“Just give me anything,” my oldest daughter said, when I kept asking her about how she wants to approach her high school curriculum. I was fishing for her interests and trying to customize her high school syllabus, but she seemed overwhelmed by the whole process. So I gave her the traditional curriculum. She started doing it and had no complaints whatsoever. But when I asked her what she learned, she replied,
“I don’t know.”
I was devastated. I believe this to be the result of our early years of homeschooling where due to the inflexibility of the virtual school system in which we were supposed to report to assigned teachers, we were more bent on completing the assigned syllabus, cramming in information, than enjoying the process.
Meanwhile, the Libyan brothers and sisters in our locality were undergoing emotional distress over what is happening in their country. One day, my son came home and said about his hifdh teacher,
“Ibrahim looks sad today.”
We also kept up with the news on the internet. Before long, my daughter began to take interest in the news, including the niqab ban in France. Suddenly, it occurred to me. “How would you like watching documentaries instead of going through the history syllabus?” So now, instead of her doing her history lesson textbook-style, she watches the documentaries online. At one point, she said to me, “I love history now.” With an eye roll, she added, “I can’t believe I just said that.” Apparently her interest in history grew through our discussion of world affairs especially since it was very much in context with our situation then.
In real life, literacy, writing, math, arts, science, history, geography occur together, often without clear distinction from one another. Living a life of learning requires us to be aware of learning opportunities around us and utilize them. But first of all, we have to be sincerely interested in looking at things as learning opportunities. Look for opportunities to tie the disparate subjects taught in schools together. Street names can spark a discussion on how the streets came to be named that way, or how the road system in your area has evolved throughout the years. Billboards can spark discussions on advertising techniques that can then be tied to the techniques Shaytaan uses to trick us into disobeying Allah. When reciting the Quran, you can go over the translation and start a session of reflection with your children. Go deeper into the story of companions of the cave. Ask them if they would do what the youth did if they faced a situation where they would be persecuted for their beliefs. It would make an interesting discussion. Expose them to different cultural experiences. Go beyond the obvious and ask them to observe for example, the similarities and differences in certain food items of different cultures. Pasties are the English version of the Malaysian Curry Puff and the Mexican Empanadas. Read historical fiction together and let this spark an interest to delving more into the historical setting of the story. The point is to keep the innate love of learning in your children alive by piqueing their natural curiosity through a lifestyle of active observation, discussion, and reflection. Learning is meaningful when it has a purpose in context. So enrich your child’s world by connecting him to the stimulus around him through your own verbal mulling, natural enthusiasm, and invitation to explore.
However, while you may get all excited over a museum visit, your child may not. Respect this difference and tune in to his individual interests. Follow his lead and encourage him in this exploration, even if you are inept in it. In fact, take sincere interest in his interest and support him in it. You may see him browsing through programming books despite his young age. Try to hook him up with an adult or teen expert, or classes, even organizations to give him that opportunity to explore that particular interest. As an adult, you have the network and means to resources your child may not have access to. It’s your job to provide him with these opportunities in supporting his individual interest.
However, interests have their own life spans. Don’t be surprised if your child is engrossed in rocketry for only a week. While you may have gone through a lot of trouble finding resources for your child for his current interest, he may only wish to pursue it for a week. Don’t reprimand him. However, if it involves paying for a class, or any such commitments that involve other people, make it a point from the beginning to make this clear to your child. Tell him that he has to decide to make a commitment. Give him an option to bail out after a certain set period of commitment, so he won’t feel locked in from the very beginning. For example, instead of signing him up for ceramics class for a whole semester, agree to let him try it for the shortest time span allowed by the class, so he can decide whether to continue or not after that time period. This way, he will feel more at ease committing to something rather than avoiding commitment for fear of being locked in.
In terms of school performance, your child may be having trouble in some subjects. He may be a late bloomer. Assuming that you are already taking it easy with grades, assure him that he’s not behind or dumber than the other children. Expose him to the knowledge of different learning styles, individual strengths, multiple intelligence, and individual pace of learning. Make him understand that he is in control of his own learning by learning to know himself well. Hopefully, this will protect his love of learning, while also teaching him the reality of life in that sometimes, you have to do what you find hard to do. Not everything will be easy and 100% enjoyable.
We want our children to know how to think instead of just what to think. Let them know that sometimes, there is no one right answer. Encourage them to think big, and dream up something big, outside of the scope of what school covers. Don’t belittle any of their ideas. Spend time on these ideas even if it means they won’t be taking extra academic classes just so they could get great grades. It’s these seemingly insignificant ‘explorations’ that usually have the most impact in childhood that lead to specialized pursuit of an area in adulthood. Deprive them of this, and you have deprived them of nurturing their individual strengths. Show them the different models of successes that are not just limited to academics. Make them aware of their innate strengths and how they can be applied in the real world.
Living a learning lifestyle comes automatically when the love of learning is alive and kicking in the inner depths of our souls. When parents have this outlook, it naturally carries over to their interaction with their children and thus the learning lifestyle is passed to the next generation. So, embrace it and pass it on!
Published in SISTERS September 2011 issue. Also posted on Juli Herman’s personal blog.