It takes quite a shift in thinking to put children in control of their own learning. For trained teachers, this is perhaps harder still. We must make the shift from imparter of knowledge to facilitator, seeking to guide the child in his/her learning adventure. Children are designed and made to be learners. So we can trust that they will have enquiring minds, and will want to investigate and try to make sense of the world around them. As their mentors, our job is to assist and guide them in that learning journey, and to seek to fill their days and paths with interesting discoveries. We can do this by leaving intriguing things around for them to find, or by taking them out and about to interesting places. We can introduce them to many varied people. We can expose them to different ways of thinking, and encourage them to ask questions. We can discuss what is happening in our families, communities, country, world. We can stop, and observe ... and strive to see what the child before us is truly interested in. Can we facilitate learning that will help them dig deeper into their areas of interest? It can be hard to do this. It can be hard to let go, to take ourselves out of the driving seat, to let go of our list of expectations or measures of learning. How can we be sure learning is taking place? What if our child isn't learning what they need to know? There are so many voices, so many pressures which can lead us to doubt what we can see happening before our own eyes.
People ask me, "How can you get your children to do anything? I find it hard enough getting mine to do their homework." But if a child is interested, if s/he is working on his or her own project work, which holds deep, intrinsic interest, coercion becomes unnecessary. Rather, it is we who sit alongside and ask questions, probe deeper, encourage and nurture that interest.
My third son, who is almost 10, has been fascinated for some months with supersonic cars, an interest he first developed when visiting our local transport museum which showcases the history of the land speed record, including Thrust 2, which broke the land speed record, and Thrust SSC, the car which broke the sound barrier. There is even a simulator visitors can ride to experience being in the cockpit. Independently, over some weeks, he has researched so many things about supersonic cars - mostly on the web - and has become particularly interested in Bloodhound SSC a unique, high-technology project to design and build a car that will break the 1,000mph barrier and set a new world land speed record. He has learned so much about this amazing car that he has become quite knowledgeable about it. Recently, we went to The Skills Show and, almost as soon as we entered, he spotted the Bloodhound project stand. Well, we needn't have gone any further. He loved chatting with the guys there. "Ask me anything," he said to them, "I know all about Bloodhound." We could see them looking at him kind of a little disbelievingly .... "OK," one guy said, "What three engines does the car have?" Straightaway, my son replied, "An EJ200 jet engine, a hybrid rocket engine and a Jaguar F-Type V8." The guy raised an eyebrow and cracked a smile. But this is what I am talking about ... the desire and the passion to dig deep into an area of interest, and to really acquire an expert level of knowledge - however old or young we are. That is what true learning ought to look like.
Our boy's Christmas wish list was filled with Bloodhound merchandise ... Imagine my delight, when checking out the website, to discover workshops enabling him to visit the warehouse where Bloodhound is being built, and to actually see the car of his dreams. He went just before Christmas, and his smile said it all. Engineering come alive.
The challenge for me is that I know nothing about supersonic cars, and I'm not really too hot on science and have no interest in engineering. People say, "But how could I teach my kids?" They assume we must be ahead, to have a superior knowledge and competency to impart. But this is not the case. As facilitators, we can be fellow learners. Indeed, by demonstrating that we do not have all the answers, we give children the freedom to forge new pathways, and to exceed any expectations we might have had for their learning. Learning to relax and to put them in the driving seat has been the hardest lesson for me to learn on our home educating journey, but perhaps the most important.