When it comes to rearing children, I am all for enforcing requirements and boundaries. In our house we make beds, wash dishes, brush teeth, respect the space and belongings of others, and answer with respect.
I am also a great believer in giving children freedom wherever possible, and especially when considering the greater part of learning.
Of course, there are places where specifics are expected; such as a page of math problems, while learning cursive writing, etc. There is just no getting around the fact that five plus five is ten, or that the letter “o” is round. There is obviously incontestable, absolute truth, which is based on the inerrant, eternal Word of God.
But there is also such a thing as killing true, long-lasting learning via the traditional methods we have all come to rely on, such as:
- Read, regurgitate, test, forget
- Fill-in-the-blank work pages
- Multiple choice testing
- Almost total reliance on written communication
These conventional practices don’t work because they are based on one very false idea; children are not to be trusted with their own thoughts. They must be presented with information which then must be parroted back, no deviations allowed.
Who knows where this was begun? Most would say that it started with Christian education.
However, in my research over the past three decades, all fingers point to the secularization of education as the culprit. It has been the Progressives who have narrowed education down to factory-like procedure while broadening the same application to every subject. It is not surprising; the education establishment which has dictated schools for the last century or so has this as its core value:
Children are nothing more than biological machines and as such are mere commodities which are to be molded and used as leaders see fit.
God, on the other hand, feels very, very differently.
How do I know this? Because I have His Word on it. Jesus is the picture of a God who loves the individual, and everywhere in the Bible we read how He draws close to each single soul who calls on His name. It is our Creator who gives each person intrinsic value and scorns those who would treat people otherwise.
And yet, we have a difficult time distancing ourselves from failed Progressive ideas, even as homeschoolers. It’s a hard thing to jump into the cold, uncharted waters of education without grabbing something familiar to hold on to. Most of us have never experienced anything but the practices outlined above, and so we default to our zone of comfort.
Because homeschooling causes us to become intimately involved in what and how our children are learning, it isn’t long before we discover that our whole operation is dysfunctional. The bright children who eagerly cracked open colorful workbooks at the start of the season begin to complain and resist our efforts. Instead of enjoying “school time” together, we get caught up in battle after battle, with all sides feeling frustrated and Mom feeling defeated and discouraged.
This should not be, and it doesn’t have to be.
One of the ways we can combat such a dysfunctional cycle is to reassess our approach. Are there better ways to go about the whole process? How can we reach into the hearts of our children so that their brilliance can surface?
As I briefly discussed in a previous post, one of the easiest ways to go about this is to incorporate drawing into our daily interactions.
When a child draws, he is inviting you into the inner world of his psyche. We often forget just how hard it is for struggling learners to adequately communicate using the written word. While their minds are racing with one thought after another, their inability to tell us all about what they are thinking causes them frustration. Even their ability to speak is limited, sort of like a foreigner using a Berlitz phrase book to describe a sunrise. Drawing allows them to go beyond their verbal and written abilities and helps them feel understood.
Further, when we give a child a blank space with as little direction as possible to create in, we are communicating volumes to him. We are saying, “Your thoughts are interesting and important,” and, “I understand the way you speak, I understand your language.“We are saying, “I trust you.”
I know it sounds foreign, but I believe we need to be more purposeful about the whole idea. We need to incorporate drawing into almost every subject, from spelling to arithmetic, to make room for it on almost every page.
I have been doing this with my own children and I am very pleased with the results.
For instance, while teaching my daughters to read with the McGuffey readers and some solid phonics instruction, I required they copy the words presented after each lesson. However, instead of leaving it at that, I drew a box next to each word for a drawing. Included were words such as “ox” and “fan,” which were fairly easy to represent, but I often wondered about assigning words such as “the.” Amazingly, my little ones were not daunted; they came up with representations of even the most abstract of concepts, and often they brought a smile to my face! It was as if I was allowed a little window into their minds, and when I peaked in I saw genius.
As they have progressed, their drawing has become more clear and detailed. They have gone beyond single words, but can also present whole concepts, whole scenes. Their writing is more organized, more expressive and precise because they have been allowed to organize it first via drawing.
Even if you are not artistically inclined, you too can use this to help your children learn. Here are some pointers to help:
Just as soon as your child can hold a crayon without eating it. Young people are pretty fearless. They take chances with lines and color and are easily pleased with the results.
Make drawing materials accessible.
Leave a stack of paper and a bin of writing utensils out on the dining room table. As long as they put things back when they are finished, allow them to draw whenever the mood strikes them. My children loved having their own 20 cent spiral notebooks (bought cheaply at back-to-school sale) and pencils to drag around with them wherever they went.
Blank paper is preferable to coloring books.
Coloring books give a child the impression there is a certain way to draw something. Blank paper gives them the freedom to draw any way they deem proper.
Draw with them.
I know this is sort of hard for some of us, especially if we feel we aren’t talented. But children are so accepting–they will love anything you produce. It’s just the idea that you are comfortable, even with your own mistakes, that will forge the way for them.
Don’t say, “The arms on your soldier are too short,” or “Ladies really don’t have lips that big.” There is nothing like a critical remark to hamper the freedom of expression.
Oooh and aaah.
Yes, you need to go overboard. When a child hands me a drawing of something, even if I can’t readily identify it, I make an emotional exclamation of some sort–it’s so important!
Such as, “Where do you think this soldier is going?” or, “Why do you think this lady is all dressed up?” to stimulate conversation and add more value to their efforts. It also helps them make the connection between drawing and communicating with words.
Make a place for drawing.
Yes, in every subject. If there isn’t a place for doodling on, say, a math page, give him an index card for doodles and then attach it later with a stapler. The card is small enough that it will keep him from doodling away his entire time, and yet it will keep him from feeling stifled and will actually increase attention and retention.
When I create my notebooking pages for the McGuffey’s, math, spelling, etc., I try and put little boxes in for drawings and doodles. When we study history, science, politics, etc., there is a place for an illustration or two. Sometimes the graphic is printed or copied from another source, which can be important if the subject matter is complicated, etc., but this is actually the exception instead of the rule.
I know there are notebooking pages all over the Net which include graphic illustrations, but I think these defeat the purpose of the exercise and discourage the deeper learning that could take place if the child was allowed to draw for himself.
As I said before, this is not about art, it is about language. The drawings need not be refined, or even recognizable, to be effective.
Allowing children to take chances with lines and colors will only heighten their ability to communicate via words, and may bring out other latent talents yet to be enjoyed.
I have been receiving some great input on this subject, including a valuable drawing link. Are there any pointers you would like to add?