November 13, 2013

Whatever It Takes

One of the blessings of homeschooling is its rather natural predisposition toward helping kids develop the genius quality of flexibility, which can be defined as an ability to make “fluid associations.” For example, non-traditional homeschooling methodologies encourage and allow children to read about and study topics of personal interest well beyond the few paragraphs found in a textbook. Additionally, a homeschooling family has more freedom to go off on “rabbit trails” of interest that may come to light while reading textbooks. And, because the one-on-one tutoring inherent in homeschooling allows kids to complete standard academic studies in much less time each day, they have more free time for exploring personal interests and passions, thus enabling the development of myriad “fluid associations” as they explore particular topics on their own.

Before my kids were born, I spent nine years as a classroom teacher, and I remember the pace and the pressure and the dry, uninspiring nature of most mainstream textbooks. Though unusual even then, I was given the freedom to develop and use a very successful readers/writers workshop format that encouraged flexibility in my students’ thinking and studying. However, I realize things are much tougher now because of questionable standardization efforts like the common core and undue emphasis on high-stakes testing. None of that leaves room for flexibility, and I know the current situation grieves the hearts of caring teachers who want to meet kids’ real needs.

So does such a reality mean kids attending traditional school can’t develop the important genius quality of flexibility? Of course not. But teachers and parents of kids in the schools must make concerted, conscious efforts toward that end because it’s not built into the system. But how?

Teachers, even if you must require your students to read the textbooks, can you find ways to incorporate more projects in lieu of some quizzes and exams? The text can provide a basic overview of information for all, but then each student can also have the freedom to choose from a wide variety of engaging, “living” books for deeper research in order to create interesting, useful projects. In so doing, each student will more easily remember the basic information while also developing those “fluid associations” through his personal study.

Parents, can you guard your children’s time? So often we feel we must fill a child’s every waking minute with structured activity, and we believe that more and more “enrichment” will help in the future. While that’s true to an extent, children really do need unstructured time in order to develop personal interests and to take on individualized learning endeavors for making “fluid associations.”

Of course, these are just two examples. We as adults who have kids’ best interests in mind can brainstorm many more possibilities over time. What’s important is to realize that kids need to develop this trait of intellectual flexibility and that we need to do whatever it takes to facilitate the process.


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