The Myth of an Inspire, not Require childhood

A concern I hear a lot about letting go of conveyor-belt education, is that kids will struggle with college admissions and requirements if they aren't kept "on track" with their peers, and they will never learn how to take a test or complete an assignment.

It is a myth that an interest-led education in childhood means that, upon homeschool graduation, teens will not have any experience with school work, assignments or tests. 

What people often don't think about is that kids who are allowed to learn whatever it is they want to learn about (as long as that doesn't go against the family standards of course), whether that is Legos or My Little Pony or fishing or mythology or Star Wars or drawing, will keep learning.

They keep digging in deeper.

They learn how to learn, and they love it!

Some call it meta-learning.

The topic is largely irrelevant, it's the process that matters. They are looking up information, trying all kinds of ways to do things, figuring out how use resources, experimenting with ideas.

In fact, kids who love learning often put in way more effort than their conveyor-belt counterparts do, simply because they are interested in what they are learning about.

"If you want to learn math and history and science when you are seven or eight or nine [or eleven or thirteen], go for it, learn those things. But if you want to learn about something else, then go for that, because the important thing at that time of life is to be absolutely in love with what you are learning. Why? Because if you are in love with what you are learning, you will keep learning. People who are forced to learn things they don't want to, do the bare minimum, and when the pressure is off, when the teacher or parent turns their head, they stop doing it. " -- Oliver DeMille

For kids who love learning and haven't had that love "structured" out of them, when they come to puberty, the changes that happen in their brains changes their perspective. They are already used to learning all they can about whatever they like, but then they start to think about what they need to learn to get where they want to go. They start thinking about college or entrepreneurship and what it will take to get there. 

So let's say you have a 16 year old who has had a wonderful Love of Learning, and has spent countless hours drawing, researching birds and classical mythologies, learning Japanese, reading historical fiction, biographies, and fantasy, among other things, do you think she won't be able to do college level work? This is a description of my 16 year old daughter and she is already doing college level work in drawing and her study of birds, because she WANTS to

Youth who have been allowed to love learning during their early years work hard at learning because they want to.

You don't have to push them, they push themselves.

They decide what they want and they go after it, whether that is to score well on SAT exams, or start a business in their teens, or take college classes in high school and finish high school with an AA degree in their pocket.

I was chatting with some other homeschool teens a few weeks ago, and asked what they had been working on lately. These three siblings (18, 17 and 15) were all taking the PSAT in the next week, so they had been studying for it. I asked the brother if he liked taking the test, and he got a big grin and told me he did, it was a novelty to him, to sit in a room and fill in a bubble test. He gets a kick out of it. He's taken it already, but studied more and is taking it again for fun to see if he can better his already good score.

I also hear of many families educating this way whose youth are taking online, and even on campus, college classes.

One mom I know, Tami, shared that her 16 year old daughter was taking a college writing class and, well, I'll let her tell it.

"That moment when the college English professor says, "I don't give out many 100s". She's 16. [She had] absolutely no grammar or spelling lessons in Core or Love of Learning. She didn't read until she was 10 years old! Fast forward 6 years, and she's blowing the socks off a professor who has taught college English for 29 years. All this without a single grammar workbook... She learned to love writing creatively in her youth. She learned the writing techniques when she was motivated to make her own writing better. There is no replacement for a grammar education when the student is driven and asks, "How can I rewrite this introduction to make the reader feel what I want them to experience?"."

The professor was amazed at her interest in actually working hard to write something great for an assignment. What made that difference? A focus in her early years on loving learning, and not on "grammar lessons" or the specific topics she learned about.

She still learned what she needed to know, and in a much more effective manner, because she hadn't learned to just do the bare-minimum for an assignment.

These are not isolated cases - I've heard these stories over and over again.

But there is something else amazing about these teens. Because they are allowed to follow their interests as kids, and those interests naturally grow and expand, you end up with teens whose interests lead them to study languages and math and history and all sorts of other academic subjects, and they do it themselves because they love it, no pushing necessary.

They haven't learned to hate learning.

They haven't had their curiosity "structured' out of them.

Kids who love learning, become youth who work hard at learning.

They become true Scholars, because their Love of Learning supports them, and in this process they often excel beyond their conveyor-belt peers.

Yes, I know this is counter-intuitive to our culture.

We have all been trained, over the last 100 years or so, to believe that education means assigned academics. That children won't learn unless we make them. It is so ingrained in us that when we start to question the effectiveness of the conveyor-belt model, we simply don't know what else we could do instead.

We fall back to that conveyor-belt model over and over again, simply because we don't understand what it means to get educated without it.

We don't know how to trust that our kids will have their curiosity return.

It's the conveyor-belt that kills their curiosity in the first place. We can see that every time we have required and they have responded with complaints or a bare-minimum effort.

"But kids have to learn to do things they don't want to do!" Yep. I agree, and I wrote a blog post about it. 

We want to let them fall in love with learning, but when we remove the conveyor-belt by tossing the grade levels and checklists and lessons, and try to give our kids the time needed for that curiosity to return (because it does take time), we get very worried when it takes more than a month or two.

We are sure we are failing.

We feel that "conveyor-belt hangover" and wonder if we should start requiring again because they're not doing anything. After a few months we decide this interest-led thing doesn't work, and so we go back to what we are familiar with, and start requiring again thinking, hoping, that at least we won't completely fail this way. 

But leaving the conveyor-belt is not an instant fix, it takes time for curiosity to return.

Staying off the conveyor-belt long enough for this to happen does take courage and faith. 

Courage to be different, and not compare your children's education with the conveyor-belt.

Faith that your children have something amazing to offer the world, faith that letting them find their interests and dig into them, is the beginning of their path.

You can get off the conveyor-belt, and I'd love to help you stay off.

If you are ready to leave the conveyor-belt behind, or if that pesky conveyor-belt hangover keeps pulling you back to it, I made a great freebie for you, it's a PDF of my Top 8 Free Online Resources to get you off the conveyor-beltDig into these resources and firm up your resolve to get off and stay off the conveyor-belt.

1 comment

  • You definitely don’t need to take a lot of tests to do well at university. My daughter started university never having sat a test before in her life. She ended up winning an award for topping both her first year psychology papers. And the love of learning? My son majored in chemistry and in his first class the prof asked who read magazines like New Scientist or Scientific America. My son was the only one who did. Likewise in a Political Studies class the prof named several newspapers and asked who read them. My (other) son was one of just a handful of students – and we were in the midst of a fascinating election campaign at the time. He possibly drove some lecturers a little bit mad since he would go and see them during office hours with questions – even stuff that wasn’t going to be in the exams. Not wanting to brag but just to share our experiences so far.Gaining and retaining a love of learning is so important and weil serve you well no matter where you go in life.


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