Trust The Children

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Does It Pay To Preserve Curiosity?

Is it really worth it to do all we can to preserve, and develop innate curiosity in our children?

As the years go by, like I shared recently in "Harvest People", you reap the harvest of years of right choices. This blog is about that. With Cyndy well indoctrinated from her degree in Elementary Education, at first, she was not very interested in home schooling. But I had one opening. She said of her teaching experience, in one unguarded moment, "The light in their eyes is going out. It is happening right before my eyes and I can't figure it out. But it's happening to nearly all of them." It was their loss of natural curiosity. That is why the light went out. The kids were learning now to negotiate the "listen and tell back" challenge. The more they played that game, the more the light went out. Learning was becoming all about pleasing the teacher, pleasing friends, pleasing others, instead of actually learning. That was Cyndy's public school experience. Frankly, this same kind of thing can happen anywhere. It can happen at home too. Preserving curiosity doesn't come natural to anyone, I don't think.

However, once Cyndy got the hang of it... well you can't turn her off now. So, preserved curiosity, the willingness to risk and fail and risk again, has become part of the mystique of our children. For a couple of reasons, 1) Cyndy and I, actually, model following our own curiosity in much of what we do. The kids learned what they saw in their parents and 2) they came to us with curiosity, and we avoided stamping it out and killing it. The example we set of our own interest in exploring, gave them permission to do likewise, and that along with their natural propensity to be curious, nutured a seed, that has grown intp a fruitful plant, from which we still are harvesting.

One example. Our number 2 daughter lost a baby over a year ago. Died in the womb. It was a sad time for the entire family. Tam worked through it, and we all worked through it. The good news is that Tam got pregnant again, and we now have a little Zoe in the family. Allison, our number 1 child, helped Tam process the loss and the grief that kept coming back from time to time. During that process, Allison wrote her a song.

Sweet baby blue how your mommy loved you
Closed your sweet eyes as we kissed you goodbye
Sweet baby blue that the heavens still knew
Sweet baby blue, in a moment and you
were gone, a short song

Sweet baby blue with the skies opened wide
Angels have welcomed you back to their side
Sweet baby blue, the world will miss you
Sweet baby blue
I’m your mom, I’m your mom

Tender days, to have you near
Still the Promise is ringing clear
I will watch over you,
Sweet baby blue

Sweet baby blue how your mommy loves you
I’ll find your sweet eyes and our heartstrings will bind us
Sweet baby blue that the heavens still knew
Sweet baby blue, just one moment with you
Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Then she put it to some music she wrote and she mixed the music and her voice using a simple MacBook and the GarageBand software. Click here to listen.

The point in all of this is that Allison is still pursuing the development of her talents, and risking their view to the rest of the world. She has finished one Master's Degree, was a Fullbright Scholar, and is now finishing her second masters at the University of Chicago. Who taught her how to write music? She taught herself for the most part. Who taught her how to perform it in such a sensitive, unique way? She tried and failed and tried and failed again, and taught herself. And who taught her how to mix this stuff on a Mac? She taught herself. And why can she do this? Because we succeeded in NOT killing her natural curiosity. Instead we nurtured it, by helping her grow her interests while we worried less about the "basics" trusting that they would come to her in time, which they have.(it is amazing to me, how many parents I talk to who say, 'But what about the 3 R's?' as if we didn't care if our kids got the basics at all. Of course they get them. But they get them perhaps at a different time than some think they NEED to get them.) In our family, for whatever reason, Allison is not the exception. All of the kids, risk and try and read and research and try some more.

Does it pay to preserve curiosity? A thousand million bazillion times over it does! And if you don't believe me, perhaps you will enjoy this TED talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson Schools Kill Creativity. Keep in mind, this isn't a statement about public schooling alone. Home schooling runs the same risks.

If this is the only benefit we derived from the blessing we have enjoyed of home schooling our children, this is sufficient. I can't stress too much how badly I hope you will take a long walk and ponder for hours what it means in your life, and the lives of those you love, to preserve the God given natural curiosity in yourself and in them. Then I would pray that you would have the courage to take steps, even hard ones to give this gift to your children. As Sir Kenneth Robinson said, we may not see the future, but our children will. Past ideas about preparing them to succeed in their future are not servicing. Our view is that homes can do more, homes need to do more, to preserve in their children curiosity for life around them.

If you agree, how about sharing some ideas on how to do just that, preserve curiosity in our children?

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  • Thank you for the great link. I loved the video.

    By Blogger Chari, at 11:27 AM, July 17, 2008  

  • Wow. Thank you. I have been enjoying your blog for a few months now, but was absolutely moved by this post. It makes me think of my 8 year old who I am constantly correcting for his pronunciation of words...when he learned those words by taking a chance reading literature far beyond what his age would indicate. This post reminds me that I don't always need to correct. I need to do more encouraging and loving. Surely many, if not most, of the things I correct would be corrected by my children themselves over time. On the other hand, my badgering could squash that risk taking that is so very important. Again, thank you!

    By Blogger Anne, at 2:33 PM, July 17, 2008  

  • Anne,

    You should have a talk with Cyndy about our #2 David. She was all freaked out because he wasn't reading at age 8-9. I mean freaked out. Then the time came, and he took off like a rocket. (See his blog here..

    I was the same way, was in the dumb reading group until 4th grade. After that, I got caught so many times reading under the sheets of my bed with a flashlight, that for my 4th grade birthday, I got a double light that hung over the head board of my bed. I became a voracious reader and graduated with a degree in English.

    Kids are ready to learn, when they are ready to learn. Forcing it too soon, is like pushing a wet noodle. Just doesn't work.

    By Blogger Mark Weiss, at 3:12 PM, July 17, 2008  

  • Uncle Mark,
    I have been reading your blog today (from my school where I am trying to get my classroom set up). I agree with your thought about children and how they are creatures of curiosity. However, I disagree that "schools" as a whole kill that curiosity. I know that I cannot save children one classroom at a time, but I also believe that for myself, while I do not at this present time have any of my own children, hopefully I can do my part for other peoples children to help them to learn, love and explore the world around them -- even in a public education setting.
    Maybe I am just being overly optimistic?! Maybe for myself I just need to believe that 9 years of teaching in the public education system has not been a waste of my time, nor has it stifled creativity or curiosity in those that I have taught and will teach.

    By Blogger Amber Ostler, at 3:36 PM, August 14, 2008  

  • Amber,

    My observation is that if curiosity is to be encouraged at home or at school, it is BECAUSE of a teacher or parent who models it. For me, there is a difference between the teacher and the system the teacher often finds themselves in. The system requires accommodation of so many kids at once, it require that the group keeps up and stays together. This alone can often stifle curiosity because the student who wants to go deeper, is often required to move on, because the curriculum/system demands it. The system develops a habit of moving from one thing to the next, from one class topic to the next, and rarely allows for a pause to ponder or dig deeper.

    So,I feel there is a conditioning that takes place where many students give up and prefer to master the system, or conform to the system. This seems to be especially true the older the kids get. (I can't remember which grade you teach). Learning to negotiate the system has it's positives, in that they end up good workers and fine employees, where conforming is expected. But the future that the video talks about, seems to demand creativity, thinking outside the box, the ability to synthesize and adapt ideas. These skills are not often found being developed in the class room, because they disrupt the pace of the expected movement through the material. Do you see what I mean?

    Home schooling can be just as bad, when parents decide that covering the material is more important than pausing and allowing one idea to be taken way way deep for many days or weeks. However, when there are only a few "students" at home, and where a parent feels free to adapt, pause, and allow for flexibility, these very character traits can be developed and perhaps serve a child better as they move into an uncertain future.

    It takes all kinds in our world. So you are making a great contribution. At the same time, it is reported that a man may need to do a MAJOR career overhaul in the future about every 10 years during his lifetime. These overhauls, if they truly come about, will be better negotiated by individuals who love learning more than the mastery of the learning system, find change exhilarating instead of an "A" for proper regurgitation of an inventory of information, think outside of the box by risking, rather than stay in the box where the pattern is predictable and comfortable, and don't need to be told what the next assignment is, because they make their own curriculum for change.

    In another blog, I quote a piece from Harvard, that defines learning as more than a teacher talking and a student parroting it back. That is what I am trying to encourage at home and anywhere it can happen in the public system.

    I love it that we can have these discussions. Thanks for even reading my meager offerings.

    Uncle Mark

    By Blogger Mark Weiss, at 5:57 PM, August 14, 2008  

  • Hello,

    I came across your blog quite by accident. I listened to a "lecture" (not really) by Astra Taylor and thought you might enjoy watching it as well.

    We started unschooling our kids in December last year, after having them in public school, Montessori, and a SelfDesign learning centre. We are in the SD community still, but the kids remain home.

    I thank you for your honesty and support in trusting in our children's curiosity...this is how I came to your site: I googled Trust curiosity and found you!

    With gratitude for synchronicity,


    By Blogger Marielle, at 8:03 PM, February 07, 2010  

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