Saturday, July 21, 2007

After having read numerous books on homeschooling, I always thought the term "learning lifestyle" sounded vague and abstract to me. I mean, what is it really? Many book authors have tried to answer this question by explaining that it works for their particular family, each family has their own way of accomplishing this.. OK, but what is it? I never really understood its true meaning until we finally started living it (or have we been living it all along?).

My son is only going to turn four in September. The learning lifestyle to us is simple enough. He wakes up whenever he's ready to face the day, we share breakfast, we talk about yesterday and I give a rough sketch of what we may do today. Mind you, this has nothing to do with "schoolwork", it's just a brief rundown of "we need to go to the grocery store and pick up some bananas later" or "we need to go to the store so Mama can work for a couple of hours and you can see Grandma and Grandpa".

I know, this is not rocket science. But guess what? My son, and each child in the world, is born with an innate curiosity. After breakfast, he wants to do something. Often he'll ask to watch something on TV or play on the computer. I just matter-of-factly tell him that we can do that later, but right now he can do something else. He accepts this with ease, as I never let my answer become dramatic or too long-winded. He chooses from his Lego and Megablocks, puzzle, game or whatever it is and sets to work. Sometimes he'll sit on the couch with a book to look through. I'm always in the background at this point.

Other times he doesn't pick up anything as clearly educational, but just picks up a toy and starts playing. He tells me about his toy, what he imagines the e.g. stuffed animal to be doing. I respond to him cheerfully. Throughout the day we alternate between him having "alone time" (me being always around and responding to his talks, but not really with him) and times where we play or work together. I make it a point to have him help me something every day. Yesterday he was helping me put away clothes in the drawers and helping Daddy cleaning up our bedroom. The day before he helped me clear the dishwasher and helped Daddy make pizza from pizza dough -- yum!

I always tell him honestly what's on my mind. "I wonder how this works" or "I want to know.." and I go ahead and search something in front of him, whether it be in books or on the Internet. I find it easy to model, as I have an insatiable curiosity as well. I also tell him when he's being too loud for me, when his behavior is bothering me and why, and why we put blocks away when we're done with them. I also try to make it fun for him -- making a game out of cleaning up is nothing new. Does Mary Poppins come to mind?

I hear him count things throughout the day, mumble letters to himself, I ask him questions that stimulate his mind, and make it a point to listen to some music every day. We both enjoy classical music. He recognizes many pieces. Daddy shares his love of rock with him and he jumps on the bed in rhythm.

He asks questions and learns, all during the course of the day. When we go to the health food store, he talks to the clerks. So it is at the grocery store, where a cornucopia of visual, olfactory and sensory stimuli await him. Going to the library he picks up a book for himself. At night Daddy comes home. We eat dinner together and Daddy and him watch TV together, first Daddy's comedy show, then something on Discovery or History Channel. A few times a week he plays on the computer on, where he picks up a lot of information. A few times I've rented a ballet concert on video, as he loves watching people dance. We've also been to real performances in the past.

Last week we went to Sea World marine theme park in Orlando, where he had the opportunity to see marine mammals, and made friends with a walrus. He also spent a lot of time with his uncles and aunt, and learned all about being together as a family, and cooperating for a common goal. He also observed Daddy take extra care with Mama being nine months pregnant. When the baby's born, he'll have so many wonderful opportunities to learn.

I think this what it boils down to -- opportunities to learn. Always offer opportunities to learn. Whether your children are four or fourteen, don't ever stop living a learning lifestyle. Don't get bogged down by the curriculum, the "have tos" and forget that life is learning and learning is life. Sometimes that sense of awareness is all you need to bounce back from burnout and start enjoying learning alongside your children again.

When my son is five we're going to start some relaxed reading instruction and more concrete math examples. I find he already knows many, many things without me specifically teaching him (surprise!). I read the World Book scope and sequence for kindergarten and find that he knows most of the requirements already.

The learning lifestyle, whether you exclusively do this (unschooling) or have it as part of your otherwise structured curricula, should be an integral part of whatever homeschooling method you choose. Place it at the center of your homeschooling home and watch wonderful things happen right in front of your eyes.

Photo by Maggie's World