There are two reasons to learn something... because we need to know it, and because we love it. For example we all need to know how to read, how to use money, how to be kind, and how to tell time. Some people need to know things like how to use a lawn mower, change a diaper or how to operate a cash register.
Learning because we LOVE:
Your child may love dinosaurs and he may want to spend hours every day researching them, going to exhibits and his dream may be to dig up fossilized dinosaurs, but he does not NEED to know this for his imminent survival, he learns because he loves. This type of learning is easy and fun.
You do not need to teach your children all about the things they love. If your child loves space and planets you just need to give them tools for learning. Just show them where to find the information, and get them planet books for Christmas. Allow them to study their interests as part of school to make essential stuff more fun... Math with planets, art with planets, history with planets, spelling with planets. This is what our family calls "FUN-Schooling" We focus on topics the that kids LOVE to learn about in order to teach them the things they NEED to learn about.
There are many things that children learn naturally. They learn to do everything that their "brain" automatically identifies as essential to life in their culture and home.
A child will learn how to talk, and by the time she is 14 years old people will think she is the mom when she answers the phone, because she has learn exactly how to form each word like her mother. If she spends more time with Dora the Explorer than mom, year after year... she may learn to speak like the cartoon character. When my six year old son explains something he sounds just like one of the Kratt brothers from the Animal TV Show Wild Kratts. Kids learn by example. This type of learning is easy, because it is natural. Just be careful not to teach bad habits or lead a child into addictions.
Learning From the Example of Others:
Children will become like the people the spend the most time with. they will learn to walk, talk, think, eat, spend money, and dress the way other people do in their culture. All over the world this is true. If a toddler is cared for by a stay at home mom, she will often copy everything mom does and you will hear the little one say funny things like "I just need three minutes to think, could you please turn that down!" and we laugh!
If mom and dad read books, the kids read books too. If mom turns on music when cleaning the house, the kids will turn on music when cleaning their rooms. In mom hides chocolate in the oatmeal box, the kids will find it and eat it too. If mom loves to work on projects and leaves them laying around all over the house, the kids will work on projects too, and sabotage mom's projects because they want to help. If mom loves going to the library, so will the kids. If mom talks about how much she loves healthy food, and why, they kids will tell their own friends why soda and white bread are bad.
If dad or mom or friends spend a lot of time online or on the smart phone - the kids will to. It is a temptation to use the phone for everything. That is why I have no internet device in my purse or pocket. I want my kids to know what I am doing, if I am reading my Bible, writing a poem, editing photos or planning Thanksgiving Dinner all they see is mom on the phone or tablet....ignoring them. But wasn't I doing important stuff? Who knows would could just be playing FarmVille. By using a device, designed for one person only, I have sent the wrong message to my kids and I am just an example of a mom on the phone. It is easier to be an example to my kids without the personal device. When I am working on the laptop they can see the screen and I can talk to them and include them in what I am doing. When I am reading a real book, using a real cookbook, looking at a calendar on the wall or putting together a scrapbook... they can see what I am actually doing and get involved. I intentionally do several things the old fashion way as a way to include other people in my home.
Children are programmed to follow the example of the people who care for them. Before the feminist movement moms and grandmas usually cared for young children. It worked out well because passing values and skills to the next generation came naturally. Now teaching children has to be more intentional. Should we send them to school to learn how to pay the bills, prepare a meal, wash the clothes, pray, and organize a closet? No, as moms we need to realize that we still have the responsibility of teaching these things to the children.We need to include the children when we work at home, even if they want to watch a movie, even if they have a lot of homework. Life skills are essential, and are learned at home first and then on Youtube, you can't expect someone else to teach your kids life skills in a classroom or with a textbook.
In the right environment children will naturally learn everything they need to know to survive in their culture. If their home is not a good environment and is filled with trash, drugs, abuse, yelling, drinking, porn... they will not learn what they need to know to thrive in this world, but they will focus on learning what they need to know to survive and get by in THAT culture.
Learning by immersion:
Immersion is a very efficient way to learn, but not always fun at first. If you want to learn a new language you can take a class, study and learn a lot without ever being with people who are native speakers of that language. I takes a few years of intense devotion to learn this way and you often forget most of what you learn. A much faster way is to learn by immersion. Go live with a family that does not speak English in a country where you must get around. Your brain will say to itself "I NEED to know this language!" You will learn because you are surrounded by it and need it. at first you will be very frustrated, but then you will be driven to overcome your lack, and will quickly learn all you need to know. Almost anything can be learned by immersion when there is a need to learn.
Learning Through Instruction:
Many people think that the only way to learn something is to be TAUGHT it systematically.
So what will you actually need to TEACH a child who naturally learns so many thing because they love learning, because they learn naturally, by example and by immersion? What else do they need?
It depends who you talk to. Children need to learn to read - some need to be taught other watch videos, others learn naturally. My children have dyslexia, so I needed to find creative ways to help them learn to read.
Dealing with LEARNING GAPS:
When I realize that there are things my children need to know that they are not learning naturally I try to teach THE WAY THEY LEARN.
1. I will first try to spark an interest in that subject, I make it look fun and interesting and see if they will want to learn more because they enjoy it.
2. I look for ways to help them understand the need for this information. If they can imagine a situation where they will NEED to know something in advance, they may seek to learn it to be prepared.
3. I will try to be an example or give them a chance to be with people who will be an example. When they see learning or doing in action they can jump in and learn to do it too. If I can't be an example I can turn on a YouTube video of someone who is passionate, interesting and knowledgeable.
4. I will give them a chance to learn through immersion. If they don't learn how to do it the results will be bad for them. Lesson learned.
5. Learning can happen because of shame and embarrassment
Shame is used in schools all the time. Sometimes people learn things because they are motivated by shame, like a bad report card. But what about homeschooling? If a home-schooled child does not know how to rattle off their math facts they may have an uncle who will try to drill them. That will be embarrassing for them (and you) around the Thanksgiving Table. Your child may even say that they are going to learn the math facts by Christmas so that will not happen again. Many older relatives don't understand that there are many things that are taught in schools that really just waste a child's time because they are not needed in the modern world. At our house we skip these things if we don't LOVE them. If someday we need them, we learn them. If the children don't learn it now, but need it later in life, they know where to find the tools to learn anything. So I don't worry much if the relatives are worried about learning gaps - my children LOVE learning.
6. Some learning must happen using workbooks or other books.
Somethings are really hard for some people to learn. My children can't learn spelling words, dates of important events, or math facts the traditional "Drill and Kill" way. This is the most challenging part of homeschooling, they don't like curriculum! How can they learn the stuff that is miserable to learn?
This has been my biggest challenge. I feel like the kids need to be good at spelling and I want them to have a solid understanding of History for many reasons. I have found many ways to sneak in the learning and call it Fun-Schooling. I have created several activity books for my own children to help with these problem areas. I think learning should be joyful, and I know that some stuff that they must learn isn't, but I want them to learn it anyway. It's my hobby to sweeten up the learning process and make it joyful. It's what I LOVE, so I figured out how to make it learning boring stuff fun, without forcing them to memorize anything. All my Fun-Schooling books are on Amazon. I will post the link in the comments.
7. Some learning will never happen until the child goes hungry.
A hungry tummy is a great motivator. A wise parent knows that the kid needs that motivation - so they stop paying for all his food and stuff. So what if you unschool or Fun-School and a child does not learn something they need to know for adult life? Lets say they studied dinosaurs for ten years, and they learned the basics - tying shoes, telling time, reading, spending money, even cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Most of all they know all about dinosaurs from You-Tube videos, by talking to experts, from library books, and from a stack of videos grandma gave them from Answers in Genesis. The child's room looks like a natural history museum, and now he is producing science videos about dinos that get 10,000 hits a day. It's time for him to grow up and get a job. Suddenly he needs to know all about lawn care because uncle Bill offered him his first job - landscaping! He realizes that if he takes the job he will have more money to spend on dinosaurs and of course he wants to eat and support himself.
Some might think "All he knows is how to identify dinosaurs by looking at a fossilized eggs and teeth!" He also knows HOW to Study! While learning about dinos he learned how to do research. He knows how to figure out HOW to learn anything he needs to know and wants to know.
Raise a Child to LOVE Learning!
The main responsibility of the educator and parent is to make the child LEARNS how to LEARN. If they see you do it they will learn by example. If you help them research a topic they LOVE they will learn by "doing" or "immersion". If you give your child the structure and freedom for studying their passion, instead of always pulling them away to learn about things that are not relevant, you will raise a person who can learn anything he wants and needs to know.
If your child does end up spending 10,000 hours of childhood researching planets or dinosaurs, or studying music, drawing, cooking or cartooning... they will most likely become a world-class expert in their field! They might just figure out how to make a living doing what they love. Just watch out for any addictive habits that might keep them from becoming who they were meant to be, and chances are they will grow up amazing!
By Sarah Janisse Brown - search for me on Amazon to look at all my Fun-Schooling books that help kids learn everything they need to know while studying what they love!