Friday, August 26, 2011

Life long learning.

When people ask me what subjects I feel are the most important to teach my kids, I tell them none of them are. And just for the record, I get some pretty funny looks with that response. Don't worry, I do teach my kids all kinds of subjects, I just don't feel they are the most important things to focus on. My goal is not to teach about every single ancient civilization, or that all of my children become capable of accurately reproducing the periodic table. I don't care where you go to school, you will not remember everything you're taught. Shoot, I don't even remember everything I teach. I'm constantly having to review, or look up new things, or research topics. Since there's a bit of a gap between my older two girls, and my younger three, I'm always going back over stuff I've not only learned myself, once upon a time, but also that I've already taught the older two. Then there's all the bits of new information I'm unearthing during any research I'm undertaking. And we won't even get into the things that just catch my eye and cause me to look up everything I can find on it. Sigh - there's just not enough time. Suffice it to say, I feel this quote.

"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn." ~ John Cotton Dana.

My ultimate, educational goals for my children have always been the same.
1) That they learn to read WELL, and that they enjoy reading.
It doesn't matter to me whether they master it at 4, or not until they are 15, I just want them to be able, not only to read, but to fully comprehend what they've read. And I want them to love reading. Whether or not you can read is almost immaterial if you won't. I recently bought the book Endangered Minds, and the author, Jane M. Healy, talks about the rather huge problem of aliteracy in younger generations. I don't want this for my own children.

2) That they love to learn.
I want them to be interested in things; fascinated with life and God's creation. I want them to wonder how and why things work. I want them to marvel at everything from the workings of a beehive to the ancient wonders of the world. I want them to see and experience things, and then have a thirst for finding out what they can about it. I dislike seeing people totally wrapped up in themselves, and/or day-to-day nosensical garbage; people who don't ever have anything better to talk about that who's currently a favorite to win American Idol, or any other "reality" show. I definately don't want my children turning out like that. I want to be able to have marvelous, enriching, challenging conversations with them for the rest of their lives.

3) I want them to know how to think.
Yes, how to think. Not what to think, although I'm rather partial to some of my own ideas, but how to come to a decision about something on their own. I want them to be able to listen to one side of an argument and then find out the other possibilities, weigh out the options/opinions/etc. and think it through on their own. I want them to be able to figure problems on their own, and not drudgingly. I want them to find it a challenge that they willingly embark on.

4) I want them to know how to find information.
And not just by clicking on a search engine on the internet. I want them to be able to use the library, research texts, periodcals and anything else available to them in order to find out about the world around them. My children are very much at home in the library. When we lived in a much larger city, the girls adored wandering through a very large library. Ri has been with my step-father to visit, and make use of the library at the State University he taught at ( stories of books Mama!), and though the library near our house is very small, the girls have learned how to use the feature that allows them to order (from other libraries) nearly any book they want and have it shipped to the branch we frequent. And they use that feature often. We don't even have to go to the library to order it. They have everything set up online so they can check the available titles at our own branch, and order anything that isn't already there, then the local branch calls us when the book(s) arrive. It does cut out a few extra trips.

5) I want them efficient at basic math.
This may seem like a 'no-duh' type thing, but...well, lets just suffice it to say, I want my children to be able to count back change. I also want them to know their multiplication tables, not cringe at fractions, and how to at least figure rough percentages in their head. Come on, everyone should be able to figure out what a 10-15% tip would be without whipping out their cell phone and using the tip calculator. I didn't even know cell phones had tips calculators - well, not until about a year or so ago. Now I use it as a game. Give me a number and lets see if you can input the info, and have the phone give you the answer before I can come up with an amount that's less than $1 off what the phone says. I don't quibble down to the penny (or even a quarter) with a tip anyway, so I figure in round numbers when I tip. That's certainly close enough for government work, and the poor waitress/waiter that deals with our (usually) large table deserves the extra change. So, while the girls are welcome to go as far in math as they want (Kay hated math and only took basic and practical math courses, while Ri wanted to take advanced math courses), I just want them very good at what I feel to be ordinary, everyday math.

"The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life--by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality.  The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual.  He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove.  He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past--and he has to be equipped to acquire futher knowledge by his own effort." ~Ayn Rand

So yes, we teach reading, writing, arithmetic, physical science, geography, history, anatomy, agriculture, etc. We learn about nouns, pronouns, fractions, polygons, ancient civilizations, longitude and latitude, types of clouds, past presidents and kings, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. But first and foremost, we read, we challenge them to think, we encourage them to imagine, and we get excited about ideas, inventions, flowers, storms, finger paintings and lizzards we find in the garage.
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