Saturday, May 2, 2009

What Works for You?

At a homeschooling high school conference, at which I participated as a speaker and panelist, another panel member began a statement with the words, "all homeschoolers want..." and although, I have heard this stated in the past, it still bothers me. One of the most important things I have learned on our family's homeschooling journey, is that each family is unique. And within each family, each learner is unique. There is no one method that is appropriate or best for all.

I consult with families to assist them in finding a learning plan that will work well for them. When I talk to them, one of the points I emphasize is that no matter what plan we develop together, they need to be open to change. Learning styles and interests change constantly. Schools don't have the option to change course in midstream, or to tailor a unique curriculum to meet each student's needs, but homeschoolers do.

As children grow, their interests grow and change. By providing materials and experiences that nurture and encourage these interests, their learning will be vibrant and meaningful. Some interests will last only a few minutes; some will last a lifetime.

Pay attention to your child(ren)'s interests. Feed those interests as long as they are present. You may be surprised to discover how much math, art, science and history can be learned by simply pursuing topics that your children find fascinating.

One of my favorite examples is a young man I know named Ben. Ben has a passion for metal detecting. His mother lamented to me one day that Ben loves metal detecting but she was worried that he really wasn't learning math, as she felt he should.

I spent some time chatting with Ben about his metal detecting hobby. He lives near a beach, and loves to go there to search for valuables. I asked him how he decides where to search. He explained to me that when he arrives at the beach, he lays out his plan, like a grid, in his mind. In that grid, each square is equal to about 1 square yard. Ben explained that he usually limits his search to an area that is about 20 yards X 20 yards. On average, he finds something in about every third square, and of those squares where he finds something, about 1 in 5 is something of value, like a silver dime or a ring. He then continued to translate those figures to percentages. He, also, shared the current values of gold, silver and platinum. I was trying to keep up with the numbers he was explaining to me, as he continued to explain the history of the values of the precious metals, such as when they had hit their highest values (and why) and when they had been very low.

I began to see that because this information was valuable to Ben, because it pertained so significantly to his hobby, it came easily to him. It had meaning.

Over the years, I have had many conversations with Ben about his hobby. He never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge of history, art, science, math, investing, and more, all gained through the active and enthusiastic pursuit of his hobby. He has even turned his hobby into a business, finding lost items, locating surveyors' pins, and even locating dropped screws and nails from beneath a recently constructed tree house.

A large logging firm asked Ben to scan some very old trees that were going to be cut. They wanted to know if there were any metal objects, like large eye-screws used to hold a clothesline, that might be embedded in the trunk. These metallic items could damage a saw blade. The scan didn't reveal any eye-screws, but Ben was thrilled to discover several very old bullets and a few "large cents." He took to the bullets to a historian, who told him they were from the Civil War era and of a type used by Union soldiers. No battles were known to have taken place in that area, so Ben said that the historian thought it might have once been a training ground for Union soldiers. The "large cents" were pennies that were made long ago, that are larger in size than today's pennies. Ben said that it was "really cool" to find large cents that didn't have holes punched in them. Apparently, due to the lack of pockets in most pioneer clothing,(or to holes in pockets that were in some clothing), pioneers often punched holes in their coins and wore them on a string around their neck to keep them safe.

Each find that Ben makes with his metal detector leads him on a scavenger hunt for information, and as he finds that information, it leads him to search for more.

I'm so glad that Ben's mom didn't give him a "fits-all" curriculum. Make the most of your option to create a plan that works for your family. Each member of your family has unique interests, abilities and dreams. Nurture them!

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