Thursday, February 15, 2007Learning
This is just more a reminder to the obvious (pay attention to your children) rather than anything startling or revolutionary, as I know you've all come to expect from me. ;o)
Our blog isn't one that is intended to solely promote homeschooling; wonderful families we know attend all kinds of schools and everyone must figure out what works best for their family situation. However, it helps sometimes to consider alternative learning options by becoming aware of some of the issues we face as parents.
Most of us know that individuals have different learning styles. Various psychologists suggest that there are at least 7 types of intelligence. Here is a link that helps to identify those with regards to children. I don't necessarily think we all fall cleanly into categories but certainly there are dominances and weaknesses in each area we all have.
Why bring this up now? As I've stated before, one of my big reasons for wanting to educate at home is because I want to tailor a custom learning experience for each child I have. In traditional, government schools, learning styles are not usually taken into consideration. Children are graded, sorted and labeled before being put into a classroom with a curriculum that's already determined.
Now for me, I am really good at "school." I can memorize well, read and write essays with ease. I am good at perceiving the questions teachers ask and isolating what I need to know to ace a test (not necessarily learn the material). I am a verbal/linguistic learner. But my husband, who is one of the most innovative thinkers I know, was crummy at "school." They put him in remedial classes and he barely graduated high school. He happens to be a spatial and bodily/kinesthetic learner-- brilliant with woodworking, electronics and the like. I don't consider myself "smarter" than him at all; we have wonderfully complementary styles of reasoning and seeing the world. But he still has very bitter feelings about how certain teachers killed the joy out of subjects he was naturally good at (e.g. Math).
I want to be able to address the learning style that each of my children has shown me developing inside themselves. Leo is extraordinarily oriented in the musical realm. Anyone could see that. But Xavier, I've recently begun noticing... would almost certainly struggle in a traditional schooling environment. Let me illustrate just one example:
My mother-in-law works in an elementary school and sometimes thoughtfully brings packets of pre-school work home to give to Xavier (who really enjoys matching things up and drawing and such). She was recently helping him with one worksheet that was a basic connect-the-dots picture. As he went from number-to-number, he started to do an ornamental looping "detour" before getting to the next number. My mother-in-law, doing what most other traditional teachers would have done, kept correcting him saying "No, you have to go in a straight line." And it struck me as odd. For one thing, when I was young, it never would have occured to me (being good at "school"... not creative spatial thinking) to go in anything BUT a straight line between the numbers. So I could see his brain working differently there. The other thing that struck me was the realization that his instincts to do things in an alternative way would likely be squashed in a formal academic environment... at least in the early grades were conformity is the highest virtue. He'd been connecting the dots as the paper instructed; that he found interesting ways to do so would be reprimanded. Xavier has shown other signs to me that he sees the world in a different way, by being very poetic in describing scenery and constantly finding alternative uses for ordinary things. At the same time, he loves books, but isn't particularly interested in learning how to write or read himself just yet. I'm in no rush.
I've heard similar stories from other parents: one kid was put in "remedial" math because she didn't understanding subtraction. All it took after days of tears and frustration at school was for the mom to sit down with her child and ask about it. The child didn't understand when 3-2=1... where the 2 went... where it was being taken away? An interesting thought actually, that could have been addressed and subsequently prevented such misunderstanding at school.
What I'm getting at here in a long drawn-out way, is that we can really maximize the potential of our children by gently encouraging their skills and aptitudes while being sensitive to the ways they approach information in their minds. I know that there are some wonderful private and public schools out there; if you've found one, what a blessing! But these are the exception and not the norm, unfortunately. The other thing that is important to remember is that you know your child BEST. And most teachers, doing the best they can, do not have the prior knowledge about "where you child" is at or how they've come to see the world, or what experiences are shaping their current motivation or attention. This isn't their fault; most have a genuine interest in the well being of children; but it is an inherent problem with the government school system we have now, and even many private schools too. Here is a somewhat tangential John Holt quote to chew on: