Do you ever cease to be amazed by how children learn? Recently, all of my boys have grasped new concepts, the light of new understanding bringing with it huge amounts of energy and further desire to learn and to explore. It is quite remarkable.
The eldest has suddenly learnt to read. Or, perhaps better put, has suddenly grasped that the letters on the page represent words and that he can work out what these words say by applying various things he has learnt here and there and unlock the meaning for himself. He sits for long periods hunting for ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ in the Bible, and just as it was with speech, every day is acquiring new words and putting together more and more. He is so excited by this that all he wants to do is spend longer and longer reading the Bible and learning more words. (He is also spurred on by a kind of game. I was in hospital last week, and as a distraction, daddy set him the challenge of ‘learning to read to surprise mummy’; he doesn’t realise I know he is doing it, and the element of surprise makes it even more fun).
The next boy has learn to draw. For a long time, he would have great fun making splodges of colour, and he would invest these with meaning; however to anybody else, all they would see would be a mass of colours, perhaps a bonfire or a sunset. But suddenly, he realised he could draw objects, and make a story come to life by drawing the shapes and the structures that go with it. Now, he likes to sit and draw the Bible story we have just read. It’s been a huge jump, and it is fascinating how the changed just seemed to occur overnight.
The youngest can clearly understand lot although he still speaks in monosyllables. He has grasped some games, such as snap, and takes delight in pointing out things that match (for example on the pattern on the tablecloth). He is absolutely overjoyed to be able to show these new skills and join his brothers in his games.
But the thing is, we haven’t done anything different or special this week. It’s just been a rewarding time for us, seeing each child developing in a specific area, but in terms of our structure, methods, daily routine, discipline, motivation, spectrum of activities etc, nothing has changed. And I think it is important to reflect on this as a home schooler. Not every week feels like an achievement. But the harvest comes as a result of months of faithful, ongoing, faithfulness in the small, everyday tasks.
I remember laughing out loud the first time I started to read some of the original writings of Charlotte Mason where she described things of value and others which are flashy but of little worth, such as spending a morning making a brightly coloured collage to bring home. (I am not saying, and I do not think she was saying, that creativity and craft are to be stifled, but rather used the example to make a point). Children who attend formalised early educational activities often return home with some kind of ‘product’ of their labours, and parents can be easily satisfied that the child is ‘achieving’. As homeschoolers, we may be tempted to compare. (At least I can! I can be impatient, and quick to forget all that God has taught me about patience, perseverance, trials etc)
The joy is that children learn at their own pace, and when they are ready, it just seems to fall into place. This is often cited as a major reason for choosing home education, but whilst we may state those words, is there a little part of us that worries if child X has not achieved Y by age Z? These past couple of weeks have been helpful to me to remember that each child is unique, and progresses at the right rate for that child. And the greatest encouragement of all is the absolute unashamed delight in each of the children as they grasp the new concept, such that they are hungry for continued learning. The jaded apathy that I have observed amongst mainstream educated children is something which saddens me greatly, and again reinforces to me that for our family, to help the boys acquire the necessary skills within a real life environment and develop the tools for lifelong learning, the choices we are making are right.
What if the children could not read by age ten? Or draw by eight? Or grasp the concepts of ‘pairs’ at all? Would that negate my enthusiasm for home education? Would this prove that our ‘method’ was failing and that the children would be better off elsewhere? By no means. In fact, that too would confirm the need for an individualised approach where the children were not made to feel that they were failures for not achieving at a set rate. In any normal distribution curve, there are outliers at either end; some children will naturally read at age 3, whereas others may be 9 or 10. That is illustrated in our own family, where I was reading Enid Blyton under my bedcovers before starting school at 5, whereas my husband was unable to read properly until about 10.
The reason I am writing today is to encourage you. In our current society, we are encouraged to seek instant gratification, quick results. For example, how often these days do you hear of somebody who has ‘saved up’ for something? How often do you see people working tirelessly, year after year on the same thing? I believe we can seek quick results in our parenting too, and if we are home educators, in our childrens’ progress.
In the letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, ‘And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart’. (Gal 6:9) Whilst this applies to the whole of our Christian lives, it is particularly pertinent to the responsibilities of Christian parents, whether home educating or not.
Be encouraged. Keep going. Be faithful in the small tasks. And in the right time, God will bring the harvest.