Moving beyond why requires practice, discipline, grit, zest, and a teacher to lead the way.
By: Lockey Coughlin
Curiosity is something that comes naturally to all human beings. We love to ask why, as evidenced by the many children who cannot stop asking that question. We might hear it from them twenty or thirty times an hour. As educators, we love to hear that one little word because why is the precursor to a drive to learn. Asking a question and getting a direct response is easy, especially in the era of ‘just Google it’. Learning something where there is a deep, nuanced understanding and the follow-up ability to explain it to someone else requires more than curiosity. Moving beyond why requires practice, discipline, grit, zest, and a teacher to lead the way.
So, how do we help our children move from kids who ask why all the time to driven learners? As usual, there is no easy answer, but it definitely begins at home. Parents are a child’s first and most influential educators. This is easy to forget, as we place more and more pressure on schools and teachers and even on our own children. Setting an example, or modeling, for our children by making education a priority in the choices that we make each day sets a strong foundation for their education. There are myriad opportunities to model this priority for your child.
In practical terms, this means asking yourself every time there is a decision to be made that affects your child’s education, “Am I sending them the message that their education comes first?”.
First things first, show up. I am the kind of parent who loves to take days off to play with my kids. I have always been more of a grasshopper than an ant. When my three homeschooled children were in their middle school years, I felt that they were getting enough of what they needed, and we could all afford some time to enjoy their childhood. They were, after all, at grade level, if not higher, academically, and were responsible, polite, etc., etc. What I did not realize at the time was that I was sending them the message that their education was not a priority; that showing up for scheduled activities and classes was not important. They knew that they were my priority, always, but the other stuff, not so much.
One afternoon, we showed up late for a dance class after missing the last one for some reason that I thought was important at the time. At Fineline Theatre Arts, the kids were expected to show up for their classes and their teachers let them know it – on time, warmed up, ready to work, and appropriately dressed. Expectations were always very clear. Because of this, my kids did not like missing classes. Back then, this irritated me. Honestly, what was the big deal? Wasn’t their time together and with me more important? We were busy, for heaven’s sake. Wasn’t the stress and worry this all caused counterproductive to our family’s mental health? It certainly was, but what I didn’t see was that I was the root of the problem, not the teachers and their expectations. The stress and the worry were my fault. I needed to plan better, to help my children to meet these expectations in a stress-free and prepared way.
That day we were late, the owner of the studio, an award-winning, ridiculously successful woman in her own right, had had enough. She gave me a good talking to in the lobby in front of all the other parents about the importance of showing up. She was clearly upset and was vociferous in her defense of my child’s right to be in class, of the importance of showing up for the other students, for the class itself, but mostly for my child. This was not like her at all and I was very surprised and taken aback, completely mortified. I had to think about it for a few weeks, but I realized how selfish I was being and made showing up a priority – mostly – from that day forward. I encourage other parents to do the same, mostly. Some days, we just don’t have it in us, but whenever and wherever possible, if we are able to model education as a priority, our children will see it that way, as well.
If you cannot show up, then what? What do we do if grandparents or friends are visiting from far away for a short period of time? When do we let our child sleep in and when do we hustle them out of bed? Do we plan family vacations around school breaks, or do we make choices based on other factors? This is where your interactions and language come into play. You do not need to schedule everything around academic schedules, but you do need to account for absences in a positive and educationally oriented way.
A strong case can be made for travel as an extremely educational tool, as can a visit with grandparents or friends who live far away. If you cannot make it work on the weekend or during scheduled breaks, then make up for that lost time with your child in other ways. In the homeschooling world, this is a no brainer, since everything a homeschooler does takes on an educational tenor. Take a page from the homeschoolers manual and make these choices educational ones for your child. Use these opportunities to reinforce the idea that education happens everywhere, all the time, if you invite it in and make it a priority. No worksheets or textbooks required here, just joy-filled, relaxed conversations.
Talk with your child about how educational your trip will be and why. Make sure to visit museums and to tie what you are doing back to their academic work, if possible. Make sure to help them keep up with their studies, talking with their teachers to make sure you are aware of what they will be missing. When visiting with friends or family, make sure that your child gets the most out of the visit by including them in conversations and helping them to keep up with their work. Your children are taking time away from classes that must be made up but placing that burden solely on their shoulders is unfair to your child, their classmates and their teachers. When they return, their teachers will expect them to be on pace with the rest of the class. After all, they have been there working together the whole time. Because you are making the choice to pull them out of their usual routine, it is up to you to help them.
Physical and mental health must always be priorities, of course, but beyond that, encourage them to grit through and show up. If you push through on the so-so days and on the days which would normally be skip days, you not only have more time for the big events like vacations and family gatherings, you also are continuing to model behavior in which education is a priority.