Natural Learning by Kathleen McCurdy
Many parents, being themselves a product of mass education, have little taste for learning. They have struggled through the schooling process to the bitter end, always anticipating the glorious finale when they could throw away the books and get on with the business of living. They remember how the only parts that made life tolerable were the bits and pieces of socializing that took place—fleeting moments of communicating with friends in the hallways or on the playground, trying to figure out the idiosyncrasies of teachers, or calculating the preponderance of certain fashions, verbal expressions and behavior to determine a consensus among peers—and they worry about depriving their children of that social aspect of school.
But disassociated from school, learning can be very exciting. For instance, many of us have hobbies or other interests and activities that we have picked up simply through a process of satisfying our curiosity. Whether it is learning the advertised virtues of late model cars because we’re preparing to go out and buy one, or perfecting our cake decorating skills or learning a new recipe for zucchini bread, we are likely to continue learning throughout our adult lives.
Try this: make a list of the subjects by which you are most fascinated, the ones you would enjoy spending time reading about or pursuing in other ways. Do you like to keep abreast of the latest research on natural remedies, or new discoveries of pre-Columbian cultures? Maybe you are fascinated by the mythology in operas, or the details surrounding the history of World War II. Perhaps you have a stamp collection or always read labels to see what country your food came from. Are you researching the stock market, or reading about the possibility of large hairy apes in the Northwest? Well…what do you do in your spare time?
Now think about how you might share these interests with your children. You probably already share bits and pieces of what you are learning with them, maybe without even noticing. As a young child, I would often hear my Dad reading Reader’s Digest jokes to my Mom. So for his birthday one year, I mutilated some old copies of the magazine and created a scrapbook for his amusement. In the process I discovered that the Digest had some pretty interesting articles, and soon became an avid reader, myself.
Children tend to be great imitators, and parents are their first role models. If something interests you, chances are it will become interesting to them. The object isn’t to teach them skills or knowledge which we think they must learn but for which they have no immediate use. Instead, you are sharing that which means a lot to you. It is a “grown-up” activity or interest which they want to share because of your own interest and enthusiasm. In the process they will be picking up skills that are essential, but they will hardly be aware of this because they are having fun.
My mother loves music and I remember sitting under the piano as a child of five or six years listening to her practice. Sensing my interest, she began reading stories of great composers to me, which inspired my own love for music including its history. Though she never had the time to become proficient on the piano, the effort she made to share her enthusiasm paid off, for I later became a musician and piano teacher.
An important aspect of this sharing process is that children learn how to learn. When they have questions, they will recall how their parents went about doing their own research. They will know that the answers are out there and they will have a pretty good idea of how to go about finding them, just like mom and dad. A young person who knows how and where to find the answers will be imbued with an enormous amount of confidence in his ability to succeed in life. Learning is a life-long process and if we continue to learn, we will be modeling this important activity for our children.