“Why does the van shake around so much in the wind?” our son Matt asked me one day when he was 7. We got around in two vehicles, a VW van and a small VW truck. “The truck is small and weighs less than the van,” Matt reasoned, “so the truck should blow around more. But it doesn’t. Why is that?”
Children have questions—many, varied and invigorating to any adult who picks up the challenge of a child’s natural curiosity. Children are born with a zest for learning, and it’s a sad day when any child stops trying new skills or stops wondering why.
As homeschooling parents, we learned that if we wanted our children to keep their natural delight in learning, we had to provide an environment with balance in these areas:
A balance between safety and freedom
A baby needs to explore—to taste, to touch, to smell, to hear, to see what the world holds. But babies don’t survive unlimited exploration without safety features. Toddlers need to run and play, but they also need naps to avoid collapsing from exhaustion.
So parents must provide their growing children with the balance of freedom within safety limits that is appropriate to their ages and stages of development. They must baby-proof their homes, insist on healthy routines, enforce safety rules, model and teach children appropriate ways to vent anger and grief, and provide secure boundaries of discipline with clear guidelines, clear expectations and consistently enforced consequences.
A balance between feedback and pullback
Children need how-to directions for creative efforts like making crafts or writing stories, but too much direction will stifle a child’s inventiveness. Our daughter, whom we started homeschooling in fifth grade, hated art in grade school because her teacher insisted that everybody’s art project had to look as much like the teacher’s as possible to be “right.”
Children need adult encouragement and assistance, yet they also need opportunities to work independently and figure things out for themselves.
When our Matt first started school at home in first grade, he needed my entire focused attention to help him do his academic work. After his reading and writing skills developed as he turned 10, 11, and 12 though, he needed to learn to work independently.
He was very active, so it was hard for him. If I sat at the kitchen table while he worked, he could stay in his seat for an hour at a time, occasionally asking for help. But if I got bored and started doing housework, he wandered off and disappeared. He couldn’t stay on task unless I just sat there—without hovering.
Crocheting provided the solution. If I sat and crocheted while Matt worked, I could be available to answer questions or provide encouragement when he needed it. At the same time I had useful and satisfying work of my own to prevent impatience. After a while, Matt was able to stick to his work whether I was there or not.
A balance between freedom and responsibility
Children need a good balance between play time and chore time. They gain self esteem and a sense of accomplishment from learning to clean, cook, launder, and do other family chores. In order to develop the ability to have good relationships with others, they must learn to give up some of their own space and privileges to allow others their fair share.
A balance between structured and unstructured time, with appropriate resources.
Children need large doses of unstructured time with good resources in order to discover and pursue their personal interests. But they also need structured time to help them learn ways to use their unstructured time.
When Matt was about 14, he tried to teach himself to play our old guitar. The experience was satisfying at first, but then he got stuck. So we found someone to give him guitar lessons and, with his teacher’s advice, we bought him a better guitar.
Matt discovered his interest in the guitar by having unstructured time and an accessible instrument. After he messed around with the guitar enough to decide he wanted to learn to play it well, he needed our help finding more resources – a guitar teacher and a better guitar. After that, our teen spent hours playing his instrument. It became an important creative and emotional outlet, something he did because he loved it. As his skills improved, it also became a social outlet, helping him make friends with other teen and adult musicians – as well as helping to form his spiritual life as he led and played guitar for worship teams.
© 2020 Becky Cerling Powers, updated
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