Building A Sturdy Bridge

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One can choose many paths to take in life. We have the unique ability to flex our power in making choices and decisions. As a young child, we grow and learn naturally. Our curiosity is a fantastic teacher. We may choose one toy over another or we may prefer to bang on the kitchen pots and pans over building mud houses in the sand box. Our power of choice is strong, and our parents allow us this freedom, until they don’t. Choice and freedom slowly start to erode somewhere in childhood, usually by the age of 5- when we enter compulsory education and the probationary life begins.

Our choices are now limited and narrow because now we are “expected” to participate in school. What we need now is to be taught. By an expert. Who knows more than we do. But didn’t we show our parents that we were and are capable of learning and growing on our own? What suddenly changed? Did we give any indication of short comings in our development? Why is school then the answer?

Life in school, is like being on probation. Probation is defined as “the process or period of testing the character or abilities of a person and subject to a period of good behavior under supervision.” We treat our children like criminals. We punish, guilt, shame and emotionally manipulate them when they don’t oblige us. We ask them to conform, follow directions, not ask questions, and perform to unreasonable standards and testing, year after year until they graduate. This way teaches children to doubt their own minds and their worth as a person when the grades don’t measure up and it creates adults who will then tolerate emotional manipulation and abusive relationships because that’s been their model.  If we are to raise free thinkers and confident individuals, we must create an environment that provides a healthy model that benefits the child’s well being, personal integrity and autonomy.

We have seen first hand what happens when a child is given freedom to learn on their own, follow their curiosity and study their interests at their own pace. They build the bridge of their choosing to cross. By doing this they take responsibility for themselves at a much younger age. Being personally invested in the process makes a huge difference!  Alfie Kohn, American author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting, and human behavior said,

“The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”

Let’s choose to get out of the child’s way and allow them the space and time to develop their talents and inclinations and encourage them to express who they are as individuals, in an environment that will not stunt their passions and curiosities and spirit.

 

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Asking Better Questions

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We have home-educated our children for the last eight years. Early on, I felt an overwhelming need to measure, test and push to make sure the kids were on the right path. I was teaching them everything I thought they could possibly need to know to “make it” in their life. Was slogging through years of Latin really going to make a big impact on their life? Probably not.

I have attempted to answer the same questions, over and over, year after year for my own children. Whose path is it? What do they want? What is their idea of a life well lived? Every revisit of these questions has brought me a little closer to having a better understanding of what is truly important; for me and for my kids.

Our oldest, just turned sixteen. She has explored her own definition of living a life of purpose and happiness (notice the removal of the word success). She continuously asks hard questions of herself, she’s spoken of and written down her wants, her wishes and her dreams- and these continually change, but she understands that her future is up to her. Her own influence and decisions are bringing her closer to the kind of life she imagines for herself.

For so many her age, they feel helpless about their future. We must allow kids to imagine and have experiences that help them to define their own meaning of purpose and happiness and engage in conversations around this idea. One of my favorite quotes, and one that I have up on a board at home is a quote by Hunter S. Thompson.

Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”

In our house we do thought experiments based around questions. We talk about these questions in an open way-Sometimes they chose to share their response, other times, its simply for them to explore. Better understanding of oneself leads to and influences motivations and beliefs and shows us that we are the creators of our life. Making it in the ever changing world means that we have to ask intelligent and more thoughtful questions. Now, my worries about the direction my kids take is nil. I don’t think there is such a thing as the “right path”, it’s the path that you make that is worthy.

If you’re curious to know, here are some of the questions we ask:

What does one think is living well?

How do we want to be in the world?

What do we want our world to look like?

Am I worthy of this or is it worthy of me?

What is the difference between living and existing?

Do you find yourself influencing your world, or it influencing you?

What is worse- failing or never trying?

Should one worry what others think of them?

If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?

What does happiness mean to you?

What would you do differently if you knew no one would judge you?

What are the top five things you cherish in your life?

How should one handle anxiety?

What is the purpose of money?

What would you say is the one thing you’d like to change in the world?

What makes you smile?

Tomorrow is shaped by the type of conversations you have with yourself today.” Emily Maroutian

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters…

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Self-Directed Learning and Mastery

Our family watched this great lecture given by Robert Greene at Oxford University. Robert Greene is a historian of sorts- he’s written several books, a couple which I have are Mastery and the 48 Laws of Power. He gives us a look at three individuals who, through their own self direction went on to accomplish many great things in their lifetime. They were Leonardo DaVinci (developed sophisticated flying machines, detailed navigation equipment, etc), Charles Darwin (discovered the Theory of Evolution) and John Coltrane (one of the finest self taught jazz saxophonists).

The dictionary’s definition of mastery is a “comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.” I find this particularly interesting because through self-directed learning, one has substantial time and autonomy to pursue one’s interests in a deep and meaningful way. One is allowed, without permission, to follow their own desires and curiosities.

Philip and I have conversations about self-directed learning- it helps us gain clarity and validates our position that it allows a child to develop their talents, allows them the time to discover things about themselves, gives them the confidence that it is their path, not a pre-packaged path.

Self-directed learning looks very different from traditional schooling- we don’t cover several subjects everyday, we don’t have a set schedule, we don’t test them and we don’t assign a grade. What we do is sit down and talk to them. We ask questions to stimulate conversation. We find out what makes them excited- we tailor their activities to support their interests. Then we engage them in these areas. We support their curiosity. Much of our learning happens simply by talking in conversation. What often ends up happening is the initial conversation will lead to another conversation. It all happens rather organically.

Our youngest daughter Natalie asked us if she could play the violin. She was eight years old. She did a six week beginner class with her teacher and has continued to excel at the violin for the last two and a half years.  She has great musical mentors who inspire and push when there is a challenging piece of music, but for the most part, Natalie pushes herself, she thrives on challenge.

We see our kids staying naturally focused on what drives them, what excites them (without coercion from us). I sadly feel that traditional schooling does not allow for the kind of depth that allows one to truly master anything. I know when Olivia was in public high school last year she felt she could barely keep up with the pace- there were too many subjects to fully grasp the content and little allowance for individuality or creative expression of ideas. Yet, teachers expect the equivalent of mastery, an A. It’s not the teachers fault, they are just doing what they’re told. It’s a corporate and conformist model of thinking and we need to find a better way for our children. If you look at education like a company, one that produced poor results continually (in this case decades), they would be out of business. So why hasn’t change come to traditional schooling? That’s another topic for another day…

From my own experience, when children are allowed to follow their own path of discovery they are on their way to mastery. I see it happening in my own kids. They will continue on their path, and this path may continually change, but it’s their path. I simply have to show them love and enable them a safe place to explore and grow. Ultimately, they will grow into young adults with the confidence that they have made their own choices and decisions about their life.

Mastery in an area is a journey of discovering oneself and self-directed learning is no different. Allowing this natural process only deepens understanding and therefore allows us to follow our own path. I often say, the world takes all kinds of people, and to grow as people we need to be who we are.