February 2014

Cultivating-Readers

Into-the-evening

Cultivating Readers

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Back in April I wrote a post on learning at home. It was a bit about our path from homeschooling, to school, back to homeschooling. Many of you have asked if I would continue that dialogue here, and share some of the things that have helped to form our journey. After many months, I realized that one thing that was catching me was the word homeschooling. In this day and age, life learning seems like such a better word. The reality is that we all do a bit of homeschooling, and our children find some influence outside of the home as well. I would like to think that the things that make us successful in our homeschooling lives would also be equally beneficial if our kids ever returned to a school environment. Sure there are specifics to a homeschooling environment, but for now I am focused on cultivating a life long love of learning in my kiddos, rather than on defining what homeschooling looks like day to day.

In the winter of 1993 I began the process of applying for college. It was a very rough time in my life, as it can be for so many. I attended a small all girls school full of some of the most amazing women I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They were heading off to the biggest and best of universities, and I was about to graduate second from the bottom of our class. It was embarrassing, and trying on my self-esteem. On a particularly hard night I approached my father to discuss where I wanted to go with my studies once I left high school. At the time I was thinking of art or culinary school (oh my how I wish I had taken that leap!), but my mom and dad encouraged me to pursue a more academic route. I expressed that I just wasn’t sure that I had what it took to continue on in school, and that my love of learning was seriously waning. My dad was by far the smartest person I knew, so I asked how he had done it, what made him so knowledgeable and eager to learn? He responded with no hesitation what so ever. It was reading. He had been a book worm for as long as he could remember, and he was quick to point out that books had been his very best classroom. He had learned what he loved about the world, new skills, and a passion for the written word all through a life time of just simply reading.  From that moment on, my idea of academia changed, and five years later I graduated magna cum laude with a double degree in history and world religion. I spent my college years doing little else but reading on subjects of interest, and that certainly hasn’t changed in the years since graduating. Yes, my college classes were good, but honestly it was the books that taught me the most. Just that subtle shift in thinking about what made someone love to learn changed a lot for me.

When we had children, Joel and I decided that we wanted to approach learning as a life long process, one that needed a good foundation in order to succeed, but that taught passion for learning new things, rather than on specific techniques or theories. Joel and I both came into our relationship with a serious set of books, and rather than keep them in boxes or sell them at a garage sale, we put them on display. Most of our tables, shelves, closets, cubbies, and corners are filled with books, and that is how our kids have grown up.

I will have to come back in a few years and let you know if the last two kids have as much love for books as the first two, but Jacob and Elwood are book worms like their grandfather. We never actually taught them to read, but rather we walked around everywhere we went using a $2.99 set of phonics flash cards I had picked up at the drug store. The process was never overly dramatic or stressful, and they seemed to naturally progress from the sounds into the words.

Now, most days are spent confiscating books that are being secretly read under the kitchen table during dinner, or from under blankets and flashlights late into the night. Reading is an activity that is cherished by the boys, and that I secretly am more than a little thankful for. Reading makes the process of learning almost every subject a little bit easier. Whatever we are studying, we can supplement with a good book, and it always reinforces what is being taught.

We are often asked how we taught them to love books as much as they do.  We are certainly not experts, we only have four kiddos, and only two of them can read, so take this next bit with a grain of salt. There are only two things that I know for sure that we did; surrounded them with books, and encouraged boredom.

In my opinion, boredom is not cherished enough in our fast paced society. We are encouraged to surround our kids with toys, learning apps, computers, or television. We are told that down time breeds time for kids to get into trouble, and that the more they do, the more they learn. What we don’t stop to realize is that generations before ours swear that they were great thinkers and inventors for the main reason that a good part of their childhood was spent in total boredom. There is something about long lulls of time that either makes you want to read something, or invent something. Whenever my kids tell me they are bored, I know that a recipe is about to be concocted, a fort built, a game played, or a book read.

We encourage special places to get lost in a book, we let the kids stay in their pajamas reading for as much of the day as they can, and we never say no to a trip to the library.

There is no way to force a child to read, but certainly for those that are struggling, being read to seems like the next best thing. We still read to our older boys every night (we are working our way through the Hobbit), and the younger two never close their eyes without a good story. There is no magic formula for cultivating readers, but just like everything in life, if there is joy and excitement about something, most kids want to see what it is all about. When we want our kids to love something, it can’t be a struggle. Reading is a pretty organic process, and every step of the journey needs to be honored. It took me years to catch the reading bug, but once I did, life certainly shifted.

I hope that as the years go on, and my kids find new passions and adventures, that they will hold on to their love of books. I hope that each of their major life events can be marked by what they were reading at the time, and that they too will one day open a book, look into their own children’s eyes, and begin the process with their little readers.

 

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Thirty Eight

February 20, 2014

MeWhen I was in college, my dad sent me an article that talked about a man who celebrated his 99th birthday by taking out a lifetime subscription to the New York Times. That piece never left me, and it has been one of the guiding forces as to how I want to live my life.

I celebrate my 38th trip around the sun today. Life is full, life is good. I am surrounded by a beautiful family, an amazing group of people (some I have never met, some I see every day), and I am happy.

Thirty eight feels good; enough life has been lived to feel as though I just may be getting the hang of things, but there is still so so much to explore, learn and create. My birthday wish is that I live life like the man who turned 99, but still knew that there was always so much more to know and see.

That would be a good life indeed.

 

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