Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Inspiring Home for Learning, #7

#7. A Loving, Attentive, Encouraging Parent is Essential to a Healthy Learning Environment

"It is not merely that the child is to be the possessor of a marked and distinctive individuality and that therefore he is to be honored for his possibilities in that direction; but that he already is the possessor of such an individuality and that he is worthy of honor for that which he has and is at the present time." ~H. Clay Trumbull, grandfather of Elisabeth Elliot, in Hints on Child Training
Children are born persons, says Charlotte Mason.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote about this and echoed the words of H. Clay Trumbull (above), in her wonderful book, For the Children's Sake:

"Try a simple experiment. Take a small child on your knee. Respect him. Do not see him as something to prune, form, or mold. This is an individual who thinks, acts, and feels. He is a separate human being whose strength lies in who he is, not in who he will become."

"Many adults now 'have' a child in the same way that they 'have' a washing machine or a collie dog. We must answer: No. You are holding a person on your knee. And that is wonderful."

"Look well at the child on your knee. In whatever condition you find him, look with reverence. We can only love him and serve him and be his friend. We cannot own him. He is not ours."

Before we can help our child develop as an individual along the path that God has made for him, we must see and respect him as a person, created in the image of God. We must respect his mind and intelligence. We must be attentive, attuned, and responsive to our child in order to help him thrive and learn in the way that is best for him.

We need to take this seriously, making a point not to get overly busy or distracted. A mother should certainly have some breathing room and time for so-called "mother culture," but a higher priority, during the years of motherhood, is providing for the needs of the child. (This is a different thing altogether than catering to his demands, disrespect, or impulsiveness, which, of course, we should not do.)

So, know when you need to turn away from the computer screen, put down the book, turn off the television, hang up the phone, push back the sewing machine, stay home, or let the laundry wait. Stop. Listen to your child. Smile at him. Go with him to see what he wants you to see. Be interested. Delight with him. He is a human being whose life and growth-- for good or bad-- are very sensitive to the atmosphere that is you.

A parent can set a tone in the home that inclines a child to be a delighted learner. A child starts asking questions, by pointing, even before he can speak. We answer those questions by telling the child the name of the thing at which he's pointing. And we answer with enthusiasm because we are delighted in our small child's curiosity. We talk with our child often, and by doing so, the child learns to talk, and we are so pleased at every word he speaks!

Along the way, as children become more fluent, the questions they ask become more numerous-- often much more numerous-- and at some point, if we aren't careful, we may stop delighting in those questions. We may even become tired of them. With our growing families, we might become busy and focused on all of the tasks we need to complete (ironically, this includes homeschooling). We might rush our child when he is talking to us. We might stop bending down with a smile, stop looking into his eyes to listen, and stop responding with patient warmth. Certainly I did this sometimes, but I always tried to catch myself and go back to the child to re-engage with him.

If we could just recognize the very important role we play in the development of our child's spiritual health and his attitude toward learning, we would take great pains to listen and respond to him as well as possible. (It's also okay not to have answers for everything, but sometimes just to wonder together.) When we remain warm and responsive to our child as he talks to us and asks questions, his curiosity is being reinforced and encouraged. Learning remains lovely, and more questions arise.

So, be attuned to your child. Encourage him in the good things you see in his life. And let him speak freely about his honest fears, struggles, thoughts, and concerns, simply listening to him without feeling a need to instruct or confront at every opportunity. If you will stay warm and attentive and encouraging, you will have the trust and respect of your child. He will feel safe to share his secrets and his deepest questions with you because he will have confidence that you won't ignore him, brush him off, lecture him, or laugh at his cuteness. You will have gained great ground in your child's heart and mind.

Paying attention also includes watching the child with a discerning eye. We notice how he behaves, whether or not he is settled and content, how he deals with down time, how he treats his siblings, whether or not he is tired or hungry or needs a hug. When we pay attention to the child so that we are providing well for his daily needs, we are making room for leisure, so that he can grow in a happy, carefree manner. The child is not over-protected, but is sheltered from what should be adult concerns.

You will also, if you are paying close attention, gain insight into who your child is, how he is inclined, what is currently sparking his curiosity, where his talents lie, and what is deeply interesting and engaging to him. These are things you can encourage both verbally and by providing resources or opportunities for that interest to grow. This can be the beginning of a very individual and delight-led education for your child, the kind of education that will grow and expand as your child grows older and will continue for a lifetime. Your warm attentiveness and encouragement are keys to the healthy development of your child-- spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.