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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Stop Just Filling the Pail. Start Lighting the Fire.

This school year I am trying to be intentional about doing some "homeschooling" with my four year old. Last year I felt like the time we had together, just the two of us, slipped away without me even realizing it. I don't want that to happen again this year.

So I went to my local teacher store, picked out a cute little preschool lesson plan book, and eagerly starting jotting things down in it. Pinterest has also been a helpful motivator in my planning.

But what I am daily reminded of as I strive to implement my plans with my son is that his enthusiasm for, and reception to, learning is greater when it is fueled by his own interests. And this is one of the benefits of doing "homeschooling" on any kind of level you might be doing it on, right? Not being slave to a rigid, group lesson plan, but instead being more free to take your child's interests into consideration?

We've all heard it before: teaching your child to enjoy learning new things is the ultimate, most valuable, number one thing you can teach them. So it doesn't matter so much what I teach my kids, as much as it matters how I teach them. By loosening my grip on what I've written in my fancy little lesson plan book, and following where my son's interests lead him, I'm giving him something infinitely more valuable than just the subject knowledge and skill of whatever we might be studying. I'm giving him a thirst for more knowledge and skills. That's a gift that will carry our kids further than we can imagine.

Lighting the fire in your child that fuels a passion for learning is not a lesson you can plan in even the fanciest of lesson planning books, I'm discovering. But here are some things I'm figuring out as I go:

- Having a plan of some kind is a good place to start. When I was completely unintentional last year, we didn't do much of any meaningful learning and exploring. Planning something gets us going in some kind of direction, and gives my son's imagination and curiosity a place to launch from.

- Start with something you know your child is interested in. My son had been asking to watch dinosaur shows on Netflix a lot recently, so that was our first "unit." We checked out tons of dinosaur books from the library, we've been learning all kinds of things about dinosaurs, and we've been creating fun dinosaur projects.

- Be flexible. I had planned some more dinosaur projects for today, to continue with our unit. So we went on a walk to gather sticks for "dinosaur skeletons." My son suggested that we could use the sticks to make letters of the alphabet. "What a great idea!" I told him. When we got home he didn't even care about making dinosaur skeletons anymore, so we just made letters and words with our sticks! Perfect!

- Read, read, read. Reading stimulates curiosity. Take them to the library and ask, "What should we read about this week? What kind of books do you want to get?" If they don't know, offer up some suggestions. "Hey, you've been asking a lot of questions about the solar system, do you want to get some books to read about that?"

- Use current events in the news, or events from your child's own life to spark curiosity. Maybe you want to learn more about Mars, maybe your family just got a new dog and you want to learn more about how to care for it. Draw those important connections between reading and learning and your child's own life!

- Validate your child's ideas and interests. By letting your child direct what you read about and explore together, you are letting them know that those things are worthwhile. You will be building your child's self-esteem and encouraging them to ask more questions, explore more topics, and find new interests. I love to see my son's face light up when he suggests an idea and I get excited about it with him. When we've spent time doing activities that he had the idea for, it makes him beam! And that makes me beam!

What topics has your child been interested in exploring lately?

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