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How We Get To “I get it!”

I will never forget the look on the doctor's face as she listened to my eight-year-old discuss her skin concerns. Initially, our physician was talking to me, but as she explained that the growths on Elise’s arms were called molluscum contagiosum (a pox virus transmitted by human touch), Elise’s interest was piqued. She had been feeling a bit self-conscious about what had appeared to be warts forming on her arm. She was a little downcast as we entered the office. However, once her doctor said “molluscum contagiosum,” her shame was replaced with curiosity.

“That sounds like Latin. What does it mean?”

“Contagiosum. Like contagious? Is that why it’s a virus?”

At that point I just stepped back and let her doctor teach the lesson.

I am so encouraged by interactions like this. Seeing my little girl so interested in a subject that she forgets her troubles, engages in quality conversation, and pursues knowledge for her own sake, reminds me of why I love being her teacher. I love when she gets it. By it, I don’t mean getting a grade or answering a question on paper. I mean that she has recognized connection between what we have read and discussed to what we live and do. As I sat and listened, I thought, this is the kind of adult I am raising. She was able to have a productive conversation with her doctor about a matter of her own health. Her doctor, seeing that Elise was capable of dialoguing intelligently, explained the virus and its antidotes in great detail.

Those moments are beginning to happen more and more as we go along and it has me thinking a bit more about our schooling strategy. There are a few things we have in place that I believe help our children get it. They aren’t curriculums or learning materials but, rather, they are attitudes at the core of our schooling.

We go for depth over breath.

We have been learning basic Latin as part of a program we were doing. Honestly, I hesitated to introduce Latin because I thought we should spend more time of learning modern languages. I gave it a shot though, and it has turned out to be quite interesting.We learn conjugations, declensions, and some basic words. It’s not very complicated. It is very repetitious and we use songs and motions to help us remember the content. Although we are just learning the basics, we are really getting into the details of the basics. We focus on mastery of these few topics and don’t move on until those basics have been mastered.

Initially when I set out to homeschool I was overwhelmed by all of the subjects I felt I would have to teach. I mean, when I wrote out everything we felt our children should learn, I wanted to scrap the whole list and just write “Life. They need to learn life.” Essentially, that is true but I have discovered that it does not mean that I have to teach them every subject known to man. What is essential was that I teach them how to learn, how to focus on the task/subject at hand until you can use that knowledge to make connections for life. So we go for depth.

We focus on consistency.

One of my favorite proverbs says that “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” I feel this way about knowledge. The things I had to learn quickly are quickly forgotten. However, the things that I learned with a little practice and repetition every day, stuck with me. So we are a little-by-little household. We do simple tasks consistently. We review, repeat, and redo until it sticks.

I believe in training the habit of consistency but I also know that we live in a fast paced, unfocused world. To some, the mere idea of doing the same thing every day is appalling. I admit, we have to make room for the unexpected. We try to allow for disruptions to our schedule and spontaneity. I have discovered though that consistency can take many forms. Maybe we do not always review our lessons in the exact same place at the same time but we do aim at reviewing them every day or every other day. We might have to be creative and review by audiobook in the car, or doing multiplication tables as we do cartwheels at the park. The result is the same: children who have their minds trained in consistency.

We encourage real world application.

This is where the flexibility of homeschooling really comes into play. The girls and I are out and about often. We come and go as we please not just on fieldtrips and playdates, but also on errands like grocery shopping, volunteering at our church, trips to the bank etc. They have opportunities through the week to (with Mommy in the background) practice the skills and tools we are giving them. This is what happened at the doctor’s office. This also happens when contractors come over to measure for some home improvements, when we are at the library midday, and when we walk to the nearby park. In our lives, there is no line where school ends and life begins.

As we were leaving the doctor’s office Elise quipped, “Molluscum contagiosum. Molluscum contagiosum. It sounds like I have a Harry Potter spell on my arm!” I laughed with her (because who can’t appreciate a good Latin/medical/Harry Potter joke?). As I laughed, I sighed a little sigh of relief. She gets it! She really gets it!

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