your input. I value it!

Jana - "catch a duck"? See, we couldn't come up with this stuff if we tried! Ha!

Adriana - I would love that person-to-person talk. Wish we weren't so far apart! I loved reading your perspective. I'd love to hear more about what you think about your own education - what parts of it matter most to you, looking back? And how much of that overlaps with the things your parents felt were important?

Real said...

I wrote a long comment and deleted it. But I gave up pushing at all. My biggest push is sometimes making sure Mack does his first grade homework. Sometimes.

Katie Richins said...

Real - wish you hadn't deleted it. But we've talked about some of this stuff before. Still would love to hear what you have to say.