Trust The Children

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Preserving Curiosity - Do or Die


My father used to say, until I was so tired of hearing it, "The hard way IS the easy way." What he meant was that taking shortcuts often led to more rework and more problems. So doing it right, without short cuts the first time, may seem to take a bit longer, but in the end, it usually saves time.

In home schooling, usually, you "get what you pay for." It will take a significant and thoughtful effort, it will be in many cases a change of schedule and priorities, and in that respect, it will seem, well, hard.

However, IF there is a shortcut, or something that is like that for home schooling, it is found in preserving, growing and capitalizing on the natural curiosity of our children. For me, the main reason I consider this a shortcut of sorts, is that when a child is naturally curious, they are MOTIVATED. Motivation is the basis of *learning momentum* in my mind, and perhaps even home schooling momentum.

Private/public classroom learning, can have inherent in the system they must use, to accommodate the masses, many curiosity killers. This conclusion, from personal observation, in my own family and in the lives of other youth. There are other curiosity killers that should be acknowledged and too often they are found in the attitude of parents themselves.

I have told many of the experience I had in one class at a home schooling convention I attended with Cyndy. I can't remember the topic, but when the question and answer session came, one father stood up, and proceeded to berate his son because all he was interested in was baseball cards. As he went on and on, I admit, I became more and more steamed. Steamed, because there we other parents whose questions centered around children for whom no visible evidence of ANY curiosity existed, at least in the minds of the parents. You know, video games and couch potato types the parents exclaimed. Then this father contributes that "all my son is interested in is baseball cards."

I guess I shouldn't have been steamed. Probably a weakness of the moment. I felt at the time, that there were so many things that a boy can learn through baseball cards. Geography, math, record keeping, even statistics. Probably more.

I want to share a few other examples, at the risk of someone saying that this is all too "ideal." This one from Pat Montgomery. At another home schooling convention, I heard her say, "Until age 12-13, the work of a child is play." Don't know all the reasons why, even though she explained them at the time. But it rang so true to me. Here is a story from her right along the same lines of what I am saying:

"Oh, there are so many! The one that comes right off the top of my head is a young fellow up in New York who, when he was eleven or twelve, took up whittling. He whittled a lot of things, but it came to pass that his favorite was miniature furniture. He got so interested in miniature furniture of so many periods, that he would imitate Queen Anne furniture, Victorian furniture, Louis the Fourteenth, Shaker. He put it in time frames! He showed some of his miniature furniture at an art museum. Of course they were very interested, because they have miniature furniture rooms showing each era. They asked him right away if he would consider serving them.
By the time he was thirteen or fourteen, he had his own business. His mother and his father, his father in particular, would be very upset because he was not doing his spelling, he was not doing his math! He’s not doing, he’s not doing! He spends most of his time on that business and with those miniature things. Well, he was doing a display somewhere, at some art show, and a major glass manufacturer approached him. Noticing a couple of his pieces they said, "We would love to be able to do this in glass, but we’d have to have your permission and your guidance."
So there he got yet another aspect to his business. He was making as much as his father made, income-wise, but still his father was unhappy. You’re never going to go to college. What are you doing; you’re not doing your science, you’re not doing your… Well, he certainly did sufficient enough to graduate from the standard high school program. In fact, he wanted to graduate early—on the one hand to get his father off his back, on the other hand to get rid of it and to put more time into his business.
So, we gave him a miniature diploma. That’s why it came right off the top of my head; we had it framed in miniature for a joke as we presented it to him. We also gave him a real one, of course.
Now he’s in his late teens and his business is going well, but he’s getting interested in computers. So his dad, again, was counseling him and saying, "Son, you get up when you feel like getting up; you go to work when you feel like going to work; you put in the hours you feel like putting in… This is not the real world! You are approaching your twenties; it is time you are going to have to learn. I know about your business, but maybe you’re not going to be interested in it forever? You’ve already moved to an interest in computers." Again, he followed his dad’s counsel and it weighed on him until he was offered a job by a computer firm down in Virginia. They liked what he did and asked if he would please move down to Virginia.
About six months ago I got a call from his mother. They’re still in New York and he’s in Virginia. He wrote a letter to his dad and she read it to me. It said: "Dad, they are paying me triple what you bring home to get up when I feel like getting up, to come to come to work when I feel like coming to work, to do work as long as I feel like it and to do what I darn well please."
It is just fantastic! So he satisfied himself completely. He certainly has satisfied his own creative needs and an employer…and I think he’s finally satisfied his dad!
That’s one of the outstanding ones that comes to mind. (

Another short one, also from Pat Montgomery:

A young woman (she’s sixteen) put in some time volunteering at a travel center and her volunteer task was to put stamps on envelopes and stamp the name of the travel center on the pamphlets that were produced by a larger entity. She got the idea to create a trip abroad for X number of people who would be interested in architecture and she had two things they would focus upon, because these were her interests. They would focus on different kinds of architecture and a particular aspect of the environment. She put together a trip that was lick-your-fingers good and actually succeeded in getting people to subscribe. She got the center she worked for to give her all the advice and guidance that she needed, then they chartered a plane and took the trip. That was her Walkabout and she was in charge of everything—ordering the tickets, collecting the money, setting the itinerary, being sure of this, being sure of that. Imagine!

Next week, Cyndy counsels me, I should share some similar experiences from our own family. But are you getting the picture? If we keep our eyes open, and watch our children without automatically pre-judging, we might see a spark of curiosity. And if just a spark, we as parents need to be the ones to "carefully, oh so carefully" fan it into a bright and enduring flame, Again, as always, we are happy for your comments and contributions on this topic.


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  • I remember when I was a young girl and I went up to my mom and asked her "Do you think I am smart?" Her response has stayed with me over the years and taught me a true lesson. She said "Yes, when you want to be." Motivation has been the key for me. The motivation to learn something that strikes my fancy helps me become smart in that one thing. Granted, I might not have all the knowledge in the world for that one area, but I am excited about learning more and more and somehow, that takes me on a journey to learn more about something else. Following my curiousity and being motivated to learn by my curiousity hasn't failed me yet. I still love learning.

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