Some parents send their children to school and some parents homeschool, but every parent is a teacher.
From the moment your children were born, you’ve played the role of their teacher. Whether you intentionally taught them something specific, modeled skills or behaviors, or inadvertently provided the conditions for their learning, you’ve been teaching them all along.
If you’ve got school-aged children, the following is likely true. Somehow, on your watch, your children learned how to talk, crawl, walk, eat, and drink. Not only that, but they’ve also learned how to treat other people and the world around them. Somehow they learned about right and wrong.
Though you may not have been intentionally teaching them, you facilitated their learning, and continue to do so.
When they took their first step, showed kindness, or memorized the names of all the presidents, you cheered them on.
Before they ever reached school-age, they may have learned their ABCs and how to count to 10. Perhaps you taught them how to spell their name or even how to read.
Over time, you’ve taught them about the values you deem important, the places you’ve visited together, the amazing things they can see, do, learn, and create—all outside of any system of formal education.
It’s rather mind-blowing the volume of learning that occurred in those first years of your child’s life. Whether you meant to or not, you’ve taught your children countless lessons. After all, every parent is a teacher.
Children Yearn to Learn
Children are inherently equipped with the most beautiful curiosity about the world and a strong drive to learn.
“This amazing drive and capacity to learn does not turn itself off when children reach five or six,” said Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College in a Reader’s Digest article.
Something does tend to shift, though, when children are sent to school. Gray said, of a child’s zest for learning, “We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.”
Keeping the Zest for Learning Alive
The impact traditional school can have on a child’s motivation to learn leads many parents to homeschool. If homeschool is not an option, you can continue to foster an environment for learning at home and keep that spark alive.
View School as a Supplement
Ready for a paradigm shift? Rather than seeing school as the primary place where your child learns, view school as a supplement to the real learning that happens at home.
The truth is, your children are more likely to realize their potential within a robust and free learning environment than within the confines of a traditional school system. Shift your thinking to view school as a supplement to their true education and watch them soar.
Strategies Every Parent Can Use
With the popularity of homeschool on the rise, the educational resources available to parents are abundant. By taking a few cues from the homeschooling community, parents of children in school can offer their children many of the benefits homeschoolers enjoy.
This is not about modeling the behavior of a classroom teacher. You don’t need to stand in front of a whiteboard pointing to mathematical equations or stay up all night grading papers.
This is about fostering an environment for your children to explore, to play, to create, to dive deep into subjects they are curious about or skills they’d like to master, or to take a great big idea and run with it.
Education expert Sir Ken Robinson once likened teaching to the work of a gardener. “The gardener does not make the plant grow,” he said. “The job of a gardener is to create the optimal conditions.”
That’s what parents can do to cultivate learners and inspire their children—create the optimal conditions.
To that end, here are seven homeschool strategies every parent can use to do just that.
Understand Your Children’s Interests
The best way to encourage learning is to identify the interests and curiosities of your children and run with them.
“Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing answers to questions that reflect their personal interests and achieving goals that they’ve set for themselves. Under such conditions, learning is usually joyful,” said Gray.
First and foremost, pay attention to your children. Listen to them, notice what they’re spending their time on, and recognize those activities that they get lost in.
Parents can sometimes be tempted to direct their children to interests of their own choosing, but if you want to really light up that spark, see what they’re naturally drawn to. You’ll find that the deeper you dive into any subject, the more school subjects naturally get incorporated. My daughter, for example, loves to create dollhouses from cardboard boxes and various other materials. She finds herself using math—a subject she claims to greatly dislike—regularly with joy.
Whatever they’re interested in, notice it, appreciate it, respect it, and do all you can to support it. Can you borrow books on the subject from the library? Are there materials that would enhance their work on a project? Is there a day trip you can take to learn more? Is there a documentary you can watch as a family?
Keep diving deeper and deeper, allowing for time and space to explore, until your child’s interest fades. Don’t despair when that happens. The learning that occurred in the process will have been priceless. Sometimes, their interest won’t fade at all, and then you’ll know you’ve really touched on something special.
If your home is very cluttered, it’s likely difficult to find the freedom to explore and create. Likewise, if temptations of passive entertainment like video games, television, and YouTube are always beckoning to your children, the time they may have spent creating or learning is being usurped.
Clear your space and reduce screen time as much as possible. Your children may tell you they’re bored under these new conditions. If so, rejoice, and refrain from filling their time for them. Allow them to live with the boredom and, eventually, they will begin to explore and find that spark of interest inside of themselves.
Some homeschoolers use a strategy termed “strewing.” Strewing is where you strategically place (strew) materials about your home in an effort to spark an interest in your children. You don’t announce that you’re placing these books here on the table about George Washington and your children should read them. No, that sounds like an assignment. This is not school, remember?
Instead, you strew items that you think will surprise and delight your children to find them. At least they might spark their curiosity. You don’t need to say a word. Allow them to discover for themselves what they are and if they’re interested in them.
Sometimes this can lead to robust learning and sometimes this can be just a blip on the radar, but continuous strewing will open up your children to a variety of ideas and concepts in a playful and joyous way.
In her book, “The Brave Learner,” Julie Bogart describes this practice, and others like it, beautifully. That’s a great read for homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike.
Encourage Making and Doing
Before your kids come home from school one day, set out paints, paintbrushes, and paper and see what happens to their afternoon. Encourage your kids to use their hands and make things.
The possibilities are endless—writing, woodworking, sewing, movie making, cooking, sculpting, drawing, lego building, origami, gardening, decorating, scrapbooking, songwriting, and so on.
Encourage them to use their imaginations and play with various mediums of creativity.
If your child seems to really take off in one direction with a particular type of creating, you know what to do—support it fully and do what you can to foster their development.
Fill Your Home With Books
Strong readers become strong learners. Until your children are very strong readers, read aloud to them as much as you possibly can. Don’t worry if they learn to read “late” or more slowly than their siblings or peers. Your job is to impart to love of reading: to show them what a joy a good book is.
Even after they become strong readers, sharing a book together can continue to be a delight your family enjoys. These will likely become treasured memories for a lifetime.
Find Learning Everywhere
Involve your kids in whatever you are doing, whether it be as mundane as laundry or as exciting as visiting a space museum. See the learning opportunities in your family’s activities and capitalize on them as much as you can.
As much as you can, explore the world around you with your children. Involve your kids in every aspect of your travel plans—the budget, the itinerary, the map, the cuisine, and the must-see places.
Use the time before you leave to learn about your destination—its history and culture. Whether you’re able to travel only a few miles from home for a day or around the world over the course of weeks, travel is an enriching and educational experience that will benefit your children for a lifetime.