Monday, April 7, 2008

An Inspiring Home for Learning

My kids know, and so do some of you others, that I hosted homeschool support meetings in my home for almost ten years. For several years, we met every week, and then we scaled back to having meetings every other week. Meetings were always on Tuesdays and started at 10 a.m. Kids were welcome to come with their parents (we often had men show up, too, one of them regularly), and the kids would play while their parents discussed the topic of the day (which was always planned by me). My kids volunteered to babysit (and I love them for it), and usually one of them (or I) would make treats and snacks. On meeting days, we'd pull out boxes of tea, set up a variety of mugs on the counter, and put out the sugar, honey, and cream. And, of course, I'd make strong, dark coffee in the French press (sometimes multiple carafes of it!)

The reason I planned the discussion topics myself was because the meetings started as a means to discuss the learning philosophy of my family, something I'd spoken about at one of the large, area-wide, local homeschool support group meetings. Some of the ladies who attended my talk had questions for me, so we decided to meet once or twice to discuss these questions. Well, the meetings never stopped! We kept meeting on Tuesdays, and the group grew. Over the years, our average attendance size was probably around 12 or 13, but it wasn't all that unusual to have 20 people squished into my living room. I think our record number was 25, with 48 children outside playing!

It always amazed me when, week after week-- in deep snow, when roads were icy, in stormy weather-- no matter what-- these women (and men) would come driving down our country dirt road in a line of cars to sit in my house for an admittedly good time and lots of stimulating conversation. :-) Their coming was so routine that it became easier for everyone just to walk right in the front door without knocking. And on cold days, everyone would go straight to the woodstove to warm their hands. Those were cozy, happy days, and I miss them. (We were still going strong when I decided to end the meetings, but I had sensed that it was time.)

I'm telling you this for a reason. Yesterday, I was going through some papers, and I ran across something I wrote for that good, old homeschool group (I usually wrote something about the topic of the week and had handouts for each meeting). I remember that we had a really great discussion the day that this was the topic, and I think I'd like to share it here. I'll be dividing this paper, and spreading it out over ten days of posts because it breaks perfectly into ten sections.

The title of this handout is "Creating a Rich Home Environment Where Active Learners Can Grow and Thrive," and, in the paper, I proceed to list my "Top 10" attributes of a home environment that help to grow active, delighted, self-motivated learners. Some of you have read the contents of this handout before, and some of you haven't. The reason I want to share it is because: 1.) It gives a picture of what learning life was like in our home, and 2.) I think that the home atmosphere, and the way families relate in that atmosphere, is the key to homeschooling. And, actually, I'd say that these attributes are important for *life.* And these should be for adults as well as for children.

Today, I'll post the introduction from the paper, and tomorrow I'll start with #1. The whole thing is way too long to post at once, and it's also way too much to digest (even though we did cover the entire thing in our meeting over the course of 2 or 2 1/2 hours). Even breaking this into ten sections, each post will be fairly long.

I'll confess that I wrote this off the top of my head the evening before the meeting, so it may read a bit rough in spots. I didn't try to draw from a long list of resources to support this. I have lots of books that quote research on each of the points, though, but mostly my opinion derives from life at home with my kids. I watched them live life with energy and passion, and the kids really did (and do) love to learn. They're still pursuing their interests with great joy and enthusiasm, even though one has graduated college, one is in college (and doing self-learning in his spare time), one is married, and one is working and preparing for what she'll be doing in the future. This list is really a tribute to my children, who made my life so rich and added such joy and spark to our home (not to mention a lot of laughter and fun).

Today, I'll type the introduction to my "top 10" just to get you oriented. I'll try to edit out direct references to my homeschool group:


Following are ten attributes that help to make a healthy habitat for learners. These are not the ten things-- the only ten things or the essential ten things-- and neither are they a pattern to follow. These are simply characteristics that can be built within a home to help immensely in creating a wonderful learning environment.

Each family should develop its own unique home "culture," of course and this will arise naturally from the interests and inclinations of, first, the parents, and then the growing children. The things on my list have nothing to do with what your home culture should look like, but, rather this is a list of things that will greatly enhance the spirit and the love of learning in your home. No matter what homeschooling methods you follow, and no matter what your individual family culture is like, I believe these attributes can make a difference in any home and help to establish a rich and healthy learning environment.

We should always make poetic knowledge (the enjoyment, delight, and wonder of a thing, which should always precede and motivate deeper study) our aim, and happy results will follow:

"... a materialistic society, with all its utilitarian goals that suffocate the poetic nature of the human being, had rushed many of the students through childhood, that time of leisure in which the wonders of reality are encountered simply as wonders... there can be no real advancement in knowledge unless it first begin in leisure and wonder, where the controlling motive throughout remains to be delight and love." (Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education by James S. Taylor)

So, the following ten attributes are meant to describe a living environment where one can learn to work hard and become responsible, but where one can also develop, right from the beginning, an appreciation of this world that is full of beauty, wonder, fascinating ideas and discoveries, lovely music and art, wonderful books, and so much to learn about and enjoy.